Cook County prosecutors in Chicago cleared 10 additional men who were allegedly framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts, marking the fourth instance of mass exoneration linked to Watts and his team.
In addition, four more men with cases linked to Watts are expected to be exonerated later this week, according to CBS Chicago. Some of the men spent years in prison on trumped up drug charges, thanks to Watts and members of his tactical team, according to attorneys for the 14 men.
At a hearing Monday morning, 10 men were exonerated when prosecutors requested that a judge dismiss their charges, following an ongoing review of cases linked to Watts, the station reported.
For more than a decade, attorneys for The Exoneration Project accused Watts and officers under his command with planting evidence and fabricating charges, even setting up their own drug and gun trade.
Kim Wilbourn, who was one of the men falsely accused said that he’s still haunted by what happened to him.
“To this day, I am not physically capable to go to sleep right. I can’t eat the same anymore. The way I think is messed up. I can’t get a job. I’m physically capable, but what this man did to me destroyed any capability of me becoming something,” Wilbourn said.
Last November, seven people who were framed on drug charges were exonerated when prosecutors agreed to dismiss their cases and in September 2018, 18 men arrested by Watts and his team had their charges thrown out. In November 2017, another 15 men were cleared of drug convictions tied to Watts.
Attorneys believe there are dozens more people with credible claims waiting to have their cases reviewed.
In 2013, Watts pled guilty to stealing from a homeless man who was posing as a drug dealer as part of an undercover FBI sting. He admitted that he had routinely extorted money from drug dealers, and was sentenced to a 22 months in prison – a shorter stint than many of those he is said to have framed had spent in jail before they were released.
The men cleared on Monday celebrated as they exited the courtroom, saying they were looking forward to starting a new chapter in their lives.