Martin Preib

Award-winning Writer





Chaos Coming To Chicago?

Few cases illustrate the power of a select group of law firms in Chicago that comprise the wrongful conviction movement more than the perjury conviction of Willie Johnson in 2015. 

Willie Johnson was shot nine times outside his home in 1992. But Johnson was actually lucky. His two friends were killed in the same shooting. 

By the time Johnson was rushed to the hospital, detectives had already been given the name of the offenders by Johnson’s family. 

The offenders, Cedric Cal and Albert Kirkman,were captured, tried, and convicted. Johnson’s testimony played a key role in the criminal trial. Both men were sentenced to life without parole. 

Then something amazing took place. Seventeen years later, Johnson came forward from his home down south and announced that he had not told the truth in the original criminal trial. Kirkman and Cal, Johnson said, were not the shooters. 

Imagine that. Two guys who gunned down three men in the middle of the street were wrongfully convicted. Johnson’s incredible recantation was told at a post-conviction hearing, where a collection of wrongful conviction lawyers, including those from the law firm of Loevy and Loevy, were trying to sell it to a judge. 

If they could convince a judge to overturn Johnson’s conviction based on the new testimony of Johnson, they might get Cal and Kirkman free. And you know what inevitably follows the release of any so-called wrongful convicted killer, the mega-million dollar lawsuit. 

No one knows this better than Loevy and Loevy, whose law firm has earned millions accusing police and prosecutors of convicting innocent men. 

But then something unforeseen took place. A Cook County Judge rejected Johnson’s testimony, saying it was a lie, and Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez, in an exceedingly rare instance of standing up to the wrongful conviction movement, charged Johnson with perjury.

One part of Johnson’s recantation that seemed to trouble prosecutors were the reported communications between Johnson and a top gang leader.

At Friday's hearing, Assistant State's Attorney Tene McCoy-Cummings pointed out that before he moved forward with his recantation, Johnson sought advice from a high-ranking gang member.

Johnson identified that gang member in his January testimony as "Ray Ray" Longstreet, a "five-star universal elite" member of the Vice Lords who was sentenced last year to 30 years in prison in a federal drug conspiracy case.

"Ray Ray gave me the green light to do the right thing, and he had my back and I trusted that," Johnson testified. "I trust every syllable he said out of his mouth. That's the only reason, judge, that I'm here."

Hmm. Prosecutors seemed to wonder: Was Ray Ray, calling Johnson from the joint, telling Johnson to do the right thing, or was engaged in a jailhouse scheme to free two gang members, who might profit handsomely from subsequent lawsuits if Cal and Kirkman got out? 

In any other city, the Johnson perjury indictment would garner wide attention from the local media. They would ask some elemental questions. Why was a witness brought forward by prestigious law firms being charged with perjury in a triple shooting case involving gang members? And what was a high-ranking gang member doing in this case? Such questions would be even more appropriate because at the same time Johnson was coming forward with his new story other wrongful conviction activists and lawyers were under fire for a host of abuses in other cases, particularly in cases championed by activists at Northwestern University. 

So the journalists jumped right in on it, right? There was some investigative reporting, right? Don’t bet on it. Steve Mills, Eric Zorn, Jason Meisner, Mick Dumke, Mary Mitchell, and the rest of the media mob action otherwise known as journalists remained silent about the deeply suspicious recantation and the perjury conviction.  

This media silence is one sign of the power wrongful conviction law firms like Loevy and Loevy hold in the city, but it gets even worse.

The wrongful conviction machine then turned the tables on Alvarez, claiming, incredibly, that her indictment of Johnson for perjury was unfair.  It was unfair, they claimed, because it would discourage future witnesses from coming forward. 

But they didn’t just make this argument on their own. They got a collection of high-profile members of the legal and political community to sign a letter urging Alvarez to drop the charges, claiming doing so was “in the interest of justice.” 

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 wonders what justice would be served to a neighborhood when two killers were released back into the community. But what, in truth, were these officials arguing? Isn’t it a good thing for a prosecutor to indict people for perjury when there is evidence their testimony is false, when a judge has declared he believes a witness is lying? 

Isn’t that the “message” that should be sent? 

As it was, getting all these officials to sign this letter was an unprecedented display of clout by the wrongful conviction law firms. 

Who were some of the people that signed the letter? 

Among those who signed the letter were former U.S. attorneys Dan Webb and Jim Thompson, also a former governor; former Illinois Attorney General Tyrone Fahner; former Kane County State’s Attorney Gary Johnson; former federal appeals judge Abner Mikva; former U.S. District Judge George Leighton; former Illinois appeals judges Dom Rizzi and Warren Wolfson; former assistant U.S. attorney and noted author Scott Turow; and former assistant U.S. attorney Lori Lightfoot, who also ran the agency that investigates allegations of misconduct involving Chicago Police officers.

That’s right, a whole collection of lawyers and judges, even a big shot writer, but not too many prosecutors. 

But one name in particular stands out, Lori Lightfoot. 

Lightfoot was the former head of the agency that investigated police misconduct, the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), now renamed the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). Now she is head of the Chicago Police Board, a civilian board that determines whether cops will be fired, often based upon IPRA investigations. 

Must be nice for Chicago cops to know that Lightfoot doesn’t think perjury cases that would undermine legitimate murder convictions should be prosecuted. 

Prosecutors responded to the letter. 

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, said the perjury case against Johnson is being “prosecuted in good faith.”

“The office pursues perjury in very limited circumstances and only when it is appropriate to do so,” Daly said. “We would never charge cases to deter truthful testimony. Lying under oath in an effort to falsely exculpate a convicted criminal should, however, be deterred.”

Ya think? 

The ability of wrongful conviction law firms to deflect not only from their own suspicious role in murder cases but to garner so many top officials in a witch hunt against Alvarez for going after Johnson is another chilling sign of their broad influence on the criminal justice and political systems. 

But wait. It gets worse. It always gets worse in Chicago.

Johnson went to prison. Then, Governor Quinn, in the last moments of his administration, suddenly commuted Johnson’s sentence without explanation. Johnson walked free from his perjury conviction, perjury that could have sprung two killers. 

But Quinn didn’t just free Johnson. 

He also freed Howard Morgan, a man convicted on four counts of attempted murder of police officers. Morgan shot at four Chicago cops, wounding three, during a traffic stop in 2005 and was convicted after two trials spanning nine years. The officers in this shooting were the victims of the entire wrongful conviction playbook, vilified under one loony conspiracy theory after another, theories that were wholly rejected in the evidence of the criminal trial against Morgan. 

Quinn’s decision to free both men was made without any new evidence and in defiance of the entire legal proceedings that led to both men being convicted.

None of the officials who wrote the letter condemning Alvarez’s decision to indict Johnson wrote any letters on behalf of the four policemen who were almost murdered by Howard Morgan.

In particular, Lori Lightfoot has never uttered a word in the media about this legal travesty in the Morgan case, wholly ignored in the anti-police hysteria that has unfolded about police corruption in the ensuing months. 

And with good reason, for the cops in the Morgan trial demonstrated the highest level of discipline and professionalism in their gunfight with Morgan, ceasing to fire when Morgan ran out of bullets, even though he had just shot at them fifteen times at close range. The conduct of the police in the Morgan case does not fit into the anti-police hysteria promulgated by wrongful conviction zealots, so it is largely ignored. But that doesn’t change the facts.

Intimidating prosecutors, the power to get a governor to release convicted criminals. It’s an unprecedented level of clout the wrongful conviction movement possesses.  

But it’s about to get much worse. 

In the course of her career as top prosecutor, Anita Alvarez has occasionally stood up for the evidence and refused to bow to the political pressure of this powerful machine, as she did in the Johnson case. Many other times she has not. 

Alvarez, for example, had the opportunity to attack this machine as more and more evidence arose that several cases originating from Northwestern University were potentially fraudulent. But she didn’t.

The only other institution in Chicago that could fight this movement is the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police. The current administration, however, has shown it will not take up the fight on behalf of its members.  

This sporadic refusal to cave into wrongful conviction demands initiates the ire of wrongful conviction attorneys, who falsely claim that Alvarez unfairly sides with the police. The arrogance of the movement is such that anyone who ever disagrees with them is automatically subject to condemnation. 

The prosecutor’s office is, therefore, a top prize for the wrongful conviction movement.

It’s important to pause and remember just how fanatic this movement can be. Wrongful conviction law firms like to portray themselves as crusaders for justice and democracy, but the evidence doesn’t support such claims. These groups have a long history of defending the most violent domestic terrorist groups, like the Weather Underground and the FALN bombers, advocates of violent revolution.  

And now it looks as if these law firms are making their move for the prosecutor’s office. Campaign contributions reports reveal that law firm Loevy and Loevy is backing challenger Kimberly Foxx in the upcoming election. 

Foxx winning the election could be the final nail in the coffin of Chicago’s criminal justice system. She is the disciple of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a wrongful conviction zealot. 

As Cook County Board President, Preckwinkle has great influence over the public defender’s office. With her protege in as the top prosecutor, she will have powerful clout on both sides of the courtroom, and one of the last obstacles for wrongful conviction law firms will largely be removed. 

How bad will it get? 

Well, consider the fact that the release of Willie Johnson and Howard Morgan from prison wasn’t the first instance of a governor giving into the pressure of the wrongful conviction machine. 

In 2003, Governor Ryan pardoned four convicted killers without any new evidence. One of those killers was a man who set a fire that killed seven people, including his own wife and child. His name was Madison Hobley and he had been represented by Loevy and Loevy. 

He not only walked out of prison, but he eventually got $6 million. 

It’s a crucial election in the most Crooked City. 

Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and writer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, which played a critical role in the release of Alstory Simon from prison, is available on Amazon. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicagoan, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and New City. He is currently working on his third book about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and the Hobley arson, titled Burn Patterns.