NORMAL – The Illinois Supreme Court has again overruled the appeals court in Alan Beaman’s attempt to sue the Town of Normal and three police officers for malicious prosecution. In a 4-2 ruling, the justices have sent the case back to McLean County Circuit Court for trial, seven years after it was first filed in 2014.
Beaman was accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, Illinois State University student Jennifer Lockmiller, in 1992 by strangling her with the cord of a clock radio in her apartment. He was convicted in 1995 and sent to prison for more than 13 years before his conviction was overturned on appeal. Since then, the courts have given Beaman a Certificate of Innocence and then-Gov. Pat Quinn issued a pardon.
Beaman has made multiple attempts to sue the Town of Normal and former detectives Tim Freesmeyer, Frank Zayas, and Dave Warner for malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy. Beaman also has sought damages from defendant and the town.
Circuit and appeals courts have twice ruled against Beaman and in favor of the town’s claim that, though mistaken, the police investigation was conducted in good faith and the prosecution was reasonable.
Usually, municipalities and police are protected from liability in most cases under the presumption of a good faith effort to perform their duties. Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. wrote the opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and Justices David Overstreet and Robert Carter. It holds “that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether Beaman can prove his claim for malicious prosecution.”
The opinion said “in this case a rational juror could find that defendants intentionally ignored, shaped, interpreted, or created evidence to support their conclusion that Beaman was guilty. Accordingly, Beaman is entitled to have a jury determine whether the detectives acted with malice.
“We find that there are genuine issues of material fact regarding defendants’ intent and, therefore, defendants’ right to summary judgment is not clear and free from doubt as a matter of law,” according to the ruling.
The defense had claimed the officers were doing their job and that it is up to the prosecutors to make the decision to proceed with charges. But the justices said police also are responsible for allowing the prosecution to move forward.
“Accordingly, Beaman is entitled to have a jury determine whether the detectives acted with malice,” wrote the justices in sending the matter back to McLean County Circuit Court.
Justice Michael Burke dissented and was joined by Justice Rita Garman. Burke wrote that probable cause is a complete defense and shield from Beaman’s allegations. Burke agreed another man was a potential suspect, but said Beaman was much more likely to be the offender.
“First, Beaman’s fingerprints were on the clock radio, which showed he had the means to commit the offense. Second, Beaman exhibited an undisputed pattern of violence toward Lockmiller in reaction to her alleged infidelity, which showed motive. Third, the time trials showed he had a narrow opportunity to commit the murder,” wrote Burke.
“Although the totality of the circumstances known to defendants at the time of the arrest must be viewed in the light most favorable to Beaman, I conclude no question of fact on the absence-of-probable-cause element remains,” wrote Burke.
Lawyers for the town and the former detectives can ask the high court to reconsider.