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Special Prosecutor Silence Speaks Volumes...

A Nighttime Journey Through the Cook County Court System

It was 2011 and more than 60 prominent Illinoians—retired state and federal court judges, Chicago aldermen, a former U.S. Senator, a former governor, two former U.S. Attorneys among them—signed on to an amicus curiae legal brief filed on behalf of a convicted torturer and rapist by the name of Stanley Wrice.

Convicted by a jury in the 1982 gang rape and an equally unimaginable burning of a woman in Wrice’s south side home, Wrice was sentenced to 100 years in state prison. However, in 2010 the Illinois Court of Appeals ordered a hearing based on allegations that his 1982 confession may have been extracted by two Chicago police detectives who investigated the case and made the Wrice arrest. 

The amicus curiae or friend of the court brief had been filed by two lead attorneys at the People’s Law Office, G. Flint Taylor and Joey Mogul, and by Locke Bowman, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Law. The more than 60 fellow amici included a political band of Illinois heavyweights—former Gov. James Thompson, former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb, former U.S. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, to name a few of the signees.

Another signee? Patricia Brown Holmes, former Cook County Circuit Court Judge, whom we will write more about below.

By the early 2000s, Wrice now was claiming that he was innocent and had confessed to the 1982 rape and severe burning of the woman inside his south side home only because he had been coerced by detectives working out of Area Two under the command of John Burge.

In 2009, Stuart A. Nudelman, then 66, a retired Cook County judge was appointed special prosecutor by then Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel to look into the Wrice case. Nudelman ultimately concluded he believed that evidence demonstrated Wrice was guilty of the crime. Moreover, the prosecutor argued that Wrice’s 1982 conviction should not be overturned simply because of the alleged coerced confession.

Here is how ABC News viewed—delighted—in the Nudelman position after the Wrice case was decided by the State High Court:

Wrice's case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court before he got that hearing. But it marked a major victory for other inmates and former inmates, because the courts said that no matter what other evidence authorities have against a defendant, a coerced confession could never be dismissed as "harmless error." That means that if such a ruling is made, a case must return to the trial court, as was Wrice's, for a hearing. 

The amicus brief supported the argument that any conviction that was rooted in a coerced confession must be overturned.

Here is a quote from the G. Flint Taylor-Joey Mogul-Locke Bowman brief:

Amici come from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. They are attorneys, retired judges, former prosecutors and community activists. None of us expresses a view as to the guilt or innocence of Stanley Wrice or the other men Burge allegedly tortured who remain in prison. But we have a common and firm belief that the body politic is poisoned when claims of systematic police abuse and torture are dismissed as “harmless.” Our combined experiences lead us to believe these allegations must be investigated, heard, and when warranted, redressed, and the sooner the better. We believe it will undermine the integrity of our Illinois criminal justice system, and constitute a miscarriage of justice, to allow even one of the victims to remain imprisoned without the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of his confession in a full and meaningful hearing.

Wrice eventually got his new hearing and prosecutors declined to retry him, in large part because the victim and two key witnesses had died. Wrice, now set free, filed a federal lawsuit, based on the claim that his confession was coerced, seeking millions in damages.

But then, unexpectedly, trouble emerged for Wrice, and, arguably, for all those who supported him. It also blew a dark cloud over the lofty underpinnings of the amicus brief.

Attorneys representing the accused detectives fought back. They claimed that the torture allegations were not only false, but that they were part of a pattern of misconduct used in the so-called wrongful conviction cases.

In defending the detectives, attorneys have subpoenaed a vast trove of documents, largely from Northwestern University and former Northwestern journalism professor David Protess, to show a pattern of wrongdoing they allege in several wrongful conviction cases that he directed over three decades.

This defense theory and the subpoenas opened up a kind of second front on Northwestern and Protess, which is already facing a $40 million federal lawsuit in connection with the Anthony Porter exoneration for a 1982 double murder that sent an innocent Alstory Simon to prison for sixteen years while setting Porter free.

Simon alleges in his 40-page suit that he was coerced into confessing to the double homicide by Protess and an assistant, Paul Ciolino, a private detective who worked with Protess.

