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Although evidence of prior bad acts is inadmissible to prove a propensity to commit such acts, it is admissible for other purposes, including intent, opportunity, preparation, and plan. Fed. R. Evid. 404(b).
In 1982 Andrew Wilson shot and killed two Chicago policemen. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of Illinois reversed his conviction on the ground that his confession, which had been part of the evidence against him at trial, had been coerced. Wilson had "testified that he was punched, kicked, smothered with a plastic bag, electrically shocked, and forced against a hot radiator throughout the day on February 14 [the day of his arrest], until he gave his confession," and his testimony had been corroborated by extensive contemporaneous medical and photographic evidence. Wilson was retried, again convicted, and this time sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole; his appeal from the second conviction is pending. Meanwhile he had brought this suit for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the torture inflicted upon him to make him confess denied his right to due process of law.
Was the admission into evidence of the sordid details of Wilson's crimes proper?
After reviewing the record, the court found that the evidence was not directly relevant to the question of whether Wilson was in fact tortured nor was there evidence that plaintiff was injured during a scuffle with the officers he killed, or alternatively that his wounds were self-inflicted. It was not harmless error for the district court to exclude testimony from plaintiff's witnesses that was directly relevant to his claim. However, Wilson’s torture expert was properly excluded. Finally, evidence that a defense witness was a consummate liar was improperly excluded.