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Articles Posted in Wrongful Conviction

In a final push to revisit cases in which former Chicago police officer Ronald Watts was involved, the State Attorney’s office reversed course and agreed to vacate 44 convictions. Almost every case that was tied to the former officer has been reviewed. Many convictions have been vacated on appeal after allegations that torture and coercion led to convictions. Watts was also implicated in planting evidence.

Initially, prosecutors appeared ready to defend these cases due to the fact that other officers who were not involved with Watts also contributed to the conviction. However, the DA reversed course and decided to vacate the convictions on the basis that even his cursory involvement was enough to taint the case. A total of 100 convictions have been vacated against 88 defendants as part of an exoneration review of Watts’ cases. Three convictions not associated with exoneration efforts have also been vacated. According to the State Attorney’s office, 212 convictions have been vacated due to Watts’ criminal police work. Only a handful of convictions now remain before the court. 

The officers, many of whom remain on the force, were accused of running a protection racket from a South Side public housing complex. They forced drug dealers to pay a “tax” and pinned bogus charges on anyone who did not. 

A Chicago man who was convicted as a teen for murder will now be freed from prison after his conviction was overturned after 37 years behind bars. The National Registry of Exonerations reported that this was the 3,000th conviction lifted since 1989 when the registry began tracking overturned convictions. The suspect was released from prison after 30 years behind bars, but not because his conviction was overturned — because he was paroled. He will now have the conviction expunged from his record, for all the good it will do him, and he will seek a certificate of innocence from the state. 

The defendant was framed by a group of rogue officers operating within Chicago P.D. during the late 80s. The police found the teen walking down the street, beat him, and charged him with murder. The group resorted to framing, planting evidence, and gaining confessions through torture and beatings. 

Exculpatory evidence had been suppressed at the original trial and the defense attorney representing the wrongfully-convicted defendant said he did not know about witness testimony that would have tied another man to the shooting. 

Defendants who confess to crimes rarely can go back into a courtroom and then say that their confession was coerced. This is especially true when the police have stopped looking for other suspects. Children are especially easy to get to confess to things they did not do because they just want the anxiety caused by the questioning to stop. Police will pressure them with more anxiety if they do not say what they want to hear and offer them incentives for confession, regardless of whether or not it is the truth. In this case, a teen confessed to shooting a clerk directly in the face during an armed robbery. He was plied with McDonald’s into the confession.

While juries will not listen to individuals who say they falsely confessed to the crimes, the courts will, especially children, and especially in a place like Chicago where there is a long history of police convicting suspects using torture and extortion. 

In this case, the police told the teen that they would give him some McDonald’s if he told them he was there. The teen complied, ate the McDonalds, and was promptly charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, and enough felonies to put him behind bars for two lifetimes. Meanwhile, the teen was later able to prove that he was at a basketball game at the time of the shooting. It goes to show you just how useless police interrogations are at producing the truth and just how narrowly this boy dodged a bullet.

A jury found that a defendant who spent more than 20 years behind bars for a double murder was intentionally framed for the incident by police. The defendant was awarded a new trial after he successfully argued that his criminal defense attorney failed to call witnesses to the stand that would have corroborated his alibi. These witnesses claimed that the defendant was inside of a restaurant playing Pac Man at the time of the double shooting. The only witness that the prosecution offered was a man who was allegedly shot by the defendant during the double murder and the brother of one of the victims. It was the defendant who called police to the scene of the crime to report the shooting. Let that be a lesson on the perils of involving police in any matter at all.

After vacating his conviction, the defendant filed a lawsuit against Chicago police and the city. The complaint alleged that the arresting officer called the suspect a racial epithet and said that no one cares about Black people, which is why the officers would get away with it. A federal jury returned an award of $25.2 million to the plaintiff. 

The lineup

Several former defendants who were convicted on charges related to a single officer are now plaintiffs in lawsuits against the city claiming that they were framed. If you think it is hard to prove a defendant did something wrong, then you should consider how difficult it is to prove that a police officer framed a defendant. In this case, four men settled lawsuits for sums between $17 million and $21 million against the City of Chicago for false convictions, cooked evidence, and losing years of their lives to false accusations of a single police officer.

There are still eleven lawsuits pending against the same officer, all of which name the city and not the officer. Ultimately, the City of Chicago and its taxpayers will be responsible for making the victims whole. With 11 pending cases, all settling for $20 million or more apiece, the City of Chicago is looking at a $300 million budget shortfall all related to the activities of one police officer.

