Man freed after 13 years is suing Milwaukee police
By Dinesh Ramde
MILWAUKEE — A man whose homicide conviction was overturned after he served 13 years for the slaying of a teenage runaway will sue Milwaukee police, his attorney said Thursday, days after authorities said DNA linked another man to the crime.
Chaunte Ott's lawyer told The Associated Press the timing was coincidental.
"We've been preparing this lawsuit for months," attorney Jon Loevy said. He noted that litigants in similar cases have received $1 million or more for each year of wrongful incarceration.
Ott, 35, was convicted in 1995 in the death of Jessica Payne, a teenage runaway whose throat was slit. The Wisconsin Innocence Project took up his case in 2002, and new tests concluded that DNA in the case didn't match Ott's. He was freed in January after a state appeals court ruled that he deserved a new trial.
Authorities have since linked the DNA to Walter E. Ellis, 49, of Milwaukee. He was arrested Saturday after police and prosecutors said his DNA matched samples taken from Payne and at least eight women who were suspected prostitutes.
Ellis was charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the deaths of two of the other women, with more counts expected Thursday. Authorities haven't said who they believe killed Payne.
District attorney John Chisholm wouldn't comment Thursday on Ott's planned lawsuit or the status of Payne's case. Neither Milwaukee police nor the city's attorney immediately returned messages left Thursday.
The lawsuit claims Milwaukee police coerced people to give false testimony against Ott, Loevy said. It also accuses police of suppressing information after Ott's conviction that showed his DNA didn't match the crime-scene evidence.
John Pray, with the Wisconsin Innocence Project, said Wednesday his group hoped to work with the Milwaukee police department to determine whether others may have been wrongly convicted in the women's deaths.
Payne's body was found behind a vacant house on Aug. 30, 1995. Someone had slashed her throat and pulled her pants down to her ankles.
A jury convicted Ott of first-degree homicide. Prosecutors built their case around testimony from Richard Gwin and Sam Hadaway, who said they and Ott picked up Payne and drove to an abandoned building. Hadaway, who testified to avoid a charge of being a party to homicide, told jurors Ott tried to rob and sexually assault Payne before cutting her throat.
Pray said both witnesses have recanted their statements. Gwin has died.
The Innocence Project, run by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has helped exonerate 12 people.