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Woodridge settles wrongful rape conviction for $5M

Thursday, June 07, 2012

A man wrongfully convicted for rape a quarter century ago has reached a financial settlement with the west suburban village whose police officers put him behind bars.

Marcus Lyons was 29 when a jury convicted him of raping a woman at an apartment complex. His attorney says he was the only African-American man living there at the time.

The Navy veteran maintained his innocence after getting out of prison. Now he has $5 million to move forward with his life.

Lyons is 54 now. The information technology revolution he envisioned back in the 1980s is a reality. It is a professional area he never got to pursue due to a conviction for rape -- something, ironically, IT, in the form of DNA evidence, helped to prove his innocence.

Lyons has worked rather steadily in the wastewater management field since getting out of prison in 1990, three and a half years into his six-year sentence for rape. But he never got the life he thought he was headed for after three years of naval service in the 1980s.

"I wanted to be, at one point, a Navy ship captain," Lyons said. "I think I had the right stuff to make it to that level, and this hit me out of the blue and it's just turned my life upside-down."

In 2006, Lyons hired other lawyers to pursue DNA evidence that was held back from the defense by DuPage county prosecutors -- under then state's attorney Jim Ryan -- at Lyons' 1987 trial. The rape happened in Woodridge's Maple Lakes Apartments, now called Windsor Lakes.

"This is a case where an eyewitness supposedly pointed the finger at him and said, 'That's the person,' where the prosecutors thought they had an airtight conviction, where the police thought they had the right man, but they were wrong," said attorney Jon Loevy. "And DNA proved it, so what we need to be is more cognizant of the fact that other people are innocent that didn't commit crimes for which they were accused even if there's not DNA that can conclusively prove it."

The $5 million settlement will be paid by the Village of Woodridge and it comes right before the case was set to go to trial. In a letter to the village's mayor, the village administrator said Woodridge's investigation was thorough and, "We continue to stand behind the work done by the Woodridge Police Department on this case and only wish the DNA technology that eventually cleared Mr. Lyons was available at the time of the incident. That said, we can all agree that settlement of this case will help everyone involved move forward from this unfortunate case."

"I think it's a crime to be a black man in this country. That's my personal opinion," said Lyons. "That's why I think this happened to me."

Lyons said he spent all the money he had to get the DNA evidence re-examined that led to his exoneration. It also identified the real offender -- but the statute of limitations had passed for a prosecution.

Lyons was less than a month away from getting his computer science degree from College of DuPage. He was working with Bell Labs at the time of his arrest.

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