(RightWing.org) – No legal system is perfect, and sometimes courts get it wrong. Occasionally they get it so wrong it’s hard to believe it happened, and that’s what happened to Chicago man Brian Beals in 1988. He’s spent 35 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit — but now he’s free at last.
In 1988 Beals, then 22 years old, was a student at Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale campus. He returned to his home in Chicago for Thanksgiving, and while he was there he got into an argument with a drug dealer who approached him. Beals then got in his car and drove away — but someone opened fire on him, and the bullets cut down bystander Valerie Campbell and her 6-year-old son Demetrius, wounding the mother and killing the child.
Beals was arrested on suspicion of the murder, and Campbell insisted that she’d seen the argument between him and the dealer and believed he was the one who’d fired the shots. She stuck to that story despite not having taken part in a line-up or having seen any photos. Three other witnesses disagreed and said they’d seen another man do the shooting. However the jury went with Campbell’s testimony, and Beals — who always maintained his innocence — was sentenced to life in prison.
Through his time in prison, Beals mentored young people and took up writing plays, one of which was performed in Chicago earlier this year. The 35 years he spent inside was the second-longest wrongful incarceration in Illinois history. However, finally, lawyers took another look at his case and found another five witnesses who contradicted Campbell’s account. Analysis of police photos from the time also revealed three bullet holes in Beals’s car, backing up his insistence that he’d been the target, not the shooter. On December 12 he was finally freed, meeting members of his family outside the prison gates.
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