Another Wrongful Conviction Scandal in Hobley Case?
Madison Hobley was convicted of setting a fire in his building in January of 1987, an arson that killed his wife, child and five other people, seriously injurying some 17 others, many of whom jumped from windows to escape the flames. It was one of the worst fires of the decade.
After a trial based on overwhelming evidence against Hobley, including a confession, Hobley was convicted and sentenced to death row.
While on death row, Hobley met other inmates who were claiming torture as a means of getting out of prison. Hobley made the same allegations. Like other inmates, Hobley was pardoned by Governor Ryan, who also placed a moratorium on the death penalty.
In addition to gaining his freedom, Hobley also won a settlement for $6 million from the city. It was, next to the exoneration of Anthony Porter for a double homicide, one of the fantastic turn of events in history of Illinois criminal justice: a man sentenced to death for killing seven people, exonerated, then given $6 million.
The problem is that the case, just like the Anthony Porter case, is full of holes.
One of the most incredible turns in the case came from a man who worked at a gas station and witnessed Hobley buy a can of gas shortly before the arson. This witness, Andre Council, claimed he received a visit from Hobley's attorney, Andrea Lyons, a DePaul University Law School faculty member, and a private investigator named Paul Ciolino. In this meeting, Council claims Lyons and Ciolino offered him a bribe to change his statement.
But one has to ask a central question even before getting into Council's claims. Why would a lawyer and a private investigator visit a central witness at his home? Why wouldn't they just wait for a deposition to ask questions? The visit itself is an ominous event in the case. Who goes and secretly meets with witnesses in cases outside the view of opposing lawyers and stenographers?
Paul Ciolino, the private investigator who visited Council, is a central figure in the Anthony Porter case, a double murder case in which Porter was freed from prison based upon the "evidence" gathered by Ciolino and Professor David Protess at the Innocence Project of Northwestern University. That case is now under fire and being reviewed by prosecutors. In the Porter case, Ciolino has also been accused of offering bribes and coercing testimony.
Then, in the Hobley case, the exact same accusations arise against Cioilino from a completely independent witness. Is a pattern of behavior, a modus operendi, emerging in several key wrongful conviction cases?
Here is the deposition of Council about the alleged bribe by Lyon and Ciolino.
Q. Okay. And did they -- how did you first come in contact with them (Andrea Lyon and Paul Ciolino)? Did they call you first? Did they come to the house? What do you remember?
A. I remember them coming to the house...
Q. And this was at your house.
Q. Okay. So did you invite them in?
A. Yeah, they came in.
Q. And tell me as best you can remember what was said to you by who.
Q. Asked you if you had kids?
A. Well, both of them was talking to me. I don't remember. I just remember little details.
You know, they was telling me that, you know, he didn't do it.
Q. He, meaning who?
A. Madison Hobley. You know, that's the way -- they say Madison Hobley, he wasn't the one who set the fire. The lady was telling me, you know, that I need to concentrate on looking at him as not being guilty, you know, nongui- -- you know, he wasn't guilty. So they was telling me, you know, that this is going to come up again, you know, and that I was going to have to go -- you know, that I think they was appealing this case or something like that?
A. And they were both telling me that, you know, my my -- it was a mantle piece, something like this. My daughter's picture was sitting up there right in front. They was asking me did I have kids, you know
Q. Who was asking that?
A. Both of them was talking to me about it. And they was talking to me about it.
Q. Asked you if you had kids?
A. Right. Well, my daughter and son look just like me. And so they was asking me, you know, what grade, what grade was they in, how old was my kids, and, you know, was they going to college.I said, Yeah, they -- my daughter is older. And well, she's still older, and they was talking about what she going to college for. I told them I didn't know what was she going to do. And they asked me, you know, how would I like to not work anymore. You know, they said that they have ways they could do it. You know, she said she deal with colleges.
A. And he was -- he was telling me the same thing, basically, that they could send my
daughter to college and I wouldn't have to pay for it. And I was like
Q. What do you mean, if you changed your testimony?
A. Exactly. They told --they told me, first of all, he's not guilty. I'm like, first of all, you know, I'm saying this to myself, they didn't know Madison Hobley before this case comes up. You know, I could see if they live right next to him or they knew him, but they didn't know anything about him at all. I'm saying this to myself, not to them.
Q. All right. But in terms of that conversation, you're saying they were telling you that if you changed your testimony -- what did they want you to say? Did they tell you what they wanted you to say?
A. They wanted me to say that I didn't -- that I wasn't -- that I wasn't sure, you know, that, you know, you know, she was -- she was writing down, which I never said this before, but I'm going to say it now. She was writing on a sheet of paper the things that I should say.
Q. Andrea Lyon was?
Q. Did you look at it?
A. No, I didn't look at it. She took it with. I told, you know -- in fact, both of them was mad with me, you know, because, you know, I said, No, I didn't see him set the fire, but this was the guy at the gas station was the first place, at the fire, and on TV, same guy.