Now in the Wrice case, attorneys for the detectives are pursuing much of the same evidence to defend their clients as the attorneys in the Simon case.

From Wrice lawsuit court documents:

Defendants also claim that “a substantial body of information has surfaced in the past several years concerning illegal and coercive tactics that were routinely utilized by Protess and his designees to obtain information and recantations from witnesses in several cases, including Plaintiff’s case.” According to Defendants, “Witnesses from whom Protess procured recantations in other criminal cases have since come forward alleging that Protess and his team of investigators used coercion in various forms—dangling young female college students as sexual bait, impersonating movie producers, promising book/movie deals, making cash payments, and promising convicted murderers their freedom from prison—to procure false recantations from them.”

For whatever reason, the authors of the amicus brief and all the people who signed onto it seem to have ignored the alleged pattern of wrongdoing engineered by Protess and his allies. They do not appear to have expressed an understanding of nor seem to know much about key facts underlying the Wrice case nor expressed any interest in discovering those gruesome underlying facts.

Since the formal allegations of wrongdoing in the wrongful conviction movement first surfaced at Northwestern some six years ago, a vast “code of silence” seems to have settled in.

Little or no comment has been made by fellow wrongful conviction law firms about this alleged wrongdoing. No chest pounding by groups like the PLO about how the evidence of generating false affidavits to free convicted killers and rapists could mean “the body politic is poisoned.”

Even after a woman testified last year that she was repeatedly beaten and forced into sex with Wrice when she was fourteen years old, giving birth to three babies by him—eerily similar to the kind of brutal behavior alleged in the criminal case against him—generated little or no comment about suspicious exonerations. No cries that “these allegations must be investigated, heard, and when warranted, redressed, and the sooner the better.”

The media, too, has remained silent about this chilling testimony about Wrice and the fourteen-year-old. One wonders if the press would have remained silent were such allegations to have involved a Chicago police officer or detective.

The defense strategy of the attorneys for the detectives—their subpoenaing of so many records and the federal lawsuit against Northwestern—and the fact that wrongful conviction law firms like the PLO seem so willing to take up cases against the police, but are silent about the evidence of wrongdoing in their own movement, suggests that the “wrongful conviction movement” is to some degree, a misnomer.

Perhaps it should be called “the wrongful exoneration movement”?

It suggests that the movement may not be so much about getting supposedly innocent men out of prison as it is a focused, aggressive movement to attack the police, no matter what—and, perhaps, partake in a portion of the multi-million dollar awards and monetary settlements.

Each and every person who signed the amicus brief should be asked to comment on the allegations and evidence of wrongdoing that is coming out in the Wrice case. They have an obligation to make sure that “the body politic is not poisoned.”

One of those signees—somewhat unbelievably—is Patricia H. Holmes, recently appointed as special prosecutor in the Laquan McDonald case.  

Wrongful conviction attorneys gushed when it was announced that Holmes—again an amicus signee in the Wrice brief—would oversee the case.

From the Chicago Tribune:

"We're certain that Judge Holmes is going to get to the bottom of this," said Locke Bowman, an attorney for the coalition who expressed confidence her investigation would be "thorough, zealous (and) fair…"

 They had reason to.

Soon after her appointment, Holmes indicted three Chicago police officers who responded to the scene of the shooting, claiming they were involved in a conspiracy. Her decision to indict the officers drew the ire of FOP president Kevin Graham, who claimed it was politically motivated and legally baseless.

Graham:

“These charges are, in our minds, baseless. Our officers are being made the scapegoats.”

Holmes’ silence over the allegations of misconduct in the accusers against the detectives in the Wrice case is telling. Why was she so quick to join the chorus of the wrongful conviction advocates when they were claiming Wrice’s confession was coerced, but is silent in the face of evidence that the claims were manufactured?

Why is she so quick to claim a conspiracy by the officers who merely responded to the scene of the McDonald shooting, but silent over the evidence of a conspiracy in the Wrice case, and others?

The silence by Holmes and wrongful conviction attorneys about the evidence of wrongdoing in the wrongful exoneration movement is beginning to say a lot more than their incessant shouting about police corruption.