Man to receive $16M from DC after cops fabricated evidence, leading to 27 years in prison

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Credit: Innocence Project

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia agreed Thursday to pay $16.65 million to a man who spent 27 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.

The amount is about $617,000 for every year Donald Eugene Gates spent in prison.

Gates was freed in 2009 after DNA evidence cleared him in the 1981 rape and murder of 21-year-old Georgetown University student Catherine Schilling. A federal jury on Wednesday found that two city police officers fabricated and withheld evidence in the case, and city officials agreed to a settlement Thursday as the jury was getting ready to decide damages in the case.

The 64-year-old Gates, who now lives in Tennessee, previously received more than $1 million from the federal government for its role in his conviction. The settlement with the city brings his total compensation to $18 million.

Gates said in a telephone interview Thursday that he was “elated” with the settlement.

“Today, justice was served. Long-awaited justice was served,” Gates said.

Gates said he’s been dealing with medical issues and hasn’t had a social life since he left prison, but he said he does go to church and that it was God who “walked with me through all those years” in prison and since then.

Of the settlement, he said: “I’m going to put it to good use, that’s for sure.”

Gates’ conviction has been criticized over the years by his lawyers for a series of flaws. His conviction was based in part on the testimony of FBI hair analyst Michael P. Malone whose work came under fire in the late 1990s. Malone testified that hair from Gates matched hair found on the victim’s body, which was found in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. But an FBI inspector general report later found that Malone gave false testimony in another case. And the hair analysis technique he used has also been discredited.

Gates’ lawyers filed a civil lawsuit against the city and police in late 2010 alleging police misconduct in the case.

The lawyers argued police violated Gates’ constitutional rights by feeding a paid police informant information and allowing him to testify falsely.

Lawyers for the city argued police did not do anything unconstitutional, but jurors disagreed and found Wednesday that two police officers had withheld evidence and one of the men had fabricated evidence.

On Thursday, one of Gates’ attorneys, New York-based lawyer Peter Neufeld, called for an audit of other murder cases that the two men worked on.

After Gates’ exoneration in 2009, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia spent over four years reviewing cases involving FBI analysis of hair and fiber evidence. The office identified more than 100 cases for review, and ultimately set aside four other convictions as a result.

In Gates’ case, DNA testing was also able to determine the real killer in 2013, but that man had died the previous year.