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Federal jury decision over man’s 27-year false imprisonment will cost DC

Doanld Gates (Photo Source:

Doanld Gates (Photo Source:

It’s been a long journey for Donald Gates, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years. Gates was accused of the 1982 murder and rape of Georgetown student Catherine T. Schilling of Locust, New Jersey. It has been proven that Gates was framed for the murder by two Washington, DC police detectives. Earlier on Wednesday in US District Court, a jury found that the detectives violated Gates’ right to a fair trial by giving Gates’ name and other details to an informant, and that both detectives had conspired and withheld information.

According to court records, former homicide detectives Ronald S. Taylor and Norman Brooks, both now retired, fed information to an unreliable informant. The informant claimed Gates confessed to him while in jail and that he was tied to DNA evidence. This led to a D.C. Superior court finding Gates guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison. During this time, Gates maintained his innocence and suffered until 2009. It was then that he was cleared based on DNA evidence and the real culprit was identified. Because of the conduct of the officers and his wrongful imprisonment, Gates was earlier awarded $1.4 million under a law that gives $50K per year of imprisonment of innocent people who waive their rights to sue the US government.

The ruling on Wednesday by a US jury has now found the city of Washington, D.C liable for his false imprisonment and city officials have begun to fear the financial hit. Under law, there is no limit to the amount that can be awarded to Gates, who is now 64. The amount of the award will be set by jurors and there is no for compensatory damages.  The civil trial is ongoing and the award figure will be set under the guidance of presiding Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts of U.S. District Court. Judge Roberts is also deciding separately whether the Washington, DC government is liable under the city’s Unjust Imprisonment Act. The amount of this award is uncapped and set by the judge. Gates’ case is the first federal civil rights claim for damages involving a wrongful conviction in the District.

The amount of money Gates could be awarded is huge and already the city is beginning to beg for restraint. Joseph A. Gonzalez of the D.C. Attorney General’s office stated to the court “We know that given the verdict Mr. Gates is entitled to compensation, but we ask in reaching your decision that you continue to exercise common sense in determining damages that are rationally related.”

In response to the jury verdict, Gates is quoted as saying, “It feels like the God of the King James Bible is real, and he answered my prayers.” Gates, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., added as he left the courtroom, “Justice is on the way to being fulfilled. . . . It’s one of the happiest days of my life.”