Jim Dey | Another big day for man cleared in 1993 killing of ISU student

Jim Dey | Another big day for man cleared in 1993 killing of ISU student

Today is a big day for Alan Beaman, the former Illinois Wesleyan University student who was convicted — and later cleared — of charges that he murdered his Illinois State University girlfriend in 1993.

Beaman spent 13 years in prison before the Illinois Supreme Court overturned his conviction in May 2008 on the grounds that McLean County authorities improperly withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. Now, the same court is being asked to rule on the question of whether Beaman can sue the city of Normal and three of its police officers for malicious prosecution.

"I just feel like this case is way bigger than me at this point, because this is about the whole state," he said.

Both the criminal and civil cases growing out of the Beaman case have been unusual from the very beginning.

For example, before the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to review Beaman's civil case in the appeal to be heard today in Springfield, it decided on Nov. 22, 2017, that it wouldn't hear it. Then, acting on its own, it announced a couple weeks later — Dec. 8, 2017 — that it would.

"The petition for leave to appeal is allowed," the court said without explanation in a cryptic three-sentence notice to Beaman's legal team.

The question before the court is whether Beaman can sue Normal and its police officers for the role they played in his prosecution.

A state appeals court ruled that he could not sue the city because prosecutors, not police officers, make charging decisions. Prosecutors have legal immunity from civil lawsuits.

The case is, in some respects, similar to the recent civil rights lawsuit a Champaign man, Teshome Campbell, filed against the city of Champaign. Campbell, who also was convicted of murder and served time in prison before his conviction was overturned, filed his lawsuit in federal court. He recently received an out-of-court settlement of $3.5 million.

Before going to state court, Beaman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. But his case was dismissed because, according to a federal appeals court decision, "Beaman did not present enough evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer the existence of a conspiracy to conceal" exculpatory evidence.

While lawyers for Normal will argue Beaman's lawsuit should be dismissed because police officers are not involved in charging decisions, Beaman's lawyer will argue that police investigative efforts are so integral to the process that officers cannot be excluded from it.

It's that contention that prompted 11 prominent former prosecutors, including former Gov. James Thompson, former Illinois Attorney General Tyrone Fahner and former State Police Director Jeremy Margolis to sign a legal brief backing Beaman's right to sue for monetary damages.

"Liability for malicious prosecution deters this type of investigative misconduct," they argued.

The former prosecutors contended Beaman's conviction was "caused by a corruption of the criminal process in which police officers participating in his prosecution abandoned their role as unbiased investigators and pursued Beaman at all costs."

The case began on Aug. 28, 1993, when the body of Jennifer Lockmiller, who was from Decatur, was found in her apartment. She had been stabbed and strangled.

Investigators quickly focused on former boyfriend Beaman as a suspect because the two had had a stormy relationship. But Beaman was living at home that summer with his parents, and he claimed that he couldn't have committed the murder because he wasn't in Normal when Lockmiller was killed.

Authorities, however, alleged that Beaman drove from Rockford to Normal to visit Lockmiller and became enraged when he found evidence in her apartment of her relationship with another man. That, authorities said, is when Beaman allegedly killed her.

Authorities focused on numerous male acquaintances of the victim as possible suspects. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned Beaman's conviction because it said the case against him was weak and authorities withheld evidence about another suspect from the defense.

Years later, evidence would reveal that DNA material recovered from the victim's body came from none of the original suspects. Authorities, who reopened the Lockmiller investigation as a result of the finding, said it came from two so-far-unidentified males.

That revelation, coming after Beaman's conviction and 50-year sentence was overturned, prompted the McLean County State's Attorney office to drop its opposition to Beaman's request for a Certificate of Innocence.

Beaman subsequently received a court-approved Certificate of Innocence and state compensation of $175,000 for the 13 years he spent in prison.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn also granted Beaman a pardon based on innocence.

Twenty years old at the time of Lockmiller's death, Beaman is now 45, married with two daughters (ages 14 and 6) and works as a design engineer at a tool company in Rockford. He and his older daughter participate in community theater performances at Rock Valley Community College.

Beaman, who will be joined by family and friends at Thursday's hearing, said he's looking forward to oral arguments and hoping the seven justices will find that "public officials should be conducting themselves with honesty."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.