It was 2015, and Governor Quinn, mired in allegations of corruption, was leaving office, having lost a bitter election to Republican Bruce Rauner.
Days before his term was up, bizarre rumors began to circulate that Quinn would commute the sentence of a man convicted on four counts of attempted murder of four Chicago Police officers that took place during a 2005 traffic stop.
The officers had stopped Howard Morgan because they were investigating shots fired they heard in the area, then observed Morgan coming from the direction of those shots. Morgan was driving the wrong way on a one-way street with his lights off.
Morgan, an off-duty railroad police officer who was not supposed to be carrying his gun, began wrestling with the officers after he jumped out of the car and refused to obey the officers’ commands. He pulled out his gun and fired seventeen rounds at them, wounding three officers. One officer was saved from a shot to his heart by the edge of his bullet-proof vest. The officers returned fire, hitting Morgan some eighteen times and, in an incredible display of discipline, ceased firing when Morgan ran out of bullets.
What followed were two criminal trials taking more than nine years. In that period, the full power of the anti-police forces within the city rallied to the side of Morgan, accusing the officers of everything from intending to execute Morgan because he was black and the officers white (why, then, did they cease firing?), to claiming that the officers were trying to rob him. Various religious groups backed Morgan. His supporters made a documentary, giving voice to the ludicrous theories that the police were at fault.
Members of the media dutifully reported these accusations, then disappeared from the courtroom on the days when prosecutors presented the officers’ case.
It worked. With Morgan’s defense attorney stoking the racial fires that burn incessantly throughout the city, a few jurors held out, leaving a hung jury. Prosecutors regrouped for another trial. Throughout this period, the officers were ridiculed by Morgan’s supporters, their reputations dragged through the mud in one format or another. Columnists like Mary Mitchell from the Sun-Times, the same columnist who often rails about the police not fighting crime in African American neighborhoods, linked the Morgan case to the Trayvon Martin shooting.
But in the second trial, so much evidence was accumulated that there was no way out for Morgan. The jury came back guilty of all four counts. Morgan was sentenced to forty years in prison.
No, it was just beginning. On the last day of the trial, right before Morgan was to be sent to state prison, his supporters showed up en masse. Along with them was Jesse Jackson, who got on the witness stand and asked for Morgan to remain free on bond pending his appeal.
Jackson then walked over to the officers and stuck out his hand, a humiliating gesture after he had just requested that the man who almost killed them be released from custody.
There was another person at the trial, a former professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, David Protess, a once-iconic figure responsible for some of the most high-profile exonerations of convicted killers in the nation. At the Morgan hearing, Protess stood up and announced to Morgan’s supporters that this case would become a wrongful conviction.
What made this announcement so bizarre was the fact that Protess had recently left Northwestern under the cloud of scandal, the university stating that he had not told the truth to them about his wrongful conviction cases and that Protess had altered evidence submitted in a legal case. Later, other cases Protess worked on would be attacked.
Why was Protess at the hearing? How could he claim this case was a wrongful conviction? What power did such a disgraced professor have to influence the Morgan case?
Well, it seemed a moot point at the time, for Morgan was shuttled off to prison, his only hope seeming to be the appeals courts. In time, these courts also rejected Morgan’s pleas. It seemed he was doomed to serve his sentence.
Then Quinn lost the election, and bizarre rumors that he would let Morgan out of prison began to circulate. Sure enough, minutes before he was set to leave office, Quinn commuted Morgan’s sentence with no new evidence.
Morgan, who shot three police officers, simply walked out of prison.
Now in most cities, a governor who let out an inmate convicted of trying to kill four police officers, shooting three of them in the course of his crime, without any new evidence pointing to his innocence, would generate a scandal that would result in some kind of investigation. In most cities, the media would drool over such a story. The fallout would be immense. It would be almost impossible for such a politician to gain office again unless he could explain such a bizarre decision. His reputation would be forever questioned. What was the point of spending nine years convicting Morgan if a governor was just going to let him out?
But no such questions were raised in Chicago.
Quinn’s scandalous, depraved decision to release Morgan from prison barely garnered a footnote in the city’s media machine.
The Morgan scandal is just one more sign that Chicago’s media is comprised not so much of journalists as it is party servants, the kind of reporters one would find in a Soviet satellite country rather than a robust republic. Such journalists have a predetermined narrative handed down to them by party power brokers, and they obsequiously obey it. It is nothing for them to ignore stories like Howard Morgan’s because it contradicts their chronic narrative of police corruption.
So powerful is this mob of party media hacks—reporters and columnists like Steve Mills, Eric Zorn, Andy Grimm, Dan Hinkel, Megen Crepeau, Carol Marin, and on and on—that the few good journalists remaining in Chicago are afraid to confront their fellow journalists’ false party narratives, lest they should end up on the same firing line as the Chicago Police Department.
And so, apart from a short blurb about Morgan getting out of prison, the media would not touch the story, though it is an unprecedented scandal.
Nor will the media ever bring up the Morgan scandal in the wake of Quinn’s recent announcement that—get this—he will run for attorney general of Illinois. That’s right, the guy who let Morgan out of prison, who tossed the criminal justice system aside as if it were a mere nuisance, and who betrayed police officers throughout the state, wants to be the chief law enforcement officer in Illinois.
What’s that old saying about wolves and henhouses?
It gets worse. It always gets worse in Chicago.
