Ben Baker, 43, of Chicago was convicted of drug possession in 2005 and sentenced to 14 years in prison, but last year, the Exoneration Project discovered evidence that the investigators framed Baker. He was eventually released from the Robinson Correctional Center this week and sent home. Baker’s legal team knew for more than a day that he was no longer convicted of what a corrupt officer framed him for, but Baker had no idea. He said, “I was coming from the gym, from a fitness class they provide there. I was standing, waiting. The officer told me to pack my stuff. I was going home. I told him, ‘Stop playing.’ ”
“This is what we do this work for. This conviction should have never happened, but we are delighted that once the case got on their radar, the state’s attorney’s office acted quickly and decisively,” said Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer with the Exoneration Project.
Sergeant Ronald Watts and a number of officers on his squad testified that Baker was selling drugs out of one of the city’s public housing buildings, the Ida B. Wells building. Baker has always maintained his innocence and said that the authorities were framing him.
At trial, he testified that Sgt. Watts had previously tried to frame him for drug-related cases when he refused to give Watts $1,000 for “protection”. Baker refused to pay the money and got out of those false charges later. He subsequently complained to another officer Alvin Jones, but he didn’t know that Jones was part of the scheme. Jones responded it was all “part of the game…you win some, you lose some. Next time we get you, it will stick.”
Watts and the other officers testified that Baker was lying and the jury convicted him.
Officer Douglas Nichols, who worked under Watts’ command, testified that he saw Baker with drug bags packaged for distribution and tried to capture him, but he fled. Officer Robert Gonzalez, also a member of Watts’ team, testified that he arrested Baker in the lobby after Baker got away from Nichols and that he found heroin, crack cocaine, and $800 in his pocket.
Baker told the court that Watts and his officers were the ones with a criminal empire in the housing complex. They often stole narcotics proceeds and shook down dealers for “protection money”, and even pinned cases on innocent residents if they refused to play ball with them.
At the sentencing hearing, the trial judge fully believed the officers stating that he thought Baker’s accusations were unfounded. He sentenced Baker to 18 years, but that sentence was later reduced to 14 years. The accusations “[hold] no water at all,” Judge Toomin said.
It turns out that the criminals were the ones wearing the badges in this case. (more…)