ILLINOIS – Ten men were cleared of drug convictions Monday after a judge ruled that they were framed by a former Chicago police sergeant.
Cook County Judge Leroy Martin Jr. granted requests from the prosecution to vacate convictions finding the men guilty of illegal drug activity Monday, according to The Associated Press.
The convictions were overturned after law enforcement discovered and lawyers proved in court that former Chicago Sgt. Ronald Watts framed victims by planting drugs on their persons in retribution for refusing to give him or his team members money, TheAP reported.
Sixty-three persons have been acquitted on Watts’ related drug charges after being framed by the officer, according to attorney Sean Starr, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Many of those now acquitted completed their sentences before their convictions were erased. A judge overturned seven convictions in November, but all of Watts’s victims had served out their sentences. Punishments for their alleged crimes included up to two years in prison and probation, The AP reported in November.
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Watts conducted his operation at a public housing complex in Chicago’s South Side. The complex has since been destroyed, TheAP reported.
Roughly 50 false felony convictions have been abandoned since 2016, following investigation into the charges, according to TheAP.
“We’ve got 100 more cases that we have already submitted to the state’s attorney for review … that we believe they were framed,” said lawyer Joshua Tepfer, according to TheAP. Tepfer is an attorney for the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project. “And we still have a lot more to go through.”
The project “focuses on cases involving convicted men and women who claim to be, and we believe to be, innocent of the crimes for which they stand convicted,” according to its website.
One attorney estimates Watts’s activities have resulted in over 500 false convictions, according to TheAP.
The Cook County state attorney’s office will continue to investigate Watts’s illegal operations and absolve all those who’ve taken the fall for his misdeeds, according to TheAP.
Authorities first arrested Watts in 2012. He pleaded guilty in 2013 to stealing money from an informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Watts is serving a 22 month jail sentence.