Martin Preib

Award-winning Writer





A Shovel And A Mop

Part 1

What a stroke of luck for the Chicago Police detectives who headed out to the lagoon at Sherman Park in 1994 to search for evidence corroborating the confession of a suspect in the vicious rape and murder of Nina Glover.

The detectives state that the purpose of the trip was to gather evidence incriminating the suspects, and confirm their confessions. The detectives explained that one of the offenders, Terrill Swift, admitted that the offenders dumped a shovel and mop handle used in the crime into the Sherman Park lagoon.

But, according to the wrongful conviction attorneys representing the four men, this whole trip to Sherman Park was, in fact, a ruse, part of an elaborate plot to bolster the detectives’ false confession forced from the accused men.

According to these lawyers, the murder of Glover, a prostitute and drug addict, four months earlier generated pressure on detectives to “clear and close” the case. This pressure compelled the detectives to frame four people they didn’t know for rape and murder—somehow knowing they would get all four men to confess—and then work out such minute details that would give the plot more legitimacy, like taking a trip to a nearby lagoon to find evidence.

Here is what the attorneys representing the four men known as the Englewood Four alleged in a lawsuit:

After they [the detectives] fabricated Terrill‟s confession, and while Terrill was still in their custody, the Defendant Officers…took Terrill to the lagoon in Sherman Park, near the Glover crime scene. At the park, these officers guaranteed Terrill that if he pointed somewhere toward the lagoon he would be allowed to go home. Believing their promises, Terrill pointed in the direction of the lagoon. The Defendant Officers later produced a rusty shovel and a piece of wood, which they reported was recovered from the bottom of the lagoon.

Talk about a stroke of luck. Investigators actually found a shovel and wooden handle in the bottom of the murky lagoon.

Even without investigators discovering a shovel and wooden handle, the wrongful conviction narrative is bizarre. Why would the detectives establish such an elaborate ruse to frame four individuals they did not know for such a vicious crime merely to clear a case? How did they get together and formulate such a plan? How did they decide who to pin the crime on? How did they know the other detectives and officers would go along with it? How did they know Swift would? The plan could unravel in a multitude of ways that would reveal their criminal conduct.

But there are even more compelling reasons to cast doubt on this wrongful conviction claim.

No wrongful conviction lawsuit or media coverage goes without the obligatory paragraph about a pattern and practice of misconduct by Chicago police over the course of the last four decades, a claim that provides the foundation of whatever current argument is being posed for a police misconduct story, like the Englewood Four.

But in this regard, the tables are turning. There is now powerful evidence of a pattern and practice of misconduct and false narratives in the wrongful conviction movement itself. In the what some are calling the “Wrongful Exoneration” movement, many of these wrongful conviction stories are unraveling.

Take the case of Madison Hobley. He was exonerated for the 1987 arson that killed seven people including his wife and child. Hobley threw a brick through an apartment window where his wife was staying and threatened to set fire to this apartment with her in it. The arson threat was made just a few weeks prior to the fire and done in the presence of police and a witness, who documented it in a police report.

Then there is the 1982 Anthony Porter case. Two sets of eyewitnesses and circumstantial witnesses discovered hours apart with no opportunity to speak to each other said they saw Anthony Porter commit the 1982 double homicide in Washington Park. The two sets of witnesses wholly undermine the wrongful conviction theory that another man brought forth by these activists, Alstory Simon, was guilty of the crimes. Nevertheless, Porter—once sentenced to death for the double homicide— walks about a free man today.

Then there is Stanley Wrice, sentenced to 100 years for the gang rape and severe burning of woman and released on the claim that he too was framed by detectives. After Wrice got out, he went before a judge to obtain a certificate of innocence, a key step in winning the obligatory multi-million dollar settlement lottery with the city. But the judge said no way. He said Wrice’s claim that he was home at the time of the rape but wasn’t an offender was too difficult to believe.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Cook County judge on Thursday denied a certificate of innocence to a man who spent more than three decades in prison for a rape he said he confessed to after being tortured by detectives under the command of disgraced former police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

In a 44-page ruling, Judge Thomas Byrne concluded that what he called strong circumstantial evidence, eyewitness testimony and physical evidence recovered at the crime scene all "powerfully" pointed to the guilt of Stanley Wrice in the 1982 rape.

Then there is Willie Johnson, who stepped forward in 2011 to tell a judge that he was lying in the original trial of two men convicted of shooting Johnson and two of his friends. Johnson’s friends died.

The judge listened to Johnson’s testimony during a post-conviction hearing, then, to the disappointment of all the wrongful conviction law firms involved in the case, said he didn’t believe Johnson. The shooters remained in prison.

Neither did Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez believe Johnson. She charged Johnson with perjury—much to the bleated consternation of the Wrongful Conviction attorneys. But Alvarez was vindicated when Johnson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four and a half years.  

From the Tribune:

But in July, a judge ruled that Johnson's new story was not credible, and Cal and Kirkman's efforts to get a new trial were denied.

That wasn't the end of the story for Johnson. The Cook County state's attorney's office used the judge's finding to pursue perjury charges against him, which were returned by grand jury indictment last month.

 Witnesses from other cases have come forward and stated they were offered bribes by wrongful conviction advocates to change their testimony.

The primary difference between the two pattern and practice theories, the one against the police and the other against the wrongful conviction movement, is Chicago’s media. The pattern and practice theory against the police has been embraced and promoted by Chicago’s media, while the one against the wrongful conviction movement has been ignored.

The cost of this media bias is great. Despite the evidence of misconduct in the wrongful conviction movement, the county recently settled with Terrill Swift for $5.6 million. The city of Chicago has also reportedly approved a tentative settlement rather than take his federal lawsuit to trial.

And so the claim that detectives brought Terrill Swift to the Sherman Park Lagoon was all a ruