The Watch

News and Information for Chicago FOP members.

Bonfire Of The Progressives

Though Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 for being Soviet agents, their supporters on the left still maintained their innocence until 2008.

That was when the third co-defendant in the case, Morton Sobell, finally admitted he and Julius were, in fact, spies.

The Rosenberg saga symbolizes the ability of progressives to maintain a false narrative, even in the face of overwhelming evidence and legal proceedings, over a vast period of time. The process is pervasive in Chicago, and no one signifies its power to do so more than Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn.

Zorn has been pushing the claim that Chicago Police officers have coerced false confessions from suspects, mostly minorities, in cases going back decades. In his narrative, dozens and dozens of convicted killers and rapists have been released, and many a bitter detective has seen his reputation and career destroyed.

But now the lynchpin case, the one that paved the way for Zorn’s mythology, has imploded. It is the 1999 exoneration of Anthony Porter for a double murder, an exoneration obtained after investigators at Northwestern University obtained a “confession” to the murders from another man, Alstory Simon. It was this confession that got Porter out of prison and paved the way for dozens of other exonerations, almost all based on the claims of police misconduct.

The Porter case imploded in 2014 when the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez reviewed it, interviewing some 100 witnesses, after which she marched into court and said Simon should be released. She assailed the conduct of former Northwestern professor David Protess and the private investigator working with him, Paul Ciolino.

That release should have initiated a vast review of wrongful conviction cases, particularly those involving Northwestern and Eric Zorn. But believing such a review would take place would ignore the powerful progressive mythology Zorn has spent his career constructing.

And so rather than begin reviewing the movement that has spelled doom to the criminal justice system, Zorn instead published a bizarre, chilling column denouncing Northwestern University for settling a lawsuit by Alstory Simon’s attorneys alleging a vast body of misconduct by the school and its investigators.

In his column last week, Zorn still maintained the claim that Anthony Porter was innocent of the murders and that Simon was guilty. 

Zorn’s and Chicago’s progressive media have a strong interest in maintaining the rejected narrative in the Porter/Simon case, a narrative that was crucial in garnering the release of more convicted killers and rapists and ringing up hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits against the city.

Zorn’s mythology also played a key role for city progressives to generate new policies that will stymie the police from solving crime and gaining control over the city’s chronic violence and disorder.

Zorn’s conduct in this case, and his writing about it, aches for a serious investigation, a deeper look. His employer, the Chicago Tribune, owes that to the reading public, owes it to the family members of the couple slain in 1982 by Porter. But Zorn is protected from such inquiry. For all their chatter about a code of silence in the Chicago Police Department, a far more pervasive and dangerous code of silence exists in the Chicago media.

In his column last week, Zorn allied himself with a key figure in the Porter debacle, Paul Ciolino, and Ciolino’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean. Zorn portrays Ciolino as still fighting for the truth in the case, that Porter was innocent and Simon guilty, despite Northwestern settling the case.

But Ciolino, 62, is not bound by the settlement — he refused to play along and so Simon’s lawyers simply dismissed him from the case — and because he’s represented pro bono by the tenacious Jennifer Bonjean of Brooklyn, he’s unburdened by legal bills.

It was Ciolino who obtained the “confession” from Alstory Simon in 1999, a confession denounced by a chorus of people who reviewed the case, including the detectives who worked it and former prosecutor Anita Alvarez.

Nevertheless, Zorn is moving into dangerous territory in trying to preserve his mythology, and here is why.

Stanley Wrice

Try finding a column by Eric Zorn about another bombshell case, the Stanley Wrice exoneration.

Stanley Wrice was released from a 100-year sentence for the vicious gang rape and severe burning of a woman, Karen Byron, in 1982.

Wrice got out of prison in 2014 by claiming he was the victim of abuse by detectives who worked under former Police Commander Jon Burge, the poster child for coercing false confessions from suspects, even torturing them. Wrice claimed these “Burge” detectives framed him for the rape, including coercing confessions.

The description of what the victim, Karen Byron, endured in the Wrice case makes one’s hair stand on end. She was taken to Wrice’s attic, raped over the course of hours by several men, then burned with various implements: an iron, metal objects heated up on the gas stove. The smell of burnt flesh filled the dwelling and beyond. She escaped to a gas station, where the attendant called 911.

She was eventually transported to the burn unit to begin her slow, agonizing recovery.

After Wrice got out of prison, his attorney, Bonjean—the same one now representing Ciolino—filed for a certificate of innocence. But the judge surprised everyone. He looked at the evidence and refused to grant the certificate, on the grounds that he believed Wrice was involved in the crime.

From the Tribune:

In a 44-page ruling, Judge Thomas Byrne concluded that what he called strong circumstantial evidence, eyewitness testimony and physical evidence recovered at the crime scene all “powerfully” pointed to the guilt of Stanley Wrice in the 1982 rape.

Why, then, no journalist in Chicago asked, least of all Eric Zorn, is Wrice out of prison? These are journalists who regularly condemn individuals for abusive or harassing behavior toward women. But in the Wrice exoneration, they remained silent.

But Judge Byrne didn’t just assert that he thought Wrice was guilty. He also took up the fact that a witness who originally fingered Wrice for the crime retracted his statement to students working with David Protess, the professor at Northwestern who got Porter set free and Simon sent to prison, based, in large part, on witness recantations.

Here is Judge Byrne’s statement about one witness retraction in the Wrice case:

[The witness] has only come forward with his affidavit recanting his trial testimony in anticipation of the litigation surrounding [the] petitioner’s post-conviction petition. In fact, it was not until 2011 when he was contacted by the Chicago Innocence Project that he changed his story. His affidavit was prepared nearly 30 years after the crime occurred. The circumstances surrounding his recantation affidavit are certainly suspicious in light of Williams’ prior inconsistent testimony as it relates to this case.

Certainly suspicious? Anticipation of litigation? Chicago Innocence Project headed by David Protess?

How ’bout that?

The Chicago media, the one that asserts that there is a code of silence in the police department each and every week, has remained largely silent about the dark developments in the Wrice case.

That includes Eric Zorn. One thing Zorn has remained completely silent about is the fact that attorneys representing the detectives in the Wrice lawsuit claiming he was framed have asked for all the evidence in the Alstory Simon lawsuit to be brought in. In doing so, the attorneys for the detectives are clearly alleging a pattern of misconduct against wrongful conviction advocates.

Here is a ruling by the judge in the Wrice lawsuit:

The point is, Defendants [the detectives] contend that Protess and the Students have a playbook for getting false affidavits, and that they used it to procure false affidavits from . . . [witnesses] in order to argue Wrice’s innocence. Since Defendants have articulated a basis to question the veracity of those affidavits (prior inconsistent statements by both . . . [witnesses] to the Special Prosecutor and in deposition testimony), Defendants are entitled to probe the methods that Protess and the Students used to procure them. And since Defendants have also articulated a basis to suggest that Protess and the Students developed and refined those methods in other cases (allegations of similar unethical tactics in three other cases), Defendants are also entitled to inquire about the affidavits obtained in those other cases and how they were gotten.

 Ka-boom.

They remained silent as the case limped its way into the federal courts, despite Judge Byrne’s ruling suggesting that its fundamental claims of Wrice being innocent were a fable.

And then Zorn and the other journalists remained silent when another witness in the case came forward who had lived near Wrice. She said that beginning when she was fourteen years old, Wrice raped her regularly, threatening to harm the girl’s mother if she ever told on Wrice. She testified that Wrice impregnated her three times through forced sex.

That deposition, like Wrice’s criminal trial transcripts, is difficult to read.

But they need to be read. And then questions need to be asked.

But don’t expect those questions to come from Eric Zorn or the Chicago Tribune, at least not for decades to come.