Alan Beaman is learning the hard way that the road to the nether regions is paved with good intentions — not his good intentions, of course, but those of the police and prosecutors who put him in prison for a murder they later acknowledged Beaman did not commit.
Last week, a state appeals court — for the second time — dismissed Beaman’s malicious-prosecution lawsuit against the city of Normal and several of its police officers.
The court concluded that there was “probable cause” to arrest Beaman for the murder of his former girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller of Decatur. They also rejected Beaman’s claim that police improperly pressured prosecutors into filing charges against Beaman.
As a consequence, they dismissed Beaman’s lawsuit filed in McLean County Circuit Court.
Earlier, the federal courts dismissed Beaman’s lawsuit against McLean County and former prosecutors Charles Reynard and James Souk — both future judges — on the grounds that they had legal immunity.
Barring spectacular legal reversal — Beaman can ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the case — it means litigation growing out of one of the most misdirected prosecutions ever in central Illinois is over — or nearly so.
The body of Jennifer Lockmiller, a 21-year-old Illinois State University student, was found in her apartment in Normal on Aug. 28, 1993. Authorities focused on a slew of Lockmiller’s male friends as potential suspects, including Beaman.
Ultimately, they excluded Lockmiller’s other male friends and charged Beaman, with whom she had a stormy relationship, with murder.
Their error — focusing solely on Lockmiller’s circle of acquaintances — was not revealed until years later when sophisticated scientific testing showed that DNA from two unidentified males was recovered from her body. Authorities later re-opened the Lockmiller murder probe, although nothing has come of it.
Sentenced to 50 years in prison for Lockmiller’s murder, Beaman served 13 years before the Illinois Supreme Court reversed his conviction because authorities failed to turn over to the defense information on another suspect in the case.
McLean County prosecutors chose not to re-try the case, and Beaman later received $175,000 in compensation from the state after winning a certificate of innocence. Former Gov. Pat Quinn also granted him a pardon based on his innocence.
Twenty at the time that this case started and now approaching 50, Beaman has for years been pursuing prosecutors and police for civil damages based on his wrongful prosecution.
But that’s proved to be a tough nut to crack because the law gives his prosecutors immunity while requiring police to act in an intentionally improper way in securing criminal charges.
The appellate court struck down Beaman’s lawsuit on two grounds — authorities had proper grounds to arrest and charge him and it was the prosecutors, not the police, who made the decision to arrest Beaman.
“The existence of probable cause is a complete defense to a claim of malicious prosecution, no matter the motive prompting the arrest,” wrote Justice James Knecht for a unanimous three-judge panel.
In other words, based on the facts, authorities could reasonably believe Beaman killed Lockmiller and should be charged, even though he was, in fact, innocent.
“Viewing the totality of the circumstances, and doing so in the light most favorable to (Beaman), we find no genuine issue of material facts on the existence of probable cause,” Knecht wrote.
There was no eyewitness or physical evidence linking Beaman to Lockmiller’s death.
He was considered a prime suspect because of his jealousy over her relations with other men.
Beaman was living with his parents in Rockford at the time of her death, But authorities alleged he could have driven from Rockford to Normal, killed Lockmiller and been back home in time to fit within factual time constraints concerning his documented movements.
This case has had a bizarre procedural history. The Illinois Supreme Court denied Beaman’s first request to his hear case after the 4th District issued its first decision dismissing his lawsuit. The high court, acting on its own, changed its mind after 11 prominent former prosecutors, including former Gov. James Thompson and former Attorney General Tyrone Fahner, filed a legal brief on Beaman’s behalf.
It was then that the high court sent the case back to the 4th District and asked it to review the matter to determine if Normal police played a “significant” role in prosecutors’ decision to charge Beaman.