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Beaman Takes Case Against Normal Officers To Illinois Supreme Court

Alan Beaman and mother
Daisy Contreras
/
NPR Illinois
Alan Beaman with his mother on the steps of the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield in 2018.

In arguments Wednesday before the Illinois Supreme Court, lawyers for Alan Beaman continued their efforts to allow a jury to determine if several Normal police officers acted improperly during a murder investigation that resulted in Beaman serving more than a dozen years in prison before he was exonerated.

It was the third time the state’s high court considered the case involving the 1993 strangulation death of Beaman’s former girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller.

In 2008, the high court reversed Beaman’s conviction. Since his release, Beaman has pursued civil claims against the Town of Normal and former investigators Tim Freesmeyer, Dave Warner and Frank Zayas, all retired from the Normal police force.

On Wednesday, lawyer David Shapiro argued that Normal Police focused on Beaman as its primary suspect early on and ignored other, more viable suspects, including a man with a history of violence toward women, who sold drugs to Lockmiller and wanted to rekindle a relationship. The same suspect and his girlfriend lied to police about his whereabouts, said Shapiro.

“Police knew about these people and didn’t lift a finger to talk to them,” said Shapiro.

The “malicious” and “extreme misconduct” also involved the deliberate withholding of information on a polygraph test the alternative suspect failed to complete, said Beaman’s counsel.

“In a good faith investigation, the defendants would not have fixated on Beaman and tried to frame him,” Shapiro told justices in the arguments conducted remotely because of COVID-19 precautions.

"In a good faith investigation, the defendants would not have fixated on Beaman and tried to frame him."

The police file turned over to former McLean County prosecutor James Souk, now a retired circuit judge, was based on a limited investigation, said Shapiro.

Quoting from statements attributed to Souk in a lawsuit filed in federal court by Beaman, Shapiro said the former prosecutor acknowledged the polygraph information may have sparked additional questions about the case, had he received it.

“I would have found it of interest,” Souk reportedly said of the suspect’s polygraph.

The man considered by Beaman’s legal team to have been a viable suspect refused to answer questions during a deposition held as part of the federal lawsuit. That legal action was later dismissed. Beaman filed new claims in state court, a process that has taken years to move through the appellate and supreme court dockets.

Attorney Thomas DiCianni, arguing on behalf of the town and its former officers, dismissed allegations of police misconduct.

“This is the type of conduct that occurs in every major investigation ... this was an extremely thorough investigation,” said DiCianni.

On the issue of Souk’s knowledge of certain information, DiCinanni contends the prosecutor “was familiar with all the facts,” including the polygraph and incriminating facts surrounding the other suspect.

The accusation that former investigator Dave Warner deliberately withheld the polygraph information from prosecutors was termed “ludicrous” by the town’s lawyer.

“The polygraph issue is not one that deserves a trial in this case,” said DiCianni.

Police agencies across the state would be harmed if the malicious prosecution accusation outlined in Beaman’s case were to be upheld in a jury verdict, said DiCianni, adding such a move would be against public policy.

"We would be putting police on trial constantly,” he said.

In his closing remarks, Shapiro asked the court to allow Beaman to move forward with his lawsuit.

“Let this man have a trial. Alan could not have been indicted without a police file and investigation manipulated and curated to pin the crime on him,” said Shapiro.

Beaman, who resides with his family in Rockford, “has spent his adult life fighting for a fair trial and this court should give him one,” said Shapiro.

The court took Beaman’s case under advisement.

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Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.