Criminal Justice On Trial

Rolando Cruz is about to take on the legal system that once sentenced him to death. He is a witness for the prosecution in the trial of the seven suburban Chicago lawmen accused of framing him for a crime he did not commit, CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports.

"I think the charge should be conspiracy to commit murder because that's what they did when they made that up. They conspired to have me executed for something I didn't do," Cruz said.

In Tuesday's opening arguments, prosecutor William Kunkle accused the four police officers and three prosecutors of a long and tortured history of wrongdoing by fabricating and withholding evidence that put Cruz on death row for 10 years.

Cruz was convicted of the 1983 rape and beating death of Jeanine Nicarico. There was no physical evidence against him. The prosecution relied on an alleged confession that was never documented.

Shortly after Cruz was sentenced, career criminal Brian Dugan confessed to killing Nicarico and though DNA evidence linked him to the crime, prosecutors still maintained Cruz was their man.

"For them to admit the error of the original conviction they would have to admit they fabricated evidence," said Cruz's lawyer, Thomas Breen.

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.

Rolando Cruz is just one of 11 Illinois death-row inmates freed after investigators found evidence of their innocence. What makes this case stand out is that never before have officers of the law been accused of deliberately railroading an innocent man, and perpetuating that lie for many years.

"It is a reminder for prosecutors that they have to have fairness as part of their zealousness," said Jack Doppelt of Northwestern University.

If the prosecutors in this case are convicted, they would be the first found guilty of a felony for this kind of misconduct. But whatever the outcome, this trial does nothing to help Rolando Cruz reclaim the years he lost.