"I spent 18 years of my life in an enclosure that I wouldn't put the worst of animals in," says Dennis Williams, who was on death row.
But in much the same way that the case against another death-row inmate unraveled last month, Williams, Kenny Adams, Verneal Jimerson, and Willie Raines were freed in 1996 because of the efforts of outsiders, reports CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.
"It's volunteer lawyers, it's investigators, and sometimes even college students who end up stepping up to make that difference," says David Protess, a Northwestern University journalism professor who led a group of students that found evidence pointing to the innocence of the four. "The justice system does not step in and correct it's own mistakes."
Now, it is the Cook County taxpayers who are paying the price for the mistakes. Last Friday, the county authorized $36 million to settle lawsuits filed by the four men. "This is the county recognizing the extent of the gross misconduct and the extent of the incredible injuries the men suffered," says plaintiff attorney Larry Marshall.
But that may not be the end of it. The four say they want to see criminal prosecution for those responsible for their imprisonment. "People that put us behind bars need to be prosecuted," says Adams. "We need final justice in this case."
The four had originally sued the county for $77 million. The settlement, the largest Cook County has ever made, averts an ugly trial that would have included allegations the men were framed.
But a new chapter may be about to open. There are calls mounting for a criminal investigation of the police and prosecutors who put the men behind bars.
"The police had the evidence of who the real killer (was), and instead of following that, they hid it," says attorney Jeffrey Haas.