A Christmas Prayer...
Once again, two visions of the criminal justice system emerged in Chicago last week.
One came from Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx, who released 15 men from prison in what the media said was the first “mass exoneration” in the country’s history.
And then at the end of the news week, a jury ruled in a federal lawsuit case in which six detectives were accused of framing a woman, Nicole Harris, for the 2005 murder of her son. The detectives won. They were vindicated of all charges.
There it was: the two vying narratives about the Chicago police.
The media was euphoric over the exoneration narrative, much of it rooted in the chilling evidence of a sergeant shaking down drug dealers and putting cases on them. There is little doubt that the media will explore every facet of this case in the coming months, every detail.
Not so on the child-killer story, the one in which the police detectives were exonerated of any wrongdoing. The media will remain silent on that one.
This much: If there is one certainty in Chicago right now, one absolute truth, it is that there will be no further investigation into the Nicole Harris case by the local media whatsoever. Nothing. Reporters like Jason Meisner, Megan Crepeau, Dan Hinkel, Andy Grimm, Tim Novak, or anyone else in Chicago media will not get to the bottom of whether Nicole Harris strangled to death her own son, Jaquari Dancy.
The silence over this verdict in the federal courts will stand in stark contrast to the fawning coverage Harris got from the media when she was set free.
Here, for example, is what the Tribune published:
Harris emerged from prison still mourning her son but determined not to give in to bitterness. Soft-spoken, with deep brown eyes and side-swept bangs, Harris is quick to smile. Her penchant for hugs is a testament to her optimism and to the person she was before her life unraveled.
“When it first happened, of course I was angry,” she said. “As years went on, I began to understand that there are evil people in this world, and sometimes we suffer at the hands of them. Injustice happens. But it’s a matter of how you respond to it, and anger would have done more hurt and harm to me than good.”
What tripe. One wonders, what did the jury see that this reporter and his editors clearly did not?
Nevertheless, this impending silence on the Harris verdict requires some context.
In 1982, 17-year-old James Ealy was arrested for strangling to death a family of four, 33-year-old Christine Parker, her two daughters, ages 12 and 15, and the older girl’s 3-year-old son.
Investigators determined that the grandchild had also been anally raped before he was murdered.
Detectives went to Ealy’s apartment in the Rockwell Gardens after they heard he had dated one of the victims and used to hang out in the Parker apartment. Confronting Ealy in the presence of his mother in the same project, the detectives asked him to come to the station. At this point, Ealy was only a witness. Ealy agreed.
While at the station, Ealy provided statements that contradicted information they had gathered from his mother, arousing their suspicions. They were then informed by other detectives that Ealy was out on bond awaiting trial for a rape several months earlier. In this rape case, Ealy was again accused of strangling the victim—this time not to death but almost—before responding officers gave chase and caught him.
Detectives were shocked that Ealy would be let out on bond for such a violent crime. If he had not been bonded out, the Parkers would likely still be alive.
After getting a consent to search, they found incriminating evidence of the murders under Ealy’s bed in his mother’s apartment. They confronted Ealy and he confessed.
Ealy was tried and convicted, sentenced to life in prison. Because he was 17 at the time of the murders, he was not eligible for the death penalty.
From NBC News:
In 1986, the Illinois Appellate Court overturned the conviction — even as justices acknowledged Ealy almost certainly was guilty. They said police had arrested him without probable cause and conducted an illegal search, and they threw out virtually all of the evidence against him. . . .
When an appeals court later ruled that the evidence used to convict Ealy was the result of an improper arrest and search, [Judge] Maloney issued his warning from the bench.
“When this dangerous man is released from the penitentiary, the state should rent every billboard in the county and state to announce that he has been turned loose on society,” he said.
Ealy did ten years for the rape, then was let out.
He was arrested for putting a gun to the head of a prostitute he picked up. The woman grabbed the steering wheel of the car they were in and crashed it, right in front of two officers in a squad car. The officers found the gun in the car. Ealy got three years for this crime.
In 2005 Ealy was arrested for the murder of a Mary Hutchinson in Lindenhurst, north of Chicago. Mary Hutchinson had been strangled with the bow tie from her uniform, just as the Parkers had been strangled and the woman Ealy had raped. Mary Hutchinson was a manager of a Burger King and Ealy’s former boss. All the time she had worked with Ealy, she had no idea he had once been convicted of killing four people, including a 3-year-old child.
No one ever put up the billboard.
When investigators saw that Ealy had once been convicted and let out of a quadruple slaying, they were aghast. Prosecutors assailed the ruling.
From the Daily Herald:
[Lake County Prosecutor] Waller said he reviewed the appellate court ruling that freed Ealy and disagreed with it.
“I believe the court could have found there was probable cause for the arrest established after the questioning began,” he said. “They appear to have focused on the length of time he was questioned and ignored other factors of the case.”
What was the law firm that appealed Ealy’s case and got him released from a quadruple murder conviction?
Jenner & Block, one of the law firms that got Nicole Harris’s conviction for killing her son overturned and one of the law firms representing Nicole Harris in her failed lawsuit against the city.
In 1987 Madison Hobley was arrested for an arson that killed seven people and injured more than a dozen others on the South Side. One of the victims was Hobley’s own son, Philip Hobley, found burned to death near his mother in Hobley’s apartment. Another child was also killed. Some infants were saved when they were dropped from windows and caught by people below.
Numerous witnesses put Hobley at the scene, observed him buying gasoline in a can shortly before the arson, saw him walking back in the direction of his apartment where the fire took place. Hobley had made arson threats weeks earlier on a phone call that was overheard by police. He failed a lie detector test and confessed.
He was convicted and sentenced to death row, convicted of killing his own son, just like Nicole Harris.
In 2003 he walked out a free man, pardoned by Governor George Ryan shortly before Ryan would be convicted and sentenced to prison on corruption charges. No new evidence was brought forth on Hobley’s behalf. He just walked free, after having been convicted of killing seven people, including two children, one of them his own son.
The city settled with Hobley’s attorneys for $7 million.
One of the attorneys who represented Hobley was from the law firm of Loevy & Loevy, perhaps the most successful wrongful conviction law firm in the city.
Stanley Wrice was convicted in 1983 of the brutal gang rape of a woman in 1982 on the South Side. The victim was not only raped; she was, according to prosecutors, severely burned by Wrice over the course of several hours, then her body dumped. Miraculously the woman survived.
Wrice was fronted out by his fellow offenders. The rape took place in his own apartment. He confessed and was sentenced to 100 years in prison but claimed he was coerced into confessing by detectives. He was set free.
He went before a judge for a certificate of innocence, a mere formality on the way to a huge settlement.
But a judge said no way. Circuit Court Judge Thomas Bryne denied the certificate of innocence, saying he thought Wrice was guilty.
Wrice pursued his lawsuit anyway. Along the way, a witness emerged, a woman who lived nearby Wrice. She claimed that when she was only 14 years old, Wrice began raping her and beating her regularly. She said that Wrice got her pregnant three times from these rapes.
Jennifer Bonjean, who also represented one of the men exonerated by Foxx just last week, a man convicted of murdering two people.
Three children murdered in the Ealy case, two in the Hobley, one woman claiming she was raped over several years starting when she was a young teen, and then Nicole Harris, all of them set free.
A mark of just how powerfully journalists in Chicago are held spellbound by the wrongful conviction movement in Chicago can be observed in how they will avoid asking the central questions about these cases, including now the Nicole Harris case. And yet these cases involve horrendous killings, brutal rapes, and the easy out of blaming the police for coercion, regardless of whether there was provable coercion or not.
The local media’s infatuation with this movement is shaping up be one of the darkest chapters in the history of American journalism. It points to a central truth: A republic is not built nor maintained by the fervency and glamour of its most outspoken advocates. It is built upon the willingness of its citizens to do their duty.
But now it’s time for the Chicago media to do theirs: It’s their turn to ask what truly happened in the Harris case.
God help the city if they don’t.
And God help the children.