A federal jury in Massachusetts has awarded $27 million to Mark Schand, a Connecticut man who spent 27 years in prison for a killing he maintains he didn’t commit.
Schand spent 27 years behind bars trying to prove his innocence until his case caught the attention of a New-Jersey based ministry, which worked with his lawyers to free him from prison five years ago.
The verdict announced Friday in federal court in Springfield in favor of Schand, now 55, will see to it that he gets $1 million for every year he spent in jail.
Schand, who runs Sweetwater Juice and Deli, a popular smoothie shop in downtown New Britain, sued four now-retired Springfield police officers he says framed him for the 1986 killing of a woman outside a city club.
Schand, who was 21 at the time, was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for killing Victoria Seymour, a 25-year-old innocent bystander who was hit by a stray bullet during the robbery of a drug dealer in September 1986.
In his lawsuit, Schand accused police of hiding evidence, making witnesses tell lies and manipulating photographic displays of suspects.
“The judge Friday apologized – that was the first time in the halls of justice that it was acknowledged someone did something wrong,” Schand told local media Monday at Sweetwater.
He said, “Nothing is going to change much. It’s only money, I don’t have it yet and I don’t know if I ever will.”
“I can tell you, if you had offered me a deal to spend 27 years in prison and get $27 million, I wouldn’t have taken it – not even if I was homeless.”
Despite living unplanned and unpleasant years of his life in prison, Schand is bent on spending his remaining time devoid of anger.
“Anger is another prison and I’m not going to put myself in a prison. And I’m not going to be just an angry black ex-con,” Schand said.
“My family stayed with me all through this, so I’m lucky – I knew guys who hadn’t even been convicted yet and their families had left them. And this business is something personal,” he said.
In January 2018, five years after his release from prison, families and friends joined him on West Main Street at the grand opening of the business he’d envisaged whilst in prison.
“When I went to prison I had two little sons and one unborn child — by the time I came out, they were 28, 29 and 30. I lost that time of being a father,” “Nothing can pay me back for that,” Schand said.
“This is part of the dream,” Schand’s wife, Mia, said during the grand opening. “Mark is an entrepreneur, he wanted to have a business, and he talked about that in prison all those years.”
Several customers were reported to have stopped by his shop on Monday afternoon to congratulate Schand, including New Britain police officers and several other city workers.
Sources say that on the night of the shooting which led Schand to prison for 27 years, a group from Hartford had robbed a Springfield drug dealer and his associates after someone stole a gold chain from one of the Hartford men.
The suit alleged that Springfield detectives obtained multiple photographs of Schand, as well as, dozens of other young men from Hartford and began presenting Schand’s photographs to potential witnesses in ways that suggested his guilt.
The detectives then inserted the Schand photograph into a stack of photos, handed the stack to the drug dealer and asked him to see if he recognized the gunman. The drug dealer chose a photograph of Schand.
Almost two decades later, several witnesses against him denied their testimony, saying that they were made to lie by Springfield detectives. Schand was finally released from custody on October 4, 2013.