Chicago Tribune

Jury awards $6.6 million to man 'framed' by FBI
'It's a long, long way from Death Row.'
By Matt O'Connor; Chicago Tribune staff reporter
January 24, 2005

A federal jury today awarded nearly $6.6 million in damages to former Chicago police Officer Steven Manning, finding two veteran FBI agents framed him for a Cook County murder that put him on Death Row.

The jury also held that one of the FBI agents also framed Manning in a Missouri kidnapping case. Manning spent 14 years in prison before both convictions were overturned and the prosecutions were dropped.

The damages could go even higher. U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, who presided over the six-week trial, is yet to rule on whether the United States shares responsibility with the two agents for malicious prosecutions.

"It's a long, long way from Death Row to complete vindication,'' Manning said after the verdict.

The jury deliberated for 6½ days before finding FBI Special Agents Robert Buchan and Gary Miller liable for Manning's wrongful conviction in the 1990 murder of trucking firm owner James Pellegrino. Buchan was also found liable in the Missouri kidnapping case.

The jury also found the two agents had intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

Manning claimed in his civil suit that the agents had a grudge against him and framed him for the crimes. The charges surfaced after Manning, who had been an informant for the FBI, filed a civil harassment suit over his treatment by the agents when he tried to stop working in that role, said his attorney, Jon Loevy.

"It's a very unusual thing that the jury would find FBI agents framed somebody not just once but twice for capital crimes," Loevy told reporters outside the downtown Chicago courtroom where jurors returned their decision.

Federal officials this afternoon issued a statement saying they "respect the jury system, the work of this jury and its verdict.'' But they said they remained "confident that the agents who were sued did not engage in any misconduct in this matter.''

U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald and Richard K. Ruminski, acting special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the FBI, said they would have no further comment.

Both Miller and Buchan remain with the bureau, according to FBI spokeswoman Cynthia Yates.

In closing arguments Jan. 11, a federal prosecutor lauded both Buchan and Miller as dedicated, law-abiding FBI agents.

In a fateful decision, the FBI used a notorious informant named Tommy Dye to try to elicit evidence about the Pellegrino murder while Dye and Manning were incarcerated in Cook County Jail.

Dye asserted he had captured a confession by Manning on a hidden recorder, but when nothing was audible, he claimed that the confession came during a two-second inaudible portion of the recording.

He claimed Manning had grabbed him by the arm, bent him over, put a finger to his head as if it was a gun and said, "This is how I killed Pellegrino."

A Tribune investigation in November 1999 examined Manning's conviction as well as prosecutors' use of jailhouse informants and found both were deeply flawed.

Manning was taken off Death Row in 2000 and finally freed from prison in February 2004. His civil suit had sought damages of more than $20 million.

Wrongfully Convicted Cops
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

Truth in Justice