SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court sided with a man who said an appellate court did not accurately judge his claim of malicious prosecution.
In a unanimous decision written by Justice Thomas L. Kilbride and released Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the 4th District Appellate Court’s ruling that denied Alan Beaman the right to a trial based on his claims against the city of Normal and three former police officers involved in an investigation that led to his murder charges.
“This court has long recognized that suits for malicious prosecution are not favored in law,” Kilbride wrote. “When a person is wrongfully convicted of a crime, however, it has profound consequences. Nevertheless, malicious prosecution actions are subject to more stringent limitations than other tort actions and will be allowed only when all of the requirements for maintaining an action have been met.”
Beaman asked the state’s top court in September to revive the lawsuit alleging misconduct by Normal and its police officers, contending there are still questions remaining of material fact a jury could not decide.
The Supreme Court said a plaintiff must prove five elements for malicious prosecution to be present. Those include commencement or continuance of an original criminal or civil judicial proceeding by the defendant, the termination of the proceeding in favor of the plaintiff, the absence of probably cause for such proceeding, the presence of malice and damages resulting for the plaintiff. The court focused on the commencement or continuance aspect.
“We agree with defendants that, while cases may use differing language when analyzing the commencement or continuance element, in each case, the court examined the defendant’s conduct or participation in the commencement or continuation of criminal proceedings against the plaintiff,” Kilbride wrote. “In other words, the relevant inquiry is whether the officer proximately caused the commencement or continuance of the criminal proceeding.”
Beaman spent 13 years in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller. But in 2008, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the conviction saying that McLean County prosecutors and Normal police improperly withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. Beaman sued for malicious prosecution in 2014.
The case stems from 1993, when 22-year-old Lockmiller was found dead in her Normal apartment. She had been strangled and stabbed. Beaman and Lockmiller had previously dated and Beaman was charged with having killed her.
At the time, however, he was living 130 miles from Lockmiller in Rockford. Bank and phone records showed he was in Rockford within a short amount of time after her the time of death, leaving it impossible for him to have killed her, his attorneys argued. But authorities said he could have killed her and sped back to Rockford by the time the records showed he was there.
DNA material recovered from the victim’s body showed years later that it did not match Beaman’s nor John Murray’s.
Murray was the second potential suspect police conducted a polygraph test on. He was never charged.
Beaman’s 50-year sentence was overturned, he received a court-approved certificate of innocence and was pardoned by former Gov. Patrick J. Quinn.
In 2016, a McLean County judge dismissed the suit and last year the 4th District Appellate Court affirmed the judgment.
The 4th District Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal in Beaman v. Freesmeyer, 2017 IL App (4th) 160527, finding he could not sue the town because it wasn’t the officer who made the decision to charge him, but rather county prosecutors — and they have legal immunity from civil lawsuits.
Beaman’s attorney, David M. Shapiro of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, argued that Beaman wouldn’t have been convicted had the investigators conducted a “fair and honest investigation.”
Shapiro said intentional suppression of Murray’s polygraph led to the wrongful conviction of Beaman.
However, Thomas G. DiCianni of Ancel Glink Diamond Bush, DiCianni and Krafthefer P.C., who represented the officers said the outcome of the case would not have changed had the polygraph made it to the prosecutor’s office.
The high court said liability for malicious prosecution requires an examination on whether the defendant’s conduct is both the case in fact and a proximate cause of the commencement or continuation of the original criminal proceedings.
“We conclude that the appellate court’s standard failed to consider whether the defendants proximately caused the commencement or continuance of the criminal proceeding against Beaman,” Kilbride wrote. “The appellate court focused its inquiry on whether the ‘officer[s] pressured or exerted influence on the prosecutor’s decision or made knowing misstatements upon which the prosecutor relied.’”
The appellate court now must examine whether the defendants’ conduct or actions proximately caused the commencement or continuance of the original criminal proceeding by determining whether defendants played a significant role in Beaman’s prosecution.
“We’re still evaluating the decision but the decision really solely addresses the correct standard and doesn’t suggest in any way that our clients did anything wrong or the plaintiffs case has any merit,” DiCianni said.
Shapiro said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.
“This important precedent is Alan’s second unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. He will continue his lifelong fight for justice and accountability. It’s an honor to represent him,” Shapiro said.
The case is Alan Beaman v. Tim Freesmeyer, et al., No. 122654.