Hundreds of “confessions” tossed

A Cook County Judge has vacated the conviction of Chicago man, Jackie Wilson, who was framed and convicted for the murders of two Chicago police officers. Wilson maintained that he was just an innocent bystander and it was his brother who had pulled the trigger. Wilson alleged that he was tortured and framed and maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration. In addition to vacating Wilson’s conviction, the judge ordered a special prosecutor to investigate whether or not the prosecutor who convicted Wilson perjured himself or suborned perjury from a witness. 

Suborning Perjury and Perjury

Perjury is simply lying under oath. You make a claim that you know is false and present as true to a judge and jury. Defense attorneys and prosecutors both have a duty to uphold the law. Even as defense attorneys, we cannot knowingly place a client on the stand whom we know is guilty and allow that individual to make false claims before the court. When a defendant commits perjury, a second investigation is sometimes initiated into the lawyer who placed that witness on the stand. If it can be determined that the lawyer knew that their client was going to misrepresent the truth, then they are not only guilty of a disbarrable offense, but also a felony.

Prosecutors and judges are in a squabble over whether or not two men who were convicted of murder should have their sentences vacated and be allowed to go free. The prosecutors were ready and willing to drop the charges against Wayne Antusas and Nicholas Morfin. However, a judge blocked them from doing so after prosecutors agreed that their cases were on shaky ground, and the men were likely convicted unjustly.

Kim Foxx’s State’s Attorney’s Office won reelection after campaigning on a progressive line of overturning wrongful convictions. Cook County, once known as the wrongful conviction capital of the United States, now hopes to be the beacon of the future when it comes to criminal justice.

The Case

emiliano-bar-1266993-unsplash-copy-300x199James Gibson, the man who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of a double homicide, is finally a free man. After an appellate court tossed a conviction against him, the district attorney’s office dropped the charges. It was unclear if they were going to retry Gibson for the case, but it did not appear likely. Gibson was convicted on a confession made under duress during which he claimed he was tortured over the course of two days into admitting to the slayings. Gibson later recanted the confession and pleaded not guilty at trial. The prosecution leaned heavily on that confession in order to make their case against Gibson.

In addition to the confession, the prosecution had two witnesses that later recanted their testimony. The appellate court vacated the conviction and James Gibson waited to find out what the prosecution would do. Had they wanted, they could have tried Gibson again for the same charge. However, lacking sufficient evidence, they decided to let Gibson go which seems like the right thing to do.

How an Innocent Man Goes to Prison for 28 Years

For the past 28 years, James Gibson has maintained his own innocence. For 28 years he has remained behind bars. This is despite the fact that Gibson ostensibly confessed to the murders of an insurance agent and his friend. Gibson has always said that, over the course of two days, he was beaten by former Chicago police officer Jon Burge and the confession elicited during interrogation was coerced. Burge was accused of torturing confessions out of at least 200 suspects during his 19 years on the force. While the statute of limitations had elapsed on many of Burge’s crimes, he was eventually convicted in 2008 of obstruction of justice and perjury. He was sentenced to four and a half years, but released in 2014 after serving less than three.

As Burge’s crimes became public, Governor George Ryan pardoned four of those who had been convicted of crimes with confessions obtained by torture. Still, there are many behind bars who were convicted on phony confessions. James Gibson is among them. After 28 years, an appellate court threw out his conviction and ordered a new trial. Nonetheless, Gibson will likely remain behind bars until his friends and family raise the $20,000 necessary to release him on bail and will require electronic monitoring for the duration of the trial. 

Gibson Has Always Maintained His Innocence

javier-villaraco-235574-copy-300x225If you have had to serve a prison sentence, then you know the significant emotional and psychological toll you and your family have had to endure, not to mention the loss in terms of time and money. In Chicago, unfortunately, too many citizens are being jailed for crimes they did not commit. The city currently is dealing with dozens of cases from the past in which citizens were wrongly convicted and imprisoned. At the same time, innocent victims, with the help of experienced attorneys, can pursue justice and potentially receive lucrative payouts from the city for having their rights violated years or even decades prior.

The Implications of a Wrongful Conviction

Legally speaking, when police officers arrest and prosecute someone for a crime in Chicago, the law requires probable cause. Yet, too often, the city’s law enforcement officers engage in false arrests, malicious criminal prosecution, and wrongful convictions. As a result, too many innocent people end up spending months and sometimes years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

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