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Littlefield: Grounds Crew Member Back To Work After Wrongful Imprisonment02:51
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After years of wrongful imprisonment, Nevest Coleman will return to work. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
After years of wrongful imprisonment, Nevest Coleman will return to work. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The other day Nevest Coleman went back to work.

He’s on the grounds crew at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the Chicago White Sox play. Nevest Coleman hadn’t shown up on the job for 23 years, but he was welcomed back anyway because he had a good excuse. He was in prison.

“I loved it here,” Coleman said of the job at the place that was called Comiskey Park the last time he was employed by the White Sox.

Nevest Coleman is back on the job thanks to an attorney named Russell Ainsworth. He worked with several equally determined types to demonstrate with DNA evidence that Coleman, now 49, didn’t commit the murder for which he was sent to prison in 1994 when he was 26.

Counselor Ainsworth told me the testing is more precise and conclusive now than it was then, and he told a judge in Cook County that too, which is why the judge granted Coleman a “certificate of innocence.” To his credit, Coleman didn’t say, “Yeah, I knew that.”

The certificate might entitle Nevest Coleman to as much as $200,000, which sounds like a lot of money, until you do the math and discover that it would come down to a little less than $8,900 per year over the course of the time he was locked up for something he didn’t do.

According to Counselor Ainsworth, if he can demonstrate that his client was convicted as a result of “intentional misconduct” on the part of the police, Groundskeeper Coleman may realize a more appropriate settlement.

“What are his chances?” I asked when we spoke recently on the phone.

“It’s as strong a case as I’ve seen,” the counselor replied, which would not have meant a lot if he and his colleagues hadn’t seen a lot. They’ve helped about 50 innocent people get out of prison.

But all that’s for lawyers, judges and various state officials to wade through, and who knows how long it will take or how many dollars will be involved. Nevest Coleman is not inclined to sit around waiting to find out. He said recently that before he went to prison, he would wake up in the morning proud to go to work at the ballpark. When he got out of prison, he told his lawyer and his family that there were two things he wanted. Second was a hamburger, but first was to go back to work for the White Sox.

When his cousin called the front office to tell the team about that, the White Sox put him back on the job and said they were happy to see him return to the family, which is going to make the Chicago White Sox a tough team to root against this spring.

This segment aired on March 29, 2018.

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