The Case of Carl Chatman: Another Wrongful Conviction, Another Miscarriage of Justice

It’s not just prosecutors who make mistakes about who’s guilty and who’s not – sometimes judges do too.

In 2002, Carl Chatman was convicted of raping a woman named Susan Riggio. The judge presiding over his trial, Cook county judge Michael Toomin, gave Mr. Chatman the maximum sentence possible: 30 years in prison. While lambasting Mr. Chatman at sentencing, Judge Toomin called the crime “an outrageous assault on a public employee,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

As it turns out, Judge Toomin could not have been further from the truth. Ms. Riggio, the supposed victim, fabricated the entire account of the rape so that she could bring a lawsuit for money damages against the security company for the Daley center, the building where she claimed the assault took place. Based solely on Ms. Riggio’s words, the police went after Mr. Chatman, who was 57 at the time. Mr. Chatman was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and had a low IQ, which was exploited by the police in order to coerce him to confess. This confession was used at trial to secure Mr. Chatman’s conviction, even though there was no physical evidence of any kind and the building’s security cameras never recorded him entering or leaving the Daley Center on the day of the purported attack.

Interestingly, this is not the first case in which Ms. Riggio concocted false allegations of rape in order to benefit financially. In 1979, Ms. Riggio claimed that she was raped inside a downtown office building in the early morning hours before anyone arrived. She then sued the building’s management and received a cash settlement. As in this previous case, Ms. Riggio settled her lawsuit against the Daley Center’s security company. Sadly, she cannot now be charged with perjury due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. Mr. Chatman was released from prison in 2013 thanks to the efforts of the Northwestern Law School Center on Wrongful Convictions.

So, to summarize, an innocent mentally deficient man’s life was destroyed because of someone’s false statements which were made purely for monetary gain. Instead of doing their job and investigating the claims (as well as the person who made them), the police bullied the defendant into making a false confession. This confession was also never properly scrutinized. Prosecutors then repeatedly lied in court in order to secure a wrongful conviction, and the judge added insult to Mr. Chatman’s injury by denigrating his character and giving him the maximum sentence – effectively spitting on whatever dignity he had left. Mr. Chatman then spent 11 years in prison while his accuser won a cash settlement and avoided any type of legal repercussions for lying and helping to send an innocent man to jail.

Ms. Riggio, however, couldn’t have pulled it off alone; it seems as though the entire criminal “justice” apparatus worked in concert to assist her. From incompetent police, to nefarious government lawyers, to ignorant and vindictive judges, the entire system failed to do anything right, except to expose the frailty and corruption that far too often riddles the US justice system.

Mr. Chatman has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago, the Chicago police department, and other defendant involved in this egregious incident.  Let’s hope – for all our sakes – the system works well enough to give him the justice he deserves.

For more information on this case: “Illinois: Exonerated Sex Offender Sues for wrongful Conviction” by Derek Gilna – PLN, February 2016

[This post was researched and written by one of the innocent and wrongly convicted.]

Sherene G.

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