SPRINGFIELD — Lawyers for a Rockford man exonerated of the 1993 murder of an Illinois State University student argued Wednesday that three former Normal police officers deliberately hid evidence that could have helped prove his innocence and avoid 13 years in prison before his conviction was overturned.
Alan Beaman, now 44, and his family were in Springfield at the 4th District Appellate Court for arguments in his appeal of the dismissal of his lawsuit against retired officers Tim Freesmeyer, Dave Warner and Frank Zayas.
Beaman was convicted in 1994 of killing his former girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller, in her Normal apartment but later exonerated by the Illinois Supreme Court, pardoned by then-Gov. Pat Quinn and given a certificate of innocence by the court.
Speaking to The Pantagraph as he entered the courthouse, Beaman said the legal battle to clear his name and hold police accountable for their alleged misconduct is not over.
"I've been fighting these guys with my back foot forever and I'm not about to quit now," said Beaman, swinging his leg backward.
Beaman's McLean County lawsuit against the three former officers was dismissed last year by a Douglas County judge. The case was moved to another judicial circuit because retired McLean County judges Charles Reynard and James Souk were prosecutors during the investigation and trial.
Beaman's lawyer David Shapiro argued that the police theory of the time frame may have been disregarded by the jury had they known about a time trial conducted by Freesmeyer that was supportive of Beaman's alibi. Police argued Beaman drove round-trip from Rockford to Normal within a 3½-hour window established by a phone call he made and his mother's return home.
Shapiro also accused police of withholding information related to a man whom the defense has described as a more viable suspect who failed to complete a lie detector test and did not have an alibi for the time Lockmiller was killed. The man had been romantically involved with Lockmiller, was owed money by her for drugs and had a history of domestic violence, said Shapiro.
The man has not been charged in connection with Lockmiller's death.
In their questions to Shapiro, Appellate Judges Thomas Harris and James Knecht inquired about the legal issue of whether the actions taken by police had an impact on Souk, the prosecutor handling the case. Harris noted Souk denied such a connection during a deposition taken as part of a federal lawsuit filed by Beaman.
Judge Robert Steigmann was absent from arguments but will have access to audio recordings and serve as the third judge to consider the appeal.
Shapiro said prosecutors rely on police to conduct a fair investigation. If investigators believe more follow-up is needed before charges are filed, prosecutors should heed that advice, said Shapiro.
In Beaman's case, one of Lockmiller's neighbors told police he heard footsteps outside her apartment at 2 p.m. the afternoon of her death, information that conflicts with the state's timeline for Beaman's travel to the murder scene.
According to Shapiro, prosecutors ignored concerns from two detectives who asked for more time to follow up on leads.
Thomas DiCianni, lawyer for the town of Normal, cautioned the appellate panel that the defense is trying to impose a new standard on police officers to openly question the prosecution of a case. Such a "radical expansion" of existing law is an issue for the Supreme Court or Legislature, said DiCianni.
The information unknown to the defense in the Beaman case was limited to the other potential suspect's polygraph, said DiCianni. When Souk was told about the polygraph years later, he said it would not have changed his view of the case, according to the town's attorney.
Souk "said the evidence of motive for Beaman was the strongest he'd ever seen. He felt (the suspect named by the defense) had no motive at all," according to DiCianni.
The appellate court took Beaman's case under advisement.