23 Years After Being Sentenced to Die, 55 Year Old Nathan Fields Finally Exonerated

Last week, over in a Chicago courtroom, Nathan Fields stood to hear Circuit Judge Vincent Gardenia find him not guilty of murder. Nathan Fields is 55 years old, and he's finally been cleared 23 years after he was sentenced to death by a notoriously corrupt Illinois judge.

What happened in Nathan Fields' case?

The truth has come to light, and it has been shown that the trial court judge in Fields' initial trial accepted a $10,000 bribe in the case. Judge Tom Mahoney actually took the money to find Fields and his codefendant not guilty, but apparently Mahoney got nervous that he was about to be caught. So, he returned the bribe to its source, went ahead and found both men guilty of a double murder, and sentenced them both to death.

Nathan Fields Spent 7 Years on Death Row and Awaited Retrial for 11 Years

Nathan Fields was granted a new trial in 1998, and he was released pending retrial in 2003 when a fellow Death Row inmate put up his bail. That Death Row inmate who put up the money for Fields to walk free pending full exoneration is a man named Aaron Patterson. He's still on Death Row.

Patterson's generosity allowed Fields to be free in Chicago, with his family, after serving seven years on Illinois' Death Row. Still, it was over ten years before Fields' case came before another judge and his name was cleared of the murder charge.

What are his plans now?

Nathan Fields plans on taking a vacation with his family - he's never seen the ocean or the mountains, he's told reporters. He also plans on opening a construction company with his friend Aaron Patterson - although right now, Aaron Patterson remains behind bars.

Judge Tom Mahoney Fixed Murder Trials for Money

These are all facts that have been established. Judge Mahoney was caught for his evildoing, tried, and found guilty of conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, and obstructing justice in April 1993. Thomas Mahoney spent over 12 years behind bars before he died at the age of 83.

The U.S. Supreme Court's Perspective on Judge Mahoney's Actions

Mahoney's actions made their way to the United States Supreme Court, where his activities were scrutinized in the case of Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U.S. 899, 117 S.Ct. 1793, 138 L.Ed.2d 97 (1997). There, a unanimous court heard the case where a criminal defendant argued that Judge Mahoney's taking in bribes other than the instant case nevertheless impacted his due process because Mahoney's criminality may well have influenced the judge's decisions in his case.

There, the petitioner argued he was "deprived of his right to a fair trial" because "[t]here is cause to believe that Judge Maloney's discretionary rulings in this case may have been influenced by a desire on his part to allay suspicion of his pattern of corruption and dishonesty." In Bracy, noting that only three judges in the totality of American jurisprudence had been found guilty of fixing a murder trial, with Mahoney being the sole jurist to do so in cases involving capital punishment, the court stated in an opinion written by Chief Justice Reinquist:

A judge who accepts bribes from a criminal defendant to fix that defendant's case is "'biased" in the most basic sense of that word, but his bias is directed against the State, not the defendant.

Brady, 117 S.Ct. at 1797.

And, once again, the point is made. The focus is not upon the particular defendant but upon the system itself.

It is a serious and blatant harm to the rights we all share in this country when due process of law is disregarded and disrespected by those in positions of authority. This is particularly and shamefully true when they are judges presiding over criminal matters.

 
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