Rodell Sanders, 51-year-old black man, former assistant governor of the Gangster Disciples (GDs), a father and now grandfather to seven grandchildren, was awarded a $15 million settlement on September 28, 2016, for the murder of a man named Phillip Atkins in December 1993. Sanders served 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. No surprise right? It’s always something with our black brothers and sisters. This same man fought for his innocence, pleading for his family to raise money to buy legal books so that he can teach himself the law. And that, he did. This courageous soul is the reason for his new trials. With the help of attorneys from the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project, Sanders was able to write his own court filings, be acquitted, and return home to his family 20 years later in July 2014.
Now if you’re unaware of the story, GDs are a well-known gang with a lot of power. In December 1993, murder victim Phillip Atkins and another male, identified as Stacy Armstrong, also the sole eyewitness of the case, were sleeping inside of a car on a late night when four men forced them out of the car at gunpoint. In the midst of the chaos, Armstrong was shot multiple times, survived and served as the sole witness of the case, identifying Sanders as the man who “ordered” the hit on him. Now, what’s fishy is the mere fact that Sanders’ attorney believed that that picture of Sanders was cropped so that the suspect’s description fit Sanders’ appearance. Hmm. A black man, framed? By police? Because Sanders believed he was blatantly framed by Chicago Heights police officers, he was determined to learn the law, understand the law. Sanders made a statement saying that he “studied 10, 11, and 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.” He was more determined than ever. Even after being offered a plea deal providing a sentence of 23 years in prison, he made it his duty to NOT accept a deal to a crime he did NOT commit. His conviction ended with Sanders being sentenced to 80 years in prison. See, no one expected a BLACK man to acquire high levels of eagerness towards his innocence. But oh, he did! His alibi for that particular night in question was that he was playing card games with his friends. But of course, no one will believe a black man, or?
What initially helped Sanders begin his journey was a confession letter sent to his girlfriend 6-months after the alleged 'gang hit' took place. The letter read things like, "I know that you are still mad at me for helping the police to lie on Rodell about that murder...They wanted Rodell instead of me because they need me to come to court on another case, then help them put Rodell away forever."
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Despite what the world may think, someone is forced to take a plea deal for crime he/she did not commit every day, serve time for a crime he/she did not commit every day. But who cares, right? No. We should all care. I mean, how many other individuals--men and women--are currently incarcerated for a crime he/she did not commit? Rodell's case is a prime example of how the justice system does not hold its law enforcement officers accountable, even if evidence is pointing their way. It is easy for law enforcement to frame individuals who are black, appear vulnerable, and may have gang ties. It happens every day frankly. We just never hear the stories.
Despite being exonerated and rewarded a large settlement, Sanders made a great decision to work for Loevy & Loevy, the civil law firm that represented him during his fight for compensation. His courage, determination, and ambition allowed for him to start a new journey, towards not only getting to know his grandchildren, but also to help other individuals who are currently experiencing the reality he once lived through. After sitting in a cell for 20 years for a crime he did not commit, Sanders only thought it was his given duty to help other people seek justice for being wrongfully convicted. I commend him for it. Hey now!