Has The Zorn Campaign Begun?
Has Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s desperate campaign begun?
The question arises in the wake of a Friday column by Zorn that took the form of a memo to Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx. In this column Zorn scolded Foxx, reminding Foxx that she was elected to right the wrongs of Foxx’s predecessor, Anita Alvarez.
Here’s what Zorn wrote:
If we’d wanted a top prosecutor who dragged her feet on apparent wrongful convictions and stubbornly refused to heed the demands of justice, we would have re-elected Anita Alvarez.You ran as a reformer against Alvarez in the March 2016 Democratic primary, reminding voters that “trust in our criminal justice system has been broken” and promising fairer outcomes.
To right these so-called wrongs, Zorn argues that Foxx’s hesitancy to release two convicted killers, claiming they were wrongfully convicted, was a betrayal of Foxx’s promise to restore justice that had escaped Cook County under the leadership of Alvarez.
But like so many claims of Eric Zorn, a slight review of the case and some basic questions suggest that releasing these two men without a thorough, unbiased review would be a betrayal of the public trust.
Wrongful conviction lawyers are claiming that Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton should be released from prison for the vicious 1994 rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman, Antwinica Bridgeman, because new DNA tests from the victim not available at the time of the crime pointed to another person, a serial rapist.
This, says Zorn and his wrongful conviction buddies, makes the case a wrongful conviction. Foxx should, therefore, let them out as a sign she is committed to “justice.” Not so fast, though. The location of the body, witness statements, and the confessions of the offenders all weigh heavily toward the men being guilty.
Hasn’t Zorn made such claims about murderers being innocent that have fallen apart under renewed scrutiny?
The truth is that many people closely associated with the case believe Coleman and Fulton are guilty and argue that the DNA test merely indicates that it is not the men’s DNA. A host of scenarios could explain the presence of the DNA on the victim from another person other than Fulton and Coleman, and the two men are still culpable in Bridgeman’s murder.
Like so many of Zorn’s wrongful conviction claims, some simple questions and observations cast powerful doubt on his claims, and, perhaps, his motives.
In true Zornian tradition, Zorn soft-peddles the crime itself. Zorn tells his readers that Bridgeman’s body was “mutilated.” Yes, it was. Bridgeman was impaled through the vagina and her teeth were recovered in her stomach. A concrete block was found in her mouth that caused her to suffocate. These details provide a glimpse of the “mutilation” that took place.
Detailed information about the cruelty of such crimes is important not only because they paint a true and chilling picture of what the victims endured in their last moments of their life, but also because they help undermine the claims of police misconduct often later made by Zorn and his wrongful conviction allies.
And remember, the men confessed, a confession that withstood the criminal investigation and the trial.
To believe Zorn’s suggestions of police misconduct is to paint an almost otherworldly corruption and cruelty of the entire police department. Would detectives who worked this crime scene be so cruel and deranged that they would willingly pin the murders on the wrong guys? Would they not care to get the right guy in such a monstrous crime? Would all the detectives and supervisors sit idly by if they thought for a moment the detectives were fudging the case? Would the states attorneys? Would they stick by this narrative if other evidence emerged that might call it into question? All of them?
To Zorn and his cohorts, the answer seems to be yes. Their willingness to believe time and time again that the police are the monsters and the criminals the victims has permeated the media and criminal justice system.
The police are sick of this caricature by Zorn and his wrongful conviction cohorts. They are sick of being vilified by a group of people that seem to be immune from scrutiny of their own actions and statements, scrutiny that may very well rival their own mythology about the police in its potential depravity.
Consider another key fact Zorn barely touches on.
Zorn says Bridgeman’s mutilated body was found in Coleman’s basement. That’s right, in Coleman’s basement.
But Zorn suggests that the real perpetrator was the one that the DNA tests pointed to, the one identified as a serial rapist. Well, then, can Zorn explain how the serial rapist is the offender but the body ended up in Coleman’s basement?
Numerous witnesses stated that Bridgeman was last seen walking in Englewood with Coleman. Coleman himself admitted walking with Bridgeman, but claims he left her. How, then, did she fall into the hands of a serial rapist and then end up murdered in Coleman’s basement? Did Bridgeman walk with Coleman, leave him, fall into the hands of serial rapist, who just randomly brought her to Coleman’s basement without knowing it?
Don’t expect Zorn to address such glaring inconsistencies in the wrongful conviction narrative. After all, Zorn ignored similar inconsistencies in other wrongful conviction bids. For many years, Zorn ignored the grand jury testimony that cast overwhelming doubt in the exoneration of Anthony Porter in 1999 and the conviction of another man, Alstory Simon, taking Porter’s place in prison. Zorn also ignored key evidence that clearly pointed to Madison Hobley’s guilt in the 1987 arson that left seven dead.
As with other exoneration cases, the truth is that peel away the narrative provided by Zorn through his wrongful conviction allies and a chilling, alternate narrative emerges, one that generates awe that the Tribune would grant Zorn space to comment on yet more wrongful convictions until they initiated a review of his previous coverage.
And this gets to the heart of Zorn’s column last week and why it may very well be the initiation of a campaign as much as it is a newspaper column.
The reason is that former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the prosecutor Zorn assails in his column, opened up a window in 2014 that may be a dire burden for Zorn and Chicago’s media establishment. Alvarez undermined the most influential wrongful conviction cases in the state’s history when she let Alstory Simon out of prison in 2014. Alvarez said Simon’s constitutional rights had been violated by Northwestern investigators in the Anthony Porter exoneration. This decision by Alvarez cast doubt on the entire wrongful conviction narrative, the one Zorn had been pushing for decades.
Shortly later, Simon’s attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging a pattern of misconduct in wrongful conviction cases. Many of these cases these attorneys are now casting doubt on were echoed in Zorn’s columns.
Did Alvarez’s opening of this window in 2014 play a key role in her loss to the Foxx in a bitterly contested election? Possibly. George Soros, a stalwart leftist who contributes to vast sums to anti-police groups like Black Lives Matter, donated to Foxx’s campaign. So did wrongful conviction attorneys. Foxx campaigned on the rhetoric of addressing wrongful convictions, ignoring all the evidence of wrongful exonerations. Zorn and the media community joined in the chorus to oust Alvarez.
But here’s the problem. One theme constantly is emerging in the narrative of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement: a media willing to go on the attack against anyone who criticizes their narrative.
Is this what Zorn is doing in his column? Is he beginning the campaign to vilify Alvarez’s courageous act of letting Simon out of prison and putting the movement to free killers and rapists on trial, largely based on allegations of police misconduct? At the same time, is he reminding Foxx who put her in power and why?
Time will tell if Zorn’s article is indeed the beginning of a crucial and desperate campaign to shut forever the window that Alvarez opened. Time will tell if Zorn’s column last week is a sign that the media is gearing up for an attack on their critics. Who knows how many will feel the wrath of opening up the window of potential corruption in the wrongful conviction movement?
Alvarez knows firsthand how this campaign works, after she released Simon from prison based upon compelling evidence. For that, she has paid dearly and will likely continue to pay.
But you don’t have to seek out Alvarez to know how this campaign works. Ask any honest, hardworking police officer who helped put away the monsters that terrorize the innocent, like a 20-year-old young woman found impaled in the basement of a Chicago building.
Ask them what they think about Eric Zorn’s writing.
Go ahead, ask them.