Crooked City

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Another Northwestern Wrongful Conviction Case Implodes...

For decades, cops and detectives have claimed that witness recantations in wrongful conviction case are frauds. Witnesses succumb to gang pressure or, as in the Anthony Porter case, the outright conspiracy of wrongful conviction lawyers and activists.

Witnesses suddenly step forward after a decade or more and say they were pressured by police into naming an offender. Reporters like Steve Mills, Eric Zorn, Carol Marin, and Mike Miner generate a firestorm of coverage over it without ever really checking the facts. Then there is the multi-million dollar lawsuit and often a settlement without a trial. A killer is returned to the streets, the reputations of the cops ruined. 

Now, finally, it looks like the prosecutor and at least some judges are standing up to this fraud.  

From the SunTimes:

A 43-year-old Texas man was sentenced Tuesday to 30 months in prison for lying on the witness stand about a 1992 double murder in Chicago — even though a former Illinois governor and more than 20 other distinguished attorneys tried to stop the prosecution.

Johnson became a witness in 1992 after he was wounded nine times in a West Side shooting that killed two friends.

At the time, he identified one of the shooters as “Duke” and said he knew the assailants because they lived on his block. Johnson picked the men from photos and testified against them at trial. They were convicted and got life sentences.

But on Jan. 19, 2011, Johnson testified at a post-conviction hearing for the men and said a different shooter was responsible. Johnson claimed he didn’t finger the actual shooter in 1992 because he was intimidated.

But on Tuesday, Alvarez stood behind her decision to prosecute Johnson, who pleaded guilty in Cook County Criminal Court and was sentenced by Judge Dennis Porter.

“My office does not take the decision to charge perjury lightly and this charge is brought in very limited circumstances and only when it is appropriate to do so.  We believe this was certainly the case in this particular matter and we are very pleased with today’s plea of guilty by this defendant,” Alvarez said in a prepared statement.

In the past four years, Johnson is the only person to be charged with perjury for recanting testimony in a post-conviction hearing in Cook County, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

That's right. In all the years of wrongful conviction claims based upon a witness suddenly changing his statement, Johnson is the only one to be called out on it. 

Alvarez claims she makes cases of perjury in false recantations "only when it is appropriate to do so." 

Really? One Wonders about the Anthony Porter case...

In any case, the lawyers lined up to voice their outrage at Alvarez's decision:

Those attorneys, including former Gov. Jim Thompson and retired federal appeals judge Abner Mikva, sent a letter to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in April, warning that the prosecution of Willie Johnson could chill future witness recantations in cases involving wrongful convictions.

What is wrong with that? Are these attorneys arguing that allowing witnesses to be coerced into changing their statements is a good thing?

Alvarez explains the prosecution theory on why Johnson changed his tune:

Alvarez announced that Johnson changed his statement because he was intimidated by the Vice Lord Gang. 

At the time, he identified one of the shooters as “Duke” and said he knew the assailants because they lived on his block. Johnson picked the men from photos and testified against them at trial. They were convicted and got life sentences.

Prosecutors told Judge Michael Brown that Johnson changed his testimony after he received a phone call from gang leader Ray Longstreet.

Longstreet is a reputed leader of the Vice Lords, the same gang the convicted shooters belonged to, authorities said.

Brown determined that Johnson lied at Longstreet’s behest and ruled against the convicted shooters, Cedric Cal and Albert Kirkman, who remain in prison.

“Johnson recanted out of allegiance to the Vice Lords,” Brown said.

Witnesses coerced by gang members. Maybe the cops and detectives have been right all along...

Even better, judges backed up the conviction:

After Johnson was charged with perjury, Judge Dennis Porter presided over a hearing on Feb. 26 in which Gabriel Fuentes, an attorney for Johnson, said his client shouldn’t go to prison — instead arguing that he deserved probation.

But Porter responded: “The thing that is a far greater concern is that somebody would come in years later and try to lie somebody out of the place where they ought to be when they have been convicted for murder.”

What is perhaps most compelling in this conviction is that it is connected, yet again, to Northwestern University, currently embroiled in a scandal in which they are accused of conspiring to free a murderer, Anthony Porter and convict an innocent man, Alstory Simon. 

Robert Warden, retired director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School, said he knew of more than 16 cases in Cook County in which defendants have been exonerated because of eyewitness recantations. Johnson decided to recant after an investigator for the center tracked him down in Texas, Warden said.

That's right. Northwestern is already under fire for its other wrongful conviction cases and now another one has imploded under the review of the county prosecutor. Gang leaders intimidating witnesses...Northwestern picking up the case? This has an all too familiar ring about it. 

Johnson recanted after talking to Northwestern investigators? Exactly what did they say that made him change his mind?