Home Local Man imprisoned for 2 decades after false murder confession, alleged police coverup in line for $14.5M settlement from city of Chicago

Man imprisoned for 2 decades after false murder confession, alleged police coverup in line for $14.5M settlement from city of Chicago

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A man who spent two decades behind bars for a 1992 double murder that happened while he was in police custody is in line for a $14.25 million settlement from the city of Chicago.

The deal for Daniel Taylor was one of two taxpayer-funded settlements involving alleged police misconduct approved by the City Council Finance Committee Thursday.

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Aldermen also advanced a $1.9 million settlement for the family of Jose Nieves, who was fatally shot by off-duty Chicago police officer Lowell Houser during a 2017 argument on the Northwest Side. Houser was convicted of second-degree murder in the case.

The full City Council is set to consider both of the proposed settlements Wednesday.

Taylor, then 17, was among eight people arrested for the November 1992 shooting deaths of 41-year-old Jeffrey Lassiter and 37-year-old Sharon Haugabook in an Uptown apartment.

All eight confessed and implicated one another in their confessions. Taylor was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

City attorney Jessica Felker on Thursday called the Taylor settlement “a cost-effective measure to limit the city’s exposure” at trial. Felker noted two other co-defendants in the case who had spent less time behind bars than Taylor settled lawsuits against the city for $5.25 million each, and a third co-defendant went to trial and eventually got $17 million from the city.

Felker said the city has already spent $2.1 million on the Taylor lawsuit. West Side Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, called that “backward,” wondering why the city would spend so much money on the suit when Taylor has a certificate of innocence and the three co-defendants had already received significant payouts.

A Chicago Tribune probe that began in 2001, prompted by a letter from Taylor, raised questions about the case even though police said the eight had admitted to taking part in the crime. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office then began investigating the convictions.

At the center of the case was Taylor, who was exonerated and released from prison in 2013. Records showed he had been arrested for causing a disturbance about two hours before the shootings, taken to the old Town Hall police station at Halsted and Addison streets and released more than an hour after the crime was committed.

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A petition filed by Taylor’s attorney Kathleen Zellner cited police reports that showed Taylor was locked up for disorderly conduct at 6:45 p.m. on the night of the murders. A bond slip showed he was not released from the Town Hall lockup until 10 p.m.

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The murders, according to police, occurred at 8:43 p.m.

But in a 2003 letter to the Tribune, then-Cook County state’s attorney Dick Devine noted Taylor “signed a highly detailed 25-page, court-reported confession in which he accurately described the building and the apartment where the murder took place, the method of the murder, where the two victims were shot and how one of the victims was placed on a sofa after she was shot.”

Devine said then that the confession corroborated the evidence from the murder scene and that Taylor divulged the details within three hours of his arrest for the killings in December 1992.

Taylor sued the city of Chicago and eight police detectives and officers for their role in his arrest and conviction. In his lawsuit, Taylor alleges detectives obtained his confession by beating him and promising to release him.

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Once they learned he had been in custody, according to the lawsuit, they set about manufacturing evidence to undermine Taylor’s claim that he was in custody. As part of the alleged coverup, officers filed a report saying they saw Taylor on the street around the time of the slayings.

They also failed to tell his attorney they had corroborated his alibi when they interviewed another man in the lockup who remembered Taylor being there, the lawsuit alleges.

Convicted along with Taylor were Paul Phillips, Deon Patrick, Lewis Gardner and Dennis Mixon. Taylor, Mixon and Patrick were sentenced to life in prison, and Phillips and Gardner were serving 30-year terms. Charges against two of the three others were dropped or thrown out and the third was acquitted.

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In the Nieves case, Houser shot the 38-year-old man twice as the two acquaintances argued outside a Northwest Side apartment building in January 2017.

Houser, who had nearly 30 years on the Chicago Police Department, said he opened fire because he believed Nieves was reaching for a handgun.

Nieves was unarmed. Three weeks prior to the fatal shooting, he had called police to say a police officer, later identified as Houser, had threatened him with a gun, city lawyer Caroline Fronczak said Thursday.

Houser left the Police Department shortly after the shooting. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced in 2020 to 10 years in prison in Nieves’ death.

rsobol@chicagotribune.com

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

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