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Wrongfully convicted man settles Chicago Heights lawsuit for $15 million

By Bob Roberts, CBS Chicago

A federal judge Wednesday approved a $15 million settlement said to be one of the largest in Illinois history for wrongful conviction.

Two years have passed since Rodell Sanders was set free, after spending 20 years in prison. He sued the city of Chicago Heights and Chicago Heights police officers Jeffrey Bohlen and Robert Pinnow for malicious prosecution in 2013. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve approved a $15 million settlement of the lawsuit.

Sanders said he thanks God every day, then goes to work at a west Loop firm of Loevy & Loevy, where he works as a law clerk and tries to help other inmates seeking to prove their innocence.

Sanders was, and remains, driven. Once he began a concerted effort to win a new trial, he said he would spend as many as 12 hours a day, six days a week, in the prison law library. He said he even asked his family to visit him less often so he could devote the time to his studies. It took him five years to write the legal filings that resulted in a new trial.

He was convicted in the 1993 murder of 19-year-old Stacy Armstrong and the attempted murder of her friend, Phillip Atkins, who were forced from their car in December 1993 at gunpoint, shot and left for dead. Atkins survived and testified at trial, but Sanders says authorities also cut a deal with the real killer to testify against him.

Sanders studied law books for five years before writing the brief that won him a new trial that resulted in his acquittal in 2014.

He said he hopes to buy apartment buildings and other real estate with the money from settling his lawsuit; and, at age 51, he said he has not ruled out law school.

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