Oklahoma to pay $8 million to man wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 23, 2015 1:24 PM

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The city of Tulsa has agreed to pay $8 million to a man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 16 years after his lawyers accused police and a crime lab of covering up evidence that exonerated him, authorities said on Friday.

Sedrick Courtney, 42, was sentenced to 60 years in prison after he was convicted in 1996 of robbing and beating a couple.

Courtney had produced witnesses who testified that he was not at the crime scene. But a victim of the robbery, whose eyes had been covered up with duct tape, identified him as one of her masked assailants based on his voice.

Key to Courtney's conviction were hairs that Tulsa police said were found on a ski mask one of the robbers wore.

His lawyers said a forensic investigator's official finding, that hair from the mask came from Courtney, was fabricated. But when they tried to examine the evidence, they were told by Tulsa officials that it had been destroyed, court papers showed.

Samples of the evidence were later discovered and an independent lab in Dallas in 2012 found no link between the DNA in the mask and Courtney.

A few months later, an Oklahoma court vacated Courtney's conviction.

Courtney sued the Tulsa Police Department, officials from the crime lab that did the original testing, and others in 2014. The parties later agreed to negotiate a settlement, court papers showed.

The Tulsa City Council approved the settlement in an executive session on Thursday after weeks of discussion.

"There was a decision - a determination - made that the best avenue for resolution of the case was settlement rather than litigating it further," Tulsa City Attorney David O'Meilia told the Tulsa World newspaper.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Tom Brown)