Remember David Protess and his sudden appearance on the last day of the Morgan trial, his announcement that this case could be a wrongful conviction, despite so much evidence of Morgan’s guilt? His presence at the trial is one more reason why citizens in Chicago should be terrified at the notion of Quinn becoming the next attorney general.
Protess and his collection of wrongful conviction allies throughout the city and state are fond of a key phrase: pattern and practice. Their mythology about police corruption is based upon this phrase, their tying together accusations about the police to create a mythology of police corruption that extends over decades.
But just as the Russian collusion story is now coming to bite back at the Democrats on a federal level, so, too, is the pattern and practice argument by wrongful conviction law firms and their media lapdogs on a local level.
The reason is that several of the most influential exonerations are being challenged in the federal courts. Attorneys are claiming a pattern and practice of misconduct in the movement itself, much of it alleged against Protess while he was at Northwestern University.
This is a huge problem for the wrongful conviction movement and its supporters, especially the cabal of media advocates who have championed their claims over the last thirty years. In these cases, there is evidence that honest, hardworking detectives have been thrown under the bus, just as the officers in the Morgan case were. The federal cases are in the discovery stage.
Within the pattern and practice theory against the wrongful conviction movement taking shape in the federal courts, there is a central theme that takes on more meaning with the announcement by Quinn that he will run for attorney general.
The theme is the power of this movement to exert its control over both the media and, later, public institutions and officials. Let’s take a look at some key examples:
- 1999: Cook County Prosecutor Dick Devine. Cook County prosecutor Dick Devine released convicted killer Anthony Porter from death row in the wake of allegations by Protess, his students, and a compliant media that never bothered to look at the facts of the case. Devine also accepted the confession from Alstory Simon to the same murders obtained by Protess and his private investigator Paul Ciolino, despite abundant evidence that Northwestern’s claims were false. Nevertheless, Devine proceeded with freeing Porter and taking Simon into custody.
- ·2003: Governor George Ryan. Governor George Ryan, citing the now-refuted claims about Porter being innocent, pardoned four more men off death row to the celebration of the entire wrongful conviction community and their media allies. These pardons marked the first time that a governor pardoned convicted killers with no new evidence of their innocence. In doing so, the wrongful conviction movement had successfully undermined the entire legal proceedings that determined these four men were guilty.
- 2008: Department of Justice. One of the four men pardoned by Ryan in 2003 was Madison Hobley, convicted of setting a fire in 1987 that killed seven people, including his wife and son. The pardoning of Hobley caused a great deal of anger among federal investigators, most of whom believed Hobley was guilty of the arson. The feds reinvestigated the case and were about to re-indict Hobley when the investigation suddenly went silent. Shortly thereafter, federal prosecutors announced that the feds were not going after Hobley after all. Hobley was then paid out $6.5 million by the city of Chicago. Hobley’s case was later used as a basis to indict and convict former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.
- 2015: Governor Pat Quinn. Quinn released Howard Morgan right before he left office in 2015 with no new evidence of his innocence, just as Ryan had pardoned four death row inmates in 2003.
- 2016: Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx. In a bitter election, Foxx defeated Anita Alvarez for the top prosecutor’s spot. Alvarez was the prosecutor who unearthed much of the evidence pointing to misconduct in the wrongful conviction movement. Foxx’s campaign was heavily supported by wrongful conviction activists. Sure enough, just days after her taking office, Foxx began chipping away at Alvarez’s accomplishments in uncovering corruption in wrongful conviction cases. She ignored all the evidence of misconduct at Northwestern University, for example, and let the school press further wrongful conviction claims. Incredibly, Foxx also reversed the policy of Alvarez’s administration by supporting attacks by wrongful conviction law firms against retired detectives Reynaldo Guevara, accusing him of a pattern and practice of misconduct in a series of murder cases. While Alvarez stood by the Guevara convictions, Foxx inexplicably reversed course and allowed the exoneration claims to proceed. Foxx’s decision could result in tens of millions of dollars in settlements and the release of more bona fide killers.
It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Foxx’s election. It is a key victory for the wrongful conviction movement at a time when they themselves are under fire. Gone is the one prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, who ever showed a willingness to confront their suspicious methods, replaced by one who is clearly giving them the green light.
One wonders: Would Foxx ever have let Alstory Simon out of prison the way Alvarez did in 2014? Would Foxx have ever taken up the case for review, as Alvarez did?
In short, would Foxx bite the hand that feeds her?
All of which brings us back to Pat Quinn’s announcement that he wants to be the next attorney general. Would Quinn, given his conduct in the Morgan case, ever give a green light to an investigation of the wrongful conviction movement? Would this career party hack, this go-along-and-get-along machine sycophant from the foulest stenches of the Chicago swamp, ever bring the justice to the criminal justice system?
Hardly. With Foxx in as prosecutor and a lackey like Quinn as attorney general, the wrongful conviction movement has built a sturdy wall of protection that might come from the federal cases alleging misconduct against them.
But it is not impenetrable.
No one expected Trump to win. With Trump in power and Jeff Sessions taking over the Department of Justice, Chicago is ripe for a real investigation, not the dog-and-pony show that Obama’s DOJ investigation rushed through against the Chicago Police days before Trump was sworn in.
No, this would be a real investigation, looking closely at how Howard Morgan and Anthony Porter got out of prison, as well as a host of other convicted criminals. This investigation would likely include lots of subpoenas and warrants.
Lots and lots of prosecutors.