Torture Commission, Judge's Decision In Wilson Case Demand Accountability
In the wake of a notorious police killer being set free last week, is it finally time for Chicago’s political leaders to question the legitimacy of a state-funded agency that paved the way for the release of this killer?
The answer is an overwhelming yes, for the legal underpinnings of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) have been crumbling under renewed scrutiny for more than eight years.
That scrutiny is nowhere to be found in the elected officials who created TIRC.
It was also nowhere to be found in the courtroom of Circuit Court judge William Hooks last week, whose rants about the history of police misconduct, particularly the three-decade Burge mythology, was used to justify the judge’s decision to overturn the conviction of Jackie Wilson for his role in the murders of two police officers in 1982. Hooks later granted Wilson bond, freeing him after 37 years in prison, sticking to this narrative.
But freeing Jackie Wilson—already twice convicted for his role in the murders of Officers Richard O’Brien and William Fahey during a traffic stop on the South Side—stands as the most ominous achievement of TIRC since the commission came into being, for Wilson had already been convicted twice in connection with the killings and had lost all his appeals. It was only TIRC that breathed new life into his claims, not a judge, jury, or appeals court.
Jackie and his brother, Andrew, were on their way to the county hospital in February 1982 to free a fellow police killer, Edgar Hope, from police custody when Officers Fahey and O’Brien stopped them. Hope had murdered a rookie cop several days earlier. Armed with a gun and some hospital uniforms, the brothers were plotting to use disguises to make their way into the hospital and free Hope.
TIRC was originally created in 2009 to investigate claims by inmates that they, too, were abused by Jon Burge and his men. Later, the scope of TIRC was expanded to include any inmate claiming abuse in Cook County. TIRC has already set in motion the liberation of several inmates, with scores more on the docket.
But Fahey and O’Brien, who had just returned from the funeral of the rookie police officer, interrupted Andrew and Jackie Wilson’s plot. During the traffic stop, Andrew Wilson was able to gain control of Officer Fahey’s weapon. He shot Fahey, then O’Brien. The brothers took the officers’ weapons and fled in their car. The murders of Fahey and O’Brien culminated a month in which five officers were shot, four fatally.
In his decision to grant bond to Wilson on Friday, Judge Hooks said to prosecutors, “Man up!” as he chided them about the impact of the Burge cases on the criminal justice system, including more than $160 million in payouts by the city as a consequence of Burge’s alleged wrongs. Hooks also admonished the prosecutors that the criminal justice system is vastly different from the 1980s when Wilson was tried and convicted, intimating that no conviction from that era could be trusted because of the claims about Burge and his men.
Hooks’s diatribe shocked police officers, prosecutors, family members of the victims, and anyone familiar with the mountain of evidence that Wilson was culpable of the vicious, cowardly crime.
And more so, evidence rolls out every month that it is Judge Hooks and TIRC that are far behind the times.
Here is why.
TIRC and judges like Hooks have accepted the historical narrative about Burge wholeheartedly. But at the same time, they have failed or refused to acknowledge the growing body of evidence that just as much corruption resides in the industry of accusing police officers as it does against police officers. This is a pattern and practice Hooks and TIRC will not address, but it is evidence nevertheless. A fair justice system requires that if Judge Hooks is going to cite the history against Jon Burge and his men, he must acknowledge this evidence as well. That is, if he is a judge basing his decisions on the evidence.
What Hooks refuses to address is the fact that from the very moment TIRC was created in 2009, the foundation of its claims began to erode, and not in a small manner. Not only were its philosophical assumptions crumbling, but the commissioners assigned to take up and review the cases were highly suspect, given to alleged biases. Many of the commissioners were figures deeply allied with the wrongful conviction movement to begin with and therefore had a powerful inherent conflict of interest to judge police misconduct claims.
So, merely in its construction, TIRC is little more than the fox watching the henhouse.
One commissioner, for example, was Rob Warden, former director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, a man deeply allied with many of the wrongful conviction law firms that take up the cases in which the commission arbitrarily rules that the inmate has a legitimate claim of abuse, even though, like Jackie Wilson, the entire legal apparatus in the state had rejected those claims.
Another commissioner is Craig Futterman, a prolific anti-police activist and lawyer from the University of Chicago Law School. Futterman is currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit along with Black Lives Matter, aiming to put the police department in federal oversight. His employer is a primary player in the wrongful conviction movement.
In Chicago, wrongful conviction lawyers and law firms work hand in hand on their claims and cases. This was evident in the courtroom last week, as the two main lawyers representing Wilson, Flint Taylor and Elliot Slosar, work for two different law firms—Taylor for the People’s Law Office, and Slosar for Loevy and Loevy. Both these law firms have garnered tens of millions of dollars in claims of police misconduct. Then they have their allies like Warden and Futterman also claiming wrongful convictions and then serving as commissioners on TIRC.
An absurd conflict.
But even from the first moments that TIRC was formed, the central players in the wrongful conviction movement began taking fire for misconduct in wrongful conviction cases, and from those first moments of TIRC’s existence, its commissioners signaled they would refuse to let this evidence creep into their investigations, just as Judge Hooks has refused to do so.
Those cases include allegations of misconduct in the 1982 double murder by Anthony Porter, the 1987 arson by Madison Hobley that killed seven men, women, and children, the rape and murders in the Ford Heights Four case, the murder case in which Anthony McKinney was accused of killing a security guard, and the Armando Serrano murder case.
They also include Stanley Wrice, a Burge case, who was exonerated for a vicious rape and burning of a victim. A judge rejected his certificate of innocence petition, saying he thought Wrice was guilty. Now attorneys defending the so- called Burge detectives are claiming the exoneration is part of a pattern of misconduct cases.
Then there is the case of Nicole Harris. The People’s Law Office claimed for years that Nicole Harris was framed by Chicago detectives for murdering her son. She got out of prison and was granted a certificate of innocence. But then in her federal civil lawsuit, attorneys for the detectives argued that she was guilty, despite her exoneration. The jury against her. Harris and her PLO attorney got nothing.
All the victims in these cases were minorities. Some were children.
These cases, and so many more, undermine the phony narrative upon which TIRC is built. These cases compel elected officials to review the legitimacy of TIRC and they should compel judges like Hooks to get with the times, and, most of all, to man up.