Soon Alan Beaman will mark 30 years since he was wrongly accused of killing his girlfriend.
The Illinois Supreme Court reversed his murder conviction in 2008 and later he was pardoned by the governor. The state awarded him a certificate of innocence. But Beaman has never had his day in court to ask a jury if they believe the Normal police and the prosecutors handling the case at the time deliberately ignored other suspects and evidence pointing to his innocence. The Illinois Supreme Court cleared the way this week for just such a trial.
The court ruled that Beaman is entitled to a trial on his claims that three former Normal police offices conspired with prosecutors to frame him for the murder of Jennifer Lockmiller.
In its 42-page decision, the court ruled 4 to 2 to reverse a Fourth District appellate Court decision that let stand a lower court ruling dismissing Beaman’s lawsuit against the town of Normal and now-retired officers Frank Zayas, Tim Freesmeyer and Dave Warner. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in January.
Beaman was convicted in 1994 of strangling his former girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller, whose body was found in her apartment near the ISU campus. He served 13 years of a 50-year sentence before the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction. The state dropped the murder charges and Beaman was later granted a certificate of innocence and a pardon from the state.
The detectives, working with former McLean County State’s Attorney Charles Reynard and former prosecutor James Souk, ignored viable suspects and focused on Beaman during the early stages of their investigation, Beaman argued in his lawsuit. To support his claim, Beaman points to the history of drug use and domestic violence by another man who also had a sexual relationship with Lockmiller.
The lower courts erred when they determined that Beaman failed to prove that authorities lacked probable cause to prosecute him for the murder, said the Supreme Court ruling.
“That determination must – and can only—be resolved by a trier of fact, and the lower courts erred in finding otherwise,” the court ruled.
In the 2008 Supreme Court decision that Beaman’s jury trial had been tainted by the state’s withholding of evidence, the court found that Beaman’s lawyers were not told of another potential suspect’s failure to complete a polygraph test, his drug use and violence against his girlfriend.
“The fact that four separate pieces of evidence, acquired by the detectives at different times during the investigation, were admittedly withheld from Beaman could support a finding of incompetence, mistake or malice,” the court said in its recent ruling.
The court expressed skepticism about the state’s theory that Beaman killed Lockmiller weeks after the two had ended their relationship and he had moved back home to Rockford. The NPD timeline of the killing required Beaman to drive his older vehicle a steady 75 miles per hour from Rockford to Normal, strangle and stab Lockmiller within a 15-minute timeframe, and return home, again driving the high rate of speed.
Beaman also points to time trials performed by Freesmeyer that supported Beaman’s alibi that he was in Rockford at the time Lockmiller was killed, which were not turned over to the defense during the murder trial.
Former NPD Detective Tony Daniels voiced concerns about charging Beaman but was rebuffed by Reynard and Souk, who said at the time, “I think we’ve got our guy. We went as far as we can with this case,” the justices noted.
Comments by Souk about Freesmeyer’s work on the case support Beaman’s contention that the officers influenced prosecutors’ decision to charge Beaman, according to the ruling. In a letter to the NPD chief after Beaman’s conviction, Souk said the officer’s effort was “all the more remarkable considering his youth and inexperience. Beyond any question in my mind, this case would not have been won without Tim Freesmeyer.”
Souk’s letter is one element of Beaman’s argument that NPD engaged in a bad-faith investigation.
“As to Freesmeyer in particular, Beaman asserts that a juror could determine that he was motivated by a desire to advance his career,” said the Supreme court ruling.
Souk and Reynard went on to serve as circuit judges. Both are retired.
In their review of the dismissal of the lawsuit, the Supreme Court concluded that “when the reasonable inferences are drawn in favor Beaman, as they must be when reviewing a grant of summary judgement, a rational juror could find that defendants intentionally ignored, shaped, interpreted, or created evidence to support their conclusion that Beaman was guilty.”
Justice Michael J. Burke filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Rita Garman.
Burke opined that Beaman failed to prove police lacked probable cause to charged him with murder. Such a failure is a defense against allegations of malicious prosecution, said Burke.
Beaman’s lawsuit now goes back to the Sixth Judicial Court and Judge Richard L. Broch who was appointed to hear the case because of judicial conflicts in the 11th Circuit were the case originated.
Beaman now lives in Rockford with his wife and two children.
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