Accused Professor Tied To Englewood Four Case?
Perhaps in no city other than Chicago could the impending multimillion dollar settlement with a band of exonerated killers known as the Englewood Four be met with less yawning-like scrutiny by the local media and the political establishment.
This absence of scrutiny by the powers that be is disturbing. The reason is that there now exists a compelling and growing body of evidence suggesting that the “Wrongful Conviction Movement,” as it is known throughout the country, may have been responsible—intentionally or unintentionally—for the “Wrongful Exoneration” of convicted defendants in a gruesome string of high-profile cases going back decades.
One of the most recent group of “wrongful conviction” cases to land in Chicago—by way of the Dirksen federal court building—is that of the so-called Englewood Four—Terrill Swift, Michael Saunders, Vincent Thanes and Harold Richardson. The four defendants—teenagers at the time—were convicted of the 1994 rape and murder of Nina Glover, 30, a prostitute whose strangled body was found in a trash bin behind a liquor store in Chicago’s South Side Englewood neighborhood.
The four were convicted and spent sixteen years in prison when new DNA evidence suggested that another individual, now deceased, may have been the real killer and the four were released in 2011 and soon filed suit for their wrongful incarceration.
(The County recently settled Terrill Swift’s lawsuit in May for $5.6 million and the betting is that the City—on the recommendation of the Corporation Counsel’s Office—will also settle with the three remaining defendants.)
The centerpiece of the misconduct allegations in the wrongful conviction movement lies with the Northwestern University and a former journalism professor, David Protess.
Protess and his fellow Northwestern student sleuths in 1999 had gathered what they claimed was evidence that Anthony Porter, on death row for a 1982 double murder, was innocent, and that another man, Alstory Simon, had committed the murders. The Northwestern investigators had obtained a confession from Simon, allowing Porter to go free. Simon replaced Porter in prison.
The Anthony Porter exoneration is now the subject of a massive federal lawsuit in which attorneys representing Alstory Simon allege Protess framed Simon. The attorneys also allege a pattern of misconduct by Protess going back decades. Eyewitnesses at the time and to this day place Porter and not Simon at the scene of the murder.
Simon, who was released from prison in 2014 by then Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez after serving 15 years for Porter’s crimes, is now suing Northwestern University, Protess and a private detective for $40 million in Chicago’s federal court.
So what does Northwestern, Protess, and the Porter case have to do with the Englewood Four? A lot actually.
Consider for a moment the testimony of Terrill Swift. At the time Swift was taken into custody in 1994 until his trial three years later—that’s three years—Swift testified that he had been treated well by investigating detectives.
From the May 1998 trial testimony of Swift:
Q: Were you mistreated by the police in any way?
A: I wasn’t mistreated at all.
Q: Did they beat you up or anything?
A: No, sir.
Q: Did they verbally threaten you?
A: No, sir.
Q: Were they pretty nice to you?
A: Yes, sir.
By 2014, however, Swift’s responses to similar inquires had changed dramatically. Here are excerpts from his deposition.
Terrill Swift: …and that's where various officers, like one at a time, they'll come in there and say, why did you beat this woman? Another one would come in and say, why did you guys strangle her? Then another one would come in and say, for that little bit of amount of money, you guys did this? Why did you, Mo-Mike, and all of the co-defendants, why did you guys throw her in the garbage? I'm like, what? I'm in a room. It's dark. I'm -- I'm crying. I don't know -- I -- I don't understand. I'm, like, what? What do you mean? And I had more threats. I had more threats at that point.
So what was it? What happened between Swift’s trial and his 2014 deposition that caused him to change his story about how the detectives treated him?
Well, one thing that happened was the Protess-engineered 1999 Anthony Porter exoneration. In the same deposition, Swift, himself sitting in prison, describes a pivotal moment in 1999 as he watched Porter walk out of death row.
Q.· · With respect to the post-conviction proceedings and the work that was done in an effort·to get your conviction overturned, do you remember when it was that you first engaged the lawyers at Northwestern to work on your behalf?
A.· · I was -- I believe it was '98 or '99. I was in Menard and I was watching WGN news, and 22· there was a case, this guy, his name was Anthony Porter.· And he was speaking about his case in regards to, it was DNA evidence; he was excluded. And I remember when I -- I went to call my mother when I was able to make a phone call, and I called my mother, and she was already on top of it. She said -- I'm like, I saw this guy on the news.· He was -- you know, he was wrongfully convicted, and Northwestern. She was like, Yeah, I saw that. I sent you the information. And I started writing, I believe it was David Protess at that time, the professor; and I started writing Northwestern then…
Q.· · And when did you -- when – did Mr. Protess write you back?
A.· · I got letters over the years, you know, saying that they had a large caseload and that they had record of it and that they would get back with·me…
So the exoneration of Anthony Porter, now being deconstructed as a possible fraud in federal court, was, according to Swift, the case that rallied Swift’s resolve to press his wrongful conviction bid? And the first person Swift said he communicated with, and apparently communicated frequently with, was Northwestern Professor David Protess?
Shouldn’t this fact alone compel anyone entity looking at the Englewood Four case as a wrongful conviction—whether prosecutors, city attorneys, or the media—also be looking at it as a possible wrongful exoneration?
What kind of scrutiny would be applied to a case had it been investigated by a so-called “Burge detective”?
Swift’s testimony is another sign of how Anthony Porter’s 1999 exoneration from death row electrified the prison population. There was a belief among the inmates that if he could get out, anyone could.
Consider the statements of top El Rukn general Rickey Shaw, who describes in detail the impact of the Porter exoneration upon the prison population, and his belief that many guilty inmates used the same legal tactic to get out of prison.
The mounting evidence of a wrongful exoneration movement in Chicago compels the city and the media to review all cases for wrongdoing by the wrongful conviction crowd before any settlements are reached.
Here is why.
One of the accusations made against Protess and Northwestern in Simon’s federal lawsuit is that Protess obtained, or tried to obtain, false affidavits to support exonerations. In some of the cases in which misconduct is alleged by Simon’s attorneys, convicts and witnesses came forward with completely different stories after they began working with wrongful conviction representatives.
Doesn’t this sound similar to what happened in the case of new millionaire Terrill Swift in the Englewood Four case?