On October 30, 1979, an African American man shot and killed Edward “Mickey” Cohen, the white owner of a grocery store on the south side of Chicago.
The next day, on the north side of Chicago, officers John McCabe and Raymond McNally stopped James Newsome for questioning about an armed robbery. The officers quickly satisfied themselves that Newsome had not committed the armed robbery, but they thought he resembled a composite sketch of the man who murdered Cohen. Newsome actually was taller and several years younger than the killer described by three witnesses to the Cohen murder. Two of the witnesses, moreover, already had identified a different suspect from a mug book.
Newsome nonetheless was put into a lineup, from which all three witnesses identified him. Before his 1980 trial, it was determined that canned goods the killer had handled at Cohen’s store bore fingerprints of an unknown person other than Newsome. Although the all-white Cook County jury knew of this, they still found Newsome guilty, and Judge Richard Petrarca sentenced him to life in prison.
In 1989, with the help of University of Chicago Law Professor Norval Morris, Newsome obtained a court order requiring the Chicago Police Department to run unidentified fingerprints from the murder scene through the relatively new Automated Fingerprint Identification System. After the check was run, the officer in charge falsely reported that the search found no match. Five years later, however, the police belatedly admitted that the prints belonged to Dennis Emerson, who by then was on death row for another murder. The prosecution dismissed the charges against Newsome and he was freed. Governor Jim Edgar granted him a pardon based on innocence in 1995.
Newsome brought a federal civil rights suit, which was tried in federal court in 2001. One of the eyewitnesses to the Cohen murder was by then dead and another could not be located, but the third, Anthony Rounds, testified that he had identified Newsome at his trial only because the police had threatened him with jail if he did not. He said that when he went to the police lineup, he was told by the officers: “Pick No. 3,” the position occupied by Newsome. The jury awarded Newsome $15 million — $1 million for each year he languished behind bars.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions