Crooked City

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Northwestern Lawsuit Puts Entire City on Trial

Much more than $40 million is at stake in a blockbuster lawsuit against Northwestern University.

The lawsuit by attorneys representing Alstory Simon claims Simon was coerced into confessing by Northwestern investigators to a double murder he didn’t commit. It seeks compensation for the 15 years Simon spent in prison. Northwestern’s Professor David Protess and his private investigator, Paul Ciolino, are also named.

In convicting Simon, his lawyers claim the real killer, Anthony Porter, was set free.

It’s a claim that violates the orthodoxy of Chicago politics and criminal justice, claiming that wrongful conviction activists are guilty of the worst wrongful conviction in the state’s history.

Simon’s attorneys are no lone voice in the woods. In October of last year, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez blasted Protess and Ciolino’s conduct in the case when she announced she was setting Simon free after a year-long review of the case. Alvarez cited actions by Protess and Ciolino in particular, saying they were quite likely criminal.

In response, Northwestern pulled in the big guns to defend itself, reportedly hiring the law firm of Jenner and Block in the civil lawsuit.

Jenner and Block’s role in the case, however, may be much more than simply defending a client. In many ways, they are defending what is now known as the wrongful conviction movement, which includes their own law firm.

 The reason is that over the last ten years a vast body of evidence has slowly emerged revealing tactics in this movement every bit as dirty, illegal, and cruel as any leveled against Chicago Police officers.

Much of this evidence comes to light in the Simon lawsuit: bribed testimony, perjury, obstruction of justice, framing an innocent man and knowingly exonerating a guilty man.  

As the reputation of Northwestern plummets and their legal and civil liability becomes exposed in light of this evidence, other wrongful conviction law firms and university departments wonder: will theirs?

It’s entirely possible. The Porter is not an anomaly; it is an allegory. It will inevitably reveal similar tactics by other activists and law firms in which they fraudulently released killers and rapists from prison, and framed cops.

In short, a modus operandi in the wrongful conviction movement is now unfolding.  

Here’s how it works. Wrongful conviction law firms wait at least a decade until witnesses have scattered or died off. They begin “investigating” and suddenly “discover” a new witness or one who is changing their original statement, a witness who has everything to gain by changing their statement and nothing to lose. They obtain the assistance of the local media, who never attempt to actually investigate the story.

They claim the police coerced a confession, even by torturing a suspect, often with no evidence save the claims by the convicted offender. They then implement an extensive public relations campaign against weak-willed prosecutors so that prosecutors will decline to retry the case.

The vilification of the police—without any evidence—is the most common theme in the movement.

Jenner and Block is no objective third party. The law firm is also prolific in the movement, making cases by vilifying the police with little or no evidence, right along with Northwestern.

Consider a pivotal wrongful conviction case Jenner and Block and the school worked on, one that involved the alleged murder of a child.

Police responded to a call of a dead child at Resurrection Hospital in May of 2005. There they discovered four-year-old Jaquari Harris, who had apparently died from strangulation from a cord around his neck. At first, detectives did not suspect any foul play. The death appeared accidental. Jaquari’s mother, Nicole Harris, made no statements that aroused their suspicion.

However, when detectives returned to the crime scene and conducted a canvas, meaning they interviewed neighbors, they obtained statements from them that contradicted Nicole Harris’ narrative.

When the detectives confronted her, Harris spontaneously admitted that she strangled Jaquari because she was upset that he had left the house when she had gone to the laundromat. Harris also gave a videotaped confession in front of a prosecutor.

At trial, however, Harris changed her story. She claimed that the detectives pushed her and threatened her, forcing her to confess. She claimed she told prosecutors about this coercion, but they ignored her.

The jury didn’t believe the coercion story. They were out just two hours. They convicted Harris, and she was sentenced to thirty years.

Harris’ lawyers appealed the decision. There was discrepancy in the evidence, they claimed, particularly about the cord used to strangle the child. There were conflicting statements in the confession of Harris, they also claimed.

Two lower court appeals by Harris failed. But when lawyers at Northwestern’s Law School and Jenner and Block brought the case to the federal appeals court, they won. The central issue in that appeal was the fact that Jaquari’s brother was not allowed to testify at the trial.

The federal appeals court reversed the conviction, but left it up to prosecutors to retry Harris. Crucially, the court did not declare Harris innocent.

The media jumped on the case, giving full voice to Jenner and Block and Northwestern. As in so many wrongful conviction cases, prosecutors balked. Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez declined to retry the case, leaving her own prosecutors who had worked on the case and the detectives in the lurch.

After Harris was freed, her lawyers faced a crucial hurdle: the Certificate of Innocence. Whenever an offender is exonerated, their attorneys file a petition asking the court to declare their client’s innocence.

Obtaining the certificate lays the groundwork for a civil lawsuit and intimidates city attorneys representing the detectives from going to civil trial. If a judge grants a Certificate of Innocence, it’s that much harder for city attorneys to maintain that the detectives did nothing wrong.

True to form of a weak-willed, machine-hack politician, Alvarez declined to contest the innocence petition, selling out the detectives and her own prosecutors once again.

Keep in mind a jury found Harris guilty. That jury heard Harris’ claims that she was coerced and rejected them. The trial judge saw nothing improper. He sentenced Harris to 30 years. Two appeals courts backed the conviction, also rejecting the coercion claims.

The federal appeals cited anomalies in the trial and threw out the conviction, leaving the prosecutor with the option of trying it again. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement that Harris is innocent, nor is it an endorsement of her claim that she was coerced into confessing.

Wrongful conviction cases are built upon a central myth: That the police are evil racists who do not care about justice or getting the right offender. They also have no qualms about framing someone for a crime, even in the case of a child whose death might be accidental.

This mythology was on full display in the Harris case.

From the Sun Times:

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, claims interrogators coerced her over the course of 28 hours into making a false confession that led to her conviction. The suit names the city, Cook County, two assistant state’s attorneys and eight police officers.

It claims detectives fabricated a confession that Harris had gotten angry and strangled her son. Interrogators rehearsed the confession with Harris before she “regurgitate[ed] the details the defendant officers had provided to her” in a videotaped statement, the suit claims.

Harris made the confession “after enduring over 20 hours of interrogation and abuse,” the suit claims.

It’s a pretty amazing claim. Prosecutors and eight detectives all conspired to get Harris to confess to murdering her own child when they could have chalked the murder up to an accidental death and gone home for the night?

While coercing a confession from a suspect in a police murder or from a vicious gang member suspected of killing several people falls within the realm of the feasible, coercing a confession from a mother in what would otherwise be an accidental death requires a fantastic leap of imagination, even for wrongful conviction activists.

What would the detectives possibly care about framing Nicole Harris? What kind of monsters would want to impose a murder charge on a woman who just lost her son? And not just one or two detectives, but eight?

Only the mythology that Chicago detectives are so evil they would risk their reputations, their livelihood, even their freedom, to pin the murder on an innocent person. Only within this framework does the Harris lawsuit have any basis.

The narrative gets even worse, though. In the Harris case, prosecutors also took her confession. The “coerced” confession theory would mean that the prosecutors were also involved in framing Harris, for Harris testified that she told the prosecutors about being coerced by the detectives. Sure enough, Harris’ attorney also name prosecutors in the civil lawsuit.

This is when the Harris case moves into another level of lunacy. Anyone with even a remote knowledge of police and prosecutors in Chicago knows there is a deep distrust between the two entities. That one group would co-conspire in the framing of a murder case—one involving a child--is a new level of the absurd.

Eight detectives and a few prosecutors met somewhere in the police station and agreed to frame this woman and they all went along with it?

“You know what, Joe? I don’t care that this woman just lost her child. We’re going to put a murder case on her.”

“Sounds good to me. I got nothing going on tonight. I’ll go see if the prosecutors will bite. By the way, how bout Chinese tonight?”

“Chinese sounds good.”

They all stuck together throughout the entire criminal trial, the appeals and now the civil lawsuit?

It is a mark of the power in this anti-police myth that it can have such influence over the legal system and the media, that such a claim could take shape in the criminal justice system. It is also a mark of the power of this myth that prosecutors like Alvarez would lie down and let Harris possibly become wealthy from such frivolous, insane claims in a lawsuit.

How does this come to be?

The demonization of the police in this case--and so many other wrongful conviction claims—is rooted in an intense radicalism guiding the wrongful conviction movement. In the mid-eighties, wrongful conviction law firms were able to push their claims against a few Chicago Police Officers in the courts, the political system, and the media.

But now it is clear those claims were worked into a larger mythology about the police, one that was then used to undermine clearly legitimate cases. It was used when the police were only trying to do their job, like the Harris case. In doing so, these law firms and activists reveal their intent all along was to wage a war on the police and the criminal justice system, not right some perceived injustice.

Another sign of the radicalism and malevolence at the heart of the wrongful conviction movement is what happened to the Harris case after Jenner and Block and Northwestern sprang her from prison. It went to the People’s Law Office (PLO).

Notice how wrongful conviction cases are passed around, from one law firm/university department to another. First it was Northwestern Law School and Jenner and Block. Now the PLO is overseeing it. Clearly there is an open line of communication and strategizing among these firms and universities. Why, then, one wonders, did none of these firms ever mention the conspiracy against Alstory Simon when they got together? If they were so concerned about the injustice of wrongful convictions, why was there no outrage as the evidence in that case came to light?

The PLO has a dark resume when it comes to the police and prosecutors. In fact, they have a dark resume when it comes to violent revolutionary groups in general. Their client list includes FALN terrorists, who set off hundreds of bombs throughout the country; Black Panthers, who murdered dozens of police officers; and the three offenders at the NATO summit accused of making molotov cocktails that they reportedly planned on throwing at police. The PLO resume reveals that almost any person or group willing to wage war on American institutions will garner their support, even terrorists.

Then there is Bernadine Dorhn, who signifies another disturbing bridge between the PLO and Northwestern. Dohrn is a founding member of the terrorist group the Weather Underground.

Dohrn spent the 1970s setting off bombs throughout the country in an effort to initiate a Marxist revolution at home. A close associate of the founding members of the PLO, Dohrn was eventually hired at Northwestern and worked on wrongful conviction cases there.

To get a clear vision of the radicalism and rage that fuels Dohrn and her associates, consider this statement she made in the wake of the famous Manson murders:

“Dig it! First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach! Wild!”

Just as the Weather Underground started in Chicago after the 1968 riots then spread throughout the country, so has the wrongful conviction movement, as one university and law firm after another has seen the benefits of adopting it.

Virtually every big city in the country now has an innocence project, and law schools nationwide are also opening up departments aimed at freeing the supposedly innocent, breathing new life into university Marxist radicals who were once all but forgotten as eccentrics or nut cases.

All of these law firms and academic departments are copying the methods of Northwestern University and the People’s Law Office.

In doing so, the anti-police mythology at the core of this movement has taken root throughout the country, explaining, for example, why the media, the public, the intellectuals and many elected officials bought wholeheartedly into the conspiracy claims that Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson executed Michael Brown.

Even when inquiry after inquiry refuted this scenario and showed Wilson was merely fighting for his life, a vast engine of organizers, media spin doctors and activists insisted that the conception of Wilson as a renegade, likely racist killer, was the root cause of the shooting.  The activists’ wild claims initiated riots, looting. There were molotov cocktails and bomb threats. 

Is it any wonder that a president hailing from Chicago, a former community organizer and friend of former Weather Underground leader Bernadine Dohrn, would refuse to let go of the narrative of racist police officers, even when his own justice department could find no malfeasance against Officer Wilson?

Unwilling to go away empty-handed, Obama’s anti-police crusader Eric Holder issued a scathing report claiming the Ferguson Police Department’s tactics were racist against the black community.

Approaching an Orwellian alternate universe, the report claimed that this racism laid the foundation for the riots and looting after the attack.

What about all the agitators who insisted on the narrative that Wilson was a racist executioner instilled in them after 40 years of wrongful conviction lies? Didn’t that lay some of the groundwork for the riots and the tension?

Some myths will not go down without a bloody fight.

So what is the real answer to the question why detectives would frame Harris? The answer is: They didn’t. It is only the mythology of agenda-driven law firms like the PLO and Jenner and Block, along with Northwestern rearing its ugly head in yet another murder case.

With the release of Harris, rest assured that lawyers at the PLO are scouring other cases involving these officers and prosecutors. It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this exoneration industry when other convicted killers suddenly emerge in prison with similar claims against them.

But now times have changed. The whole wrongful conviction scam worked like clockwork until the Porter case imploded over the last few years. Now the truth is slowly coming out.

The true destructive intent and willful fabrications behind these murders are revealing themselves in case after case: Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Ronald Kitchen, Willie Johnson, and Stanley Wrice, to name a few.

Jenner and Block clearly has their work cut out for them.

One more crucial factor in the Harris story must not go unmentioned. It is the role of the Chicago media in promoting this mythology.

The freeing of Harris likely could not have taken place without the usual collusion of the media, its willingness to place myth over the power of evidence, particularly the Chicago Tribune, which, once again, utterly failed to present the prosecution/police narrative in the case.

Shouldn’t the media, for example, have contacted key players in the prosecution side of the Harris case and heard what they had to say? Isn’t it standard practice for a journalist to hear both sides of a story? Not in Chicago, and certainly not at the Tribune when it comes to wrongful convictions.  

Well, the Conviction Project did.

The Conviction Project interviewed attorney Lawrence O’Reilly, a prosecutor at the time of the Harris confession in 2005, now in private practice. O’Reilly took a confession from Harris.

O’Reilly stated that not one Chicago reporter has ever called him and asked him about the Harris case, despite the fact that media outlets like the Tribune have published articles at every stage of the Harris exoneration, articles quoting wrongful conviction law firms at length.

Here is a newspaper giving full voice to a law firm like the People’s Law Office, despite their long association with terrorists, but not one reporter ever bothered to talk to a prosecutor in the case, one accused of framing a woman for murdering her child.

It makes one wonder if they are living in America or the Soviet Union. And It’s not just their failure to investigate both sides of a case. Writers at the paper like Eric Zorn have even begun censoring their blog and the comments section of their articles in order to avoid answering questions about the cases or bringing up contrary points of view.

In an interview with the Conviction Project, O’Reilly insisted that the Harris confession was bona fide.

“I took the statement from Harris to be absolutely truthful and accurate when she gave it to me,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly also rejected strongly any claim of malfeasance by the detectives.

O’Reilly stated, for example, that he has worked with Detective James Balodimas before the Harris case. Based on those experiences, he ridiculed any contention that Balodimas would coerce a confession from anyone.

And so it goes.

All of this leads back to the Alstory Simon lawsuit against Northwestern, with Jenner and Block representing them.

For Jenner and Block, the PLO, Northwestern, and the whole circus known as the wrongful conviction movement, this lawsuit is real trouble. It could undermine the mythology that has helped them for three decades, thereby exposing them not as crusaders for justice, but as true patriarchs of the most Crooked City.