By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
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By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Recently, another 8-b claim was successful, winning $2.1 million, the second highest verdict in state history. That case, Baba-Ali v. The State of New York, was decided just last March, and involved a bitter ex-wife accusing a father of sodomizing his four-year-old daughter. The judge made it a point to award a higher sum because Baba-Ali's relationship with his daughter was forever damaged by the groundless conviction, and because of the persecution he had suffered in prison after being branded a pedophile.
Lonnie Jones was able to make similar arguments in his 8-b claim. After his lawyers proved that the state should have known that its sole witness, Tawana, was lying, they were also able to show that Jones had suffered much as a result of his conviction. While he was in jail, his father and sister died of illness. He broke an ankle during transport between prisons. He developed a bleeding ulcer, thanks to his constant fear born of being "thrown to the wolves"—his description of being marked as the killer of a gang leader.
Professor Douglas Thompkins is a sociologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied gang dynamics extensively (and was himself once a member of the Chicago-based gang the Black Disciples). He says that Jones was right to continue to fear for his life though he would eventually be found not guilty on a retrial.
"[The contract on Jones's life] has nothing to do with being found guilty or not guilty by a court of law," Thompkins says. "This is a mandatory response. Their leader is dead, and someone has to pay." Particularly while in Elmira—a notorious Bloods prison, where he spent only a few months before being transferred—Jones's life was in constant danger. After the attack in the shower with the razor, guards segregated Jones from the general population because they were concerned for his safety.
So, for the purposes of an 8-b claim, Jones was undoubtedly heavily damaged by his time in the New York State correctional facilities. He got to a very dark place: "You have to understand that I was in jail for life," he says. "For me, there was no light at the end of the tunnel."
Two and a half years later, Jones received word that Dan Kahn had won him nearly $2 million. While Maria says he might now take some time off, Lonnie says he's not sure what he'll do—he already has everything he wants. But sometimes, Maria wakes up in the middle of the night to find him sitting alone in the dark, staring at nothing. He doesn't want to socialize at all anymore.
"These Bloods guys are nuts," says Jones, "and they're everywhere."