Council OKs $3.8M conviction settlement

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(AP)—Pittsburgh City Council on Monday approved a $3.77 million settlement with a man who spent 19 years in prison before his rape conviction was overturned by DNA evidence in 2005.

Thomas Doswell, 50, and his attorneys will receive the money over three years from the city’s insurance company, Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston, once Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signs off on it. The council approved the settlement unanimously at the request of the city’s Law Department.

Doswell sued the city and retired Det. Herman Wolf in 2007, claiming that a 1986 photo lineup was tainted because his mug shot was marked with an “R’’ when the victim identified him. At that time, Pittsburgh police routinely marked rape suspects’ photos with that letter, and the picture of Doswell, who had a prior rape arrest, was the only one in the photo lineup with such a mark.

Doswell’s attorneys argued for a DNA test on that basis and he was freed in August 2005, after the test showed that his DNA did not match that of the rapist.

David Rudovsky, a Philadelphia attorney who is part of Doswell’s legal team, confirmed the settlement was reached out of court. But he declined to comment on it until after Ravenstahl approved it.

City solicitor Dan Regan did not immediately return a call for comment. But a city law department secretary said the deal was approved by Regan’s predecessor, George Specter, who retired earlier this month. A listed number for Specter could not be found.

Doswell’s lawsuit also alleged wrongdoing by two unknown supervisors and a “policy, practice and custom of indifference to constitutional violations” by city police.

A federal judge nixed some claims against the city, but had left unresolved the issue of whether the city’s practice of marking rape suspects’ photos with an “R’’ contributed to Doswell’s conviction.

Bryan Campbell, a police union attorney who represented Wolf, told The Associated Press that the settlement was reached last month, though it took until Monday for city council to vote on it.

Campbell said Wolf “wasn’t a party to the settlement. That’s strictly between the city and the plaintiff.”

Wolf is about 80 and lives in an assisted living facility in Ohio. He didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement, Campbell said.

In his lawsuit, Doswell alleged Wolf manipulated the photo lineup and coerced a witness to identify Doswell even though the witness said the rapist was clean shaven. The victim said her attacker had a full beard.

When Doswell was arrested hours later, he had only a mustache. Wolf falsely claimed Doswell had “recently shaven” in an effort to square Doswell’s appearance with the victim’s description, the lawsuit said.

Doswell was sentenced to 13 to 26 years in prison and was denied parole four times because he refused to accept responsibility for the crime.

Doswell has been arrested four times since his release from prison in 2005, but charges from three of those cases have been withdrawn, and his criminal defense attorney, James DePasquale, said they resulted from false claims by a former girlfriend.

Doswell pleaded guilty to unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment in September 2007, after police accused him of speeding off with the girl he’d picked up at a bus stop last year. Doswell was sentenced to two years’ probation and 300 hours of community service.

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