Special Report: Peoria man speaks out after spending 19 years in prison for a wrongful conviction part II

By WEEK Producer

May 15, 2014 Updated May 16, 2014 at 9:45 AM CDT

Peorian Chris Coleman says he does not take his freedom for granted.

Imprisoned for 19 years, Coleman's wrongful conviction was overturned last year in a case that tested Illinois' legal system.

At the maximum security Menard Correctional Center, Chris Coleman spent years of life fighting to prove his innocence. He first had to convince his mother.

"Me and my mother, we have a bond about certain things. When my mother stared me in the face and asked me, Chris, did you do this crime and I told her, I didn't do it, she just gravitated to 'What's going on? I gotta get my son outta this situation," said Chris Coleman.

The situation was a 60 year prison sentence. As time passed, so did family members.

"I can name six Aunties who passed away and I couldn't go to their funerals. And my family will tell you when I was a little kid, I was like their favorite," said Coleman. "I mean my kids grew up without me. So, I lost a lot, I lost a lot."

In 1997, Coleman gained an ally when he met cellmate Dana Holland, also wrongfully convicted.

"And he was like, well I think you should write Karen Daniels, this is my lawyer, she's working on my case, so I uh, that was the first time I decided to write Northwestern," said Coleman.

Northwestern is home to the Center on Wrongful convictions. When his cellmate was exonerated , a determined Coleman wrote Daniel.

"And she said she would look at my case, and have some law students look at my case, and that was really the beginning to get the ball rolling."

But in 2009, Judge Michael Brandt denied a new trial, saying although Coleman may be innocent, new evidence presented by his attorney would probably not change the result of a retrial. The Third District Appellate Court agreed and that meant Coleman was down to his last appeal. On October 3rd, the Illinois Supreme Court would issue a ruling. His attorney called him with the news.

"And she said, I just want you to know that it was seven to zero, and I said 'what?', it was seven to zero, they overturned your conviction, seven to zero. And I just like I say man, I stated crying, she start crying. Officers were running to the door looking in through the glass like what's going on..."

After posting $10,000 bond, Chris Coleman was released and he was released just in time to spend Thanksgiving with his family. But he was free on bond, pending a retrial. In March of this year, Peoria County States Attorney Jerry Brady dismissed the charges. Christopher Coleman was finally.

"But I still right to this day have to pinch myself cause like he is actually here. Or you could pinch him (laugh)," said his wife Shandra Coleman.

"It happened to me today. God forbid but it could be a child of yours, or it could be you, said Chris Coleman.

The Illinois Supreme court set a legal precedent with Coleman's case.

Coleman works in Chicago, and is close to obtaining a bachelor's degree in business management.

He earned most of his credits in prison.

To submit a comment on this article, your email address is required. We respect your privacy and your email will not be visible to others nor will it be added to any email lists.