Jackie Wilson Attorney And Retracted Witness Statements...
During a Cook County Circuit Court hearing last week, Elliot Slosar, of the law firm Loevy & Loevy, told Judge William Hooks that the criminal retrial of twice-convicted police killer Jackie Wilson would include retracted statements of witnesses.
So, what else is new? Wrongful conviction attorneys like Slosar are not newcomers to the game of drudging up recantations from witnesses whose original testimony years before was key in prosecutors winning convictions of defendants like Wilson. Indeed, the city has paid out nearly a half billion dollars in settlements that have arisen over the past decade at least in part due to wrongful conviction lawsuits brought by attorneys like Loevy & Loevy, many based on retracted witness statements.
The assertion by Slosar is particularly stunning. Slosar’s client Jackie Wilson and his brother Andrew have already been convicted twice for their roles in the murders of two police officers, Richard O’Brien and William Fahey, in 1982.
The release of Jackie Wilson has long been the Holy Grail for wrongful conviction attorneys. It was the Wilson murders that first breathed life into the claims by Slosar’s co-counsel on the case, Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, that Jon Burge and his men tortured the Wilson brothers into confessing to the murders. Jackie Wilson found his freedom through a controversial, appointed state commission called the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC), which has broad authority to re-open settled convictions where appeals have long been exhausted.
TIRQ was created during the high-water mark of the wrongful conviction movement’s power, leading some to call them the wrongful exoneration movement. Some lawyers have opined that TIRQ, re-opening cases without even sworn testimony and sometimes without notification of victims, violates the Illinois Constitution and the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act.
Andrew Wilson was captured in a West Side apartment several days after he shot both officers during a traffic stop on the South Side. He was taken to Area 2, where he was interviewed by Burge and his men and later an assistant Cook County state’s attorney. When he was brought to central detention later that night, he was so badly bruised that the lock-up keeper would not accept him and he was sent to the hospital.
The bruises on Andrew Wilson were the foundation of the wrongful conviction movement. Taylor, the PLO, and law firms like Loevy & Loevy claimed Burge and his men were responsible for them. Detectives, police officers, and attorneys for Burge argued that it was the wagon men, distraught over the explosion in police murders in which Fahey and O’Brien’s murders culminated a month in where five officers had been shot, four fatally.
But times have changed. Now it is the wrongful conviction movement that is facing its own pattern-and-practice accusations of misconduct, particularly when it comes to recanted witness statements.
One case, also involving Wilson’s attorney Slosar, is particularly compelling and disturbing.
Here is what happened.
In 2011 a man named Willie Johnson returned to Chicago from the South with an incredible story to tell a judge. Johnson said that his eyewitness testimony in a 1994 double murder trial that put Cedric Cal and Albert Kirkman away for life was a lie.
Cal and Kirkman had been convicted of shooting three people on the West Side in 1992, two of them fatally, in an ongoing dispute over narcotics. The third person shot was Johnson himself, who survived nine gunshot wounds. What better witness is there than a survivor of the shooting?
It was Johnson’s eyewitness testimony in the 1994 trial that convicted Cal and Kirkman.
But now in 2011, almost twenty years after his trial testimony, Johnson told the judge that back in the 1994 trial of Kirkman and Cal, he had lied. The actual shooter, Johnson said, was another man, not Cal and Kirkman.
Here it was, yet another key witness emerging decades after the fact to announce that his original statements were false in a case where a collection of wrongful conviction lawyers stood to make millions in a civil settlement after their clients were released from prison.
Johnson never came forward with his changed testimony about the murder case until he was approached by an investigator from Loevy & Loevy.
But in response to Johnson’s retracted witness statements, the judge said something that no doubt shocked the wrongful conviction attorneys in the case. He said he didn’t believe Johnson’s retraction. And so, based on that disbelief, the judge rejected the petition by Cal and Kirkman’s attorneys and they remained in prison. They remain there still.
But that wasn’t the end of the story, by any measure. In a rare instance of prosecutors standing up to wrongful conviction law firms, then Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez charged Johnson with perjury.
Particularly suspicious to prosecutors about Johnson’s recantation was the fact that shortly before he came forward with it, he had received several phone calls from a top member of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, Ray “Ray Ray” Longstreet, from prison, where Longstreet was serving a long sentence.
So Johnson got these phone calls from a gang leader, then suddenly changed his statement about two killers.
As it was, Alvarez’s decision to charge Johnson with perjury sent shock waves through the wrongful conviction movement.
From the Tribune:
[Johnson’s] attorney, Steve Greenberg, said the indictment is the first of its kind that he’s aware of stemming from post-conviction motions, and that it could have a “chilling effect” on witnesses who want to come forward and recant previous testimony.
“When the state starts indicting people for perjury like this, eventually that will lead to suppressing the truth,” he said.
Northwestern University Law School’s Center [on] Wrongful Convictions spokesman Rob Warden called the charges “beyond outrageous.”
In response, Johnson’s advocates harnessed their media sycophants and high-profile supporters to condemn Alvarez for charging Johnson, claiming that such a move would discourage other people from coming forward and recanting their testimony.
From the Sun-Times:
A who’s who of former judges and prosecutors have signed a letter expressing concerns about a perjury prosecution against a man who recanted his 1994 testimony in a murder trial.
The letter to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said the prosecution of Willie Johnson could discourage other people from recanting prior testimony . . .
One person who signed the letter was Lori Lightfoot, former president of the Chicago Police Board and current candidate for mayor.
But Alvarez stuck to her guns and Johnson eventually plead guilty to perjury, the same charge, ironically, that sent former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge to prison. Johnson was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
But there is another compelling part of the Johnson saga, one never covered by the local media.
Who was that investigator that traveled south and first obtained Johnson’s retracted statement? None other than Elliot Slosar, now the key attorney, along with Flint Taylor, on the Jackie Wilson case, the attorney now claiming that he will exonerate Jackie Wilson in part with a retracted statement from a key witness.
It was Slosar, according to court records, who traveled south and met with Johnson. The description of this meeting from court documents is interesting. A clemency bid states that the call from top gang member Ray Longstreet to Johnson “was initiated not by Willie, but by Slosar. . . .”
From Johnson's clemency bid:
And here: “Slosar affirms that Willie initially reacted with hostility to Slosar’s efforts to talk with Willie about the Kirkman and Cal case. . . .”
Johnson initially didn’t want to talk to Slosar?
Johnson’s attorneys described Slosar’s investigation into the case as a crusade to right a wrongful conviction, but it’s clear that the prosecutors weren’t buying any of it. They stridently opposed the post-conviction petition and then took the unusual measure of charging Johnson with perjury. It’s also clear that the judge in the post-conviction hearing didn’t buy it, either.
So the fact remains that Slosar, working as an investigator at the time, brought forth a witness who recanted his testimony and who was later convicted of perjury for making that recantation statement.
But that is not the end of the Johnson story. Johnson was sent to prison to serve his sentence for perjury, the public relations campaign by his attorneys to undermine his conviction failed, as did his clemency bid. But in Chicago, no conviction is ever truly settled, no matter how many juries, judges, and appeals court declared them so, no matter how gruesome, cruel, or unjust the crime.
Jackie Wilson, now set free through the efforts of Slosar and his wrongful conviction allies, is proof of that.
Willie Johnson never had to serve his full sentence. Minutes before his scandal-ridden administration ended, Governor Pat Quinn suddenly and inexplicable commuted Johnson’s sentence. Johnson walked out of prison, just as Jackie Wilson did last week.
And now the Jackie Wilson case is in the courts.