A Chicago man who was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit resumed his former job with the Chicago White Sox on Monday after spending 23 years behind bars.
Nevest Coleman, 49, who was officially exonerated by a Cook County judge last month thanks to DNA evidence, returned to Guaranteed Rate Field as a groundskeeper. His old colleagues welcomed him with an official Sox jacket and hat.
“I’d like to be an independent person, I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. I like to work for what I have,” Coleman told WGN-TV. “Just by coming to work like this here every day is a blessing.”
Coleman was a 25-year-old father of two who had worked at the ballfield ― then named Comiskey Park ― for two years when he was wrongfully arrested, along with co-defendant Darryl Fulton, for the April 1994 rape and murder of a young woman named Antwinica Bridgeman, according to his attorney.
There was no physical evidence linking Coleman or Fulton to the crime, and both men said they were coerced by police into making false statements. But they were each sentenced to life in prison.
Coleman narrowly escaped the death penalty after prosecutors made an unsuccessful plea to the judge, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Both men’s charges were dropped late last year after a DNA test on bodily fluids recovered from Bridgeman’s clothing and body yielded a match with a serial rapist, according to a release from Coleman’s attorney.
During his time behind bars, Coleman missed watching his children grow up and wasn’t around when his parents died, but he says he doesn’t live with anger.
“The past’s in the past now. There’s no more anger, upset, frustration, nothing,” he told WGN. “When I was in there I was miserable. But now I have my loved ones behind me, standing by my side, that misery’s gone now.”
Upon his release, people close to Coleman reached out to the baseball team on his behalf to see if he’d be able to resume his job there as a groundskeeper, a spokesperson for the Sox told HuffPost.
He went through the application and hiring process, the spokesperson said, and was hired as a seasonal member of the grounds crew.
“We’re grateful that after more than two decades, justice has been carried out for Nevest,” the team said in a statement. “It has been a long time, but we’re thrilled that we have the opportunity to welcome him back to the White Sox family. We’re looking forward to having Nevest back on Opening Day at home in our ballpark.”
It has been a long time, but we’re thrilled that we have the opportunity to welcome [Coleman] back to the White Sox family. Chicago White Sox statement
As life for Coleman moves on, so does a lawsuit against the city of Chicago, several police officers and Cook County state’s attorney’s officials on his behalf.
“The Defendants’ misconduct in this case was not an isolated occurrence,” says the lawsuit, filed last month. “To the contrary, they were the result of the City of Chicago’s policies and practices of pursuing wrongful convictions through reliance on coerced statements and profoundly flawed investigations.”
His attorney, Russell Ainsworth, has asked that prosecutors reinvestigate cases that are related to the detectives involved in Coleman’s arrest.