MILWAUKEE (WITI) — The Milwaukee City Attorney’s Office has filed a proposed resolution asking the Milwaukee Common Council to approve a $6.5 million settlement for a man who was wrongfully convicted of a homicide in 1996.
Chaunte Ott was convicted in the 1995 murder of Jessica Payne, but was later cleared due to advancements in DNA technology.
Ott was released from prison in 2009 following proof that DNA recovered from Payne was that of serial killer Walter Ellis.
Ott’s conviction was based largely on testimony of two witnesses who testified that that they had been with him at the time of the murder. One witness swore to have personally witnessed Ott commit the murder. After the new DNA evidence came to light, the witness recanted his testimony.
The other witness (now deceased) had testified that Ott had admitted to the crime. Ott’s lawsuit claimed that Milwaukee detectives had pressured these witnesses into providing false testimony.
The city of Milwaukee and the officers deny any wrongdoing.
Lawsuits based on events occurring nearly two decades ago present hurdles that make defending such cases exceptionally difficult. Memories have faded. Certain witnesses and records are no longer available. And although interviews of felony suspects are now recorded, that practice did not exist at the time Payne’s murder was investigated.
Lawsuits against municipalities elsewhere have frequently resulted in large verdicts, with some ranging as high as $1 million to $2 million for each year that the plaintiff was incarcerated, plus actual attorneys fees and costs.
The proposed resolution provides for a settlement less than half of a potential verdict for Ott’s 13 years of incarceration and includes attorney fees and costs.