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Exonerated Waukegan, Illinois, Man Receives $9 Million for Wrongful Conviction

by Derek Gilna

Jason Strong, a former Waukegan, Illinois, resident, settled a wrongful conviction lawsuit against that city and numerous surrounding suburbs for $9 million.

Strong was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 46 years for the 1999 murder of Mary Kate Sunderlin of Carpentersville, in a Wadsworth motel. Her body was later found in a North Chicago area forest preserve.

Six million dollars of the settlement will come from Waukegan and the remaining $3 million from the Lake County suburbs of Vernon Hills, Round Lake Beach, Buffalo Grove, Libertyville, Barrington Hills, North Chicago, and Park City, all of which were part of the Lake County Major crimes Task Force that participated in the investigation of the crime.

The Macarthur Justice Center and Northwestern University investigated the circumstances surrounding the investigation and conviction, and discovered coerced witnesses and faulty evidence.

Lake County prosecutor Michael Nerheim, whose predecessor Michael J. Waller was dogged by numerous instances of similar botched prosecutions and subsequent prosecutions, dropped the charges in 2015.

According to Locke Bowman, executive director of MacArthur, “We're pleased that this difficult and important case has been resolved. Mr. Strong suffered an enormous loss for which no amount of money would provide adequate compensation.”

Strong sued for wrongful conviction in May 2016. He had spent 15 years in prison.

Nerheim expressed regret for the wrongful conviction, saying, “We have been taught since childhood that the worst possible outcome of any criminal case is an innocent person being convicted. Here are tragic examples of this happening right here in Lake County. We are doing everything we can to ensure that this never happens again.”


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