The Watch

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Gregory Pratt's Chilling Reporting In Gruesome Murder Case...

Another wrongful exoneration for the Chicago Tribune?

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It would difficult to imagine Nevest Coleman getting out of prison for a vicious rape and murder without the media coverage—one-sided media coverage—of the Chicago Tribune.

Antwinica  Bridgeman’s decomposed body was found in an Englewood basement, her face bashed in with a brick and a pipe shoved into her vagina.

The Tribune’s articles gave vivid argument that Coleman was innocent of the vicious 1994 sexual assault and murder of Bridgeman, repeating over and over that no physical evidence tied Coleman or co-offender Darryl Fulton to the crime.

The two men, who confessed in detail to the crime, were sentenced to life in prison for the sexual assault and murder, but got a new chance at freedom through the creation of a bizarre state commission created in 2009. Known as the the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC), the new body consisted of a collection of board members who have the arbitrary power to resurrect long-settled cases and toss them back into the courts.

The central claim for their argument of Coleman’s innocence is the fact that later, more sophisticated DNA samples taken from Bridgeman’s body came back to another person, a convicted serial rapist. This, Coleman’s defenders and the Tribune argue, is definitive evidence that they were “wrongfully convicted.”

Another argument repeated over and over by the Tribune in justifying Coleman’s release is the claim that the detectives, including former detectives Jack Halloran and Kenny Boudreau, have established a pattern of suspicious convictions obtained, the Tribune suggests, through coercion. Indeed, Coleman and Fulton claimed that detectives compelled them to falsely confess to the murders.

But the Chicago Tribune has established its own evidence of a pattern and practice when it comes to covering wrongful conviction cases, a pattern of overlooking evidence that undermines their claims, and then refusing to address this evidence.

Often, the inconsistencies and glaring omissions are apparent merely from looking at the simple documents of the police investigation. Here, reporter Gregory Pratt’s coverage of the Coleman exoneration does not disappoint.

Despite the fact that Pratt claims the Chicago Tribune conducted a “review of court records and police reports found,” Pratt’s articles reveal anything but. Instead, Pratt’s articles appear more like a press release from Coleman’s attorneys than anything resembling serious journalism.

The most obvious hole in Pratt’s articles is his refusal to account for one central fact: that the victim was observed by several witnesses leaving a party with Coleman, the last time she was seen alive. Several days later, her decomposed, brutalized body was found in Coleman’s locked basement, by officers called there because of a foul smell.

Pratt’s articles do little to explain how it was that Bridgeman’s body would be found in Coleman’s basement in light of the fact that Bridgeman was last seen walking with Coleman. What would be the odds of Bridgeman being last seen with Coleman, but another offender just happened to take her to Coleman’s basement and rape and murder her? In Pratt’s articles, there is no exploration of this central damning fact that Bridgeman was discovered in Coleman’s basement.

Consider these little gems from Pratt’s articles:

Before Coleman was arrested in 1994 for a rape and murder in Englewood, he was a well-liked and respected 25-year-old groundskeeper at Comiskey Park with two young children. . . .

 At the time, Coleman worked for the White Sox as a respected member of the grounds-keeping crew at Comiskey Park. Although he had no criminal record, Coleman said he was affiliated with the Gangster Disciples. . . .

Really? Let’s take a look at some investigative reports listing the witness statements about Coleman, statements that suggest the main reason Coleman attacked Bridgeman was that she had recently switched gang affiliations.

Detective reports indicate that they spoke to two witnesses twice about the murder. The second time detectives spoke to these two witnesses, they told the detectives that they had withheld information from the first interview. In the second interview, the witnesses said they withheld information because “they were extremely afraid for their safety and that this is the reason that they never told anyone that Coleman had left the party with the victim. They both were afraid they that would be the next victims.”

Perhaps these witnesses never got the Tribune memo about Coleman being “well-liked” and a “respected” member of the community. On the contrary, they seemed terrified of Coleman.

But perhaps this chilling statement from witnesses is excluded from Pratt’s reporting because it is part of the coercion, part of the law enforcement frame-up of Coleman? Perhaps the detectives somehow got the witnesses to say these damning statements about Coleman, or they falsely claimed the witnesses said it? It was all part of the frame-up concocted by the dirty detectives?

Don’t laugh. It wouldn’t be the first time the Tribune has posited such an absurd theory to the public. The Tribune published several stories about Anthony Porter being innocent of a 1982 double murder without ever talking to four of the six witnesses who pointed to Porter as being the offender. Nor did they interview detectives on the case.

The paper published articles about Madison Hobley being innocent of an arson that killed seven people while never mentioning the fact that Hobley made arson threats several weeks before the actual arson took place. These threats were described in a police report.

They pushed a narrative that Nicole Harris was framed by a collection of detectives for murdering her own child. Then, when the case went to civil court several months ago, attorneys for the detectives argued that Harris was guilty of the murder, despite her exoneration and receiving a certificate of innocence. The detectives prevailed on every count. Harris got nothing.

And so it goes. Pratt’s reporting sinks to the level of the Trib’s reporting on the Anthony Porter case, Madison Hobley, and Nicole Harris. It is a sign that the Tribune, once a shining icon of American journalism, is now a symbol of an altogether different kind of media, one recently described by Patrick Buchanan:

Yet in the eyes of tens of millions of their countrymen, they [the press] are seen not as “speaking truth to power,” but as using their immense power over American communications to punish their enemies, advance their own agendas. . . .

 Is Gregory Pratt listening? Doubtful. In the coming months, as the Coleman civil case takes shape, the public can rest assured that Pratt and the Tribune will groom the narrative to fit the mythology of police corruption, no matter how pathetic this narrative may be.

Pratt and the Tribune will never cover the real story emerging in the Coleman case: The decision by Cook County Prosecutor Kimberly Foxx to let Coleman out of prison in the first place and her ridiculous decision not to challenge Coleman’s certificate of innocence—decisions that pave the way for Coleman to join the ranks of other exonerated rapists and killers made rich through a deeply tainted exoneration process.