A federal jury awarded a man $27 million for spending 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit in the largest ever civil judgement against the Springfield Police Department in Massachusetts.
In fact, Mark Schand, 55, was not even in the same state when the murder was committed outside a bar in 1986. He was with his wife at her beauty salon in neighboring Connecticut.
And the witnesses who had claimed he was the shooter later recanted their statements, including one man who was offered probation for an unrelated breaking and entering charge if he agreed to finger Schand as the shooter.
It took less than three hours for jurors to vote in favor of 55-year-old man but Springfield city officials vow to appeal the decision, refusing to fault the retired officers, Elmer McMahon, Raymond Muise, Leonard Scammons and Michael Reid.
“While Mr. Schand is a free and innocent man today…the only injustice that was proved in court was that several individuals lied and failed to come forward, but that had nothing to do with the police officers involved,” Edward Pikula, Springfield city solicitor, told Masslive.com.
However, according to the news outlet, several eyewitnesses who claimed Schand was the shooter who killed Victoria Seymour outside of a nightclub after a botched drug deal recanted their testimonies from the original trial 30 years ago. While the cops consistently denied any foul play, a witness signed a sworn statement in 2006 that said police pressured him into identifying Schand as the shooter.
During the trial last week, Reid, former Springfield Police Sergeant, took the witness stand to rehash his investigation into Seymour’s murder.
In September, 1986, Seymour, the 25-year-old mother of three, was an innocent bystander fatally struck in the back by a stray bullet outside of the After Five lounge. A cocaine dealer nicknamed “Heavy” was robbed at gunpoint and another man, Anthony Cooke, was injured during the crossfire of the drug deal gone bad.
Reid assured the jury he took the proper steps into investigating the homicide including securing the crime scene, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. He also said witnesses reported the shooting was because of an ongoing clash between men from Springfield and Hartford, Connecticut where Schand is from.
From there, several witnesses claimed, and some later backtracked, Schand was the shooter. But the father of three believed cops only spotlighted witnesses who identified Schand as the culprit, even though Reid insists his investigation was fair.
With help from his attorneys, John and Linda Thompson, and the nonprofit, New Jersey-based Centurion Ministries, prosecutors finally dropped charges against Schand in 2013 and he was released from prison and granted a new trial based on newfound evidence.
Cooke admitted the former assistant district attorney overseeing Schand’s case bribed him with help on his own criminal charges if he identified Schand as the shooter. After Schand was convicted, Cooke walked away from his breaking and entering charge with just probation.
Evidence proving Schand wasn’t even at the lounge that night was also presented at his motion for a new trial. He was with his wife at her beauty salon in Hartford, Connecticut, which is less than an hour away.
“When I went to prison I had two little sons and one unborn child — by the time I came out, they were 28, 29 and 30. I lost that time of being a father,” Schand said. “Nothing can pay me back for that.”
Schand’s wife Mia took their three children to see their father regularly while he served time in prison. Middle child Mark Schand Jr. said he didn’t realize until he was about 10-years-old that his father was serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. While that reality “hurt immensely,” Schand tried his best to be his most positive self when he was with his kids.
“It’s basically like he raised us from inside prison,” Schand Jr. said.
Schand has since opened up a successful smoothie shop he says he can’t retire off of, but at least it has kept him busy. Despite his new verdict and recent win in court, Schand told Hartford Courant, “Nothing is going to change much. It’s only money, I don’t have it yet and I don’t know if I ever will.”
Springfield plans to appeal the jury’s decision on behalf of the defendants, saying, “The city stands behind these officers,” according to Pikula.
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