When home remedies and sleep didn’t ease pain in his left ear, Nafarris Patrick went to a Chicago hospital. As he signed in, another patient eyed Patrick and called police. The other man had been robbed at gunpoint that evening and hurt his back falling off a fence. He thought Patrick was the robber. “I knew it was him because I looked into his face, and at the hospital I noticed he changed his clothes,” the victim told police. This random encounter between strangers led to Patrick’s arrest, a month in jail followed by several more on house arrest, and the prospect of 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, reports the Chicago Tribune. The case illustrates how quickly a person’s life can be thrown into chaos by chance and the criminal justice system, even when video exists to clear a suspect.
“This was a wrongful arrest that could’ve easily turned into a wrongful conviction,” said Samuel Mendenhall, an attorney who defended Patrick. Prosecutor Eric Sussman said his office reviewed Patrick’s case as soon as questions were raised. “It disturbs me any time somebody is accused of a crime they didn’t commit,” Sussman said. “But I’m heartened by the fact that, as soon as it was brought to our attention, we took action.” Patrick’s mother persuaded the powerful Winston and Strawn law firm and a paralegal who himself spent eight years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit to take Patrick’s case for free.