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State Pays Wrongfully Convicted Man For Serving 23 Yrs

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — After serving over two decades for a crime he didn’t commit, one man yet again finds himself on the side of injustice.

An attorney representing a man who spent 23 years locked up for a murder he didn’t commit says her client was turned away twice by Chase Bank when he tried to deposit a check from the state of Illinois to compensate him for his time imprisoned.

Chase, meanwhile, said it made a mistake in turning him away once but denied doing it twice, calling the second incident this week a misunderstanding.

The exonerated man, Darryl Fulton, said he was “proven innocent” and expressed frustration with the ordeal.

“I’m just trying to deposit my check,” Fulton said. “I just wanted to be treated like anyone else.”

Kathleen Zellner criticized Chase for not allowing Fulton to deposit a $169,876 check from the state at its bank branch on 79th Street and Cicero Avenue, questioning whether racism played a part. The first time Fulton tried to deposit the money, Zellner said, the bank said she would have to endorse the check because her firm’s name was under his, though Fulton’s name was on the “pay to the order of” line.

Zellner said the law firm’s name was on the check because it was mailed to her office.

The second time, Zellner said, Chase contended Fulton signed above her name and the check would need to be deposited in her account. Zellner got on the phone with the bank but employees wouldn’t deposit it, she said.

In a statement, Chase said it “should have accepted (Fulton’s) check during his initial visit.” The bank did not specifically address whether Fulton’s race was a factor.

“We did offer to deposit the check on his return visit and have reached out to him to clear up any confusion,” the bank said. “We regret the error and apologize for the inconvenience.”

Zellner disputed that Chase offered to accept the check. She said he will be changing banks and that he took a new check from her client account that he can deposit.

Fulton’s check comes from a state fund for wrongly imprisoned people. Zellner has represented numerous wrongly convicted men and said she’s never had a problem with her clients depositing their checks before.

“I find it particularly outrageous because he was wrongfully convicted,” Zellner said. “The check is from the state of Illinois to him and I can’t attribute any other reason except they’re discriminating against him because he’s a black male.”

Fulton, released from prison in November, has been working at a factory in the near western suburbs.

Fulton spent 23 years behind bars for the 1994 slaying of Antwinica Bridgeman, who disappeared after her 20th birthday party in Englewood.

Two weeks after Bridgeman disappeared, Fulton’s co-defendant Nevest Coleman found her body in an abandoned basement of the Englewood home where he lived with his family, and Coleman’s mother called authorities.

No physical evidence ever linked Coleman and Fulton to the attack, a Chicago Tribune review of court records and police reports found.

Both men say they were coerced into confessing by detectives with a history of alleged misconduct and immediately recanted. They each described abuse at the hands of Chicago police officers.

Fulton and Coleman were sentenced to life in prison for the murder, but recently discovered DNA evidence matched a serial rapist. Prosecutors dropped charges against the men last winter, and in March a Cook County judge awarded the men certificates of innocence. Each man has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the city of Chicago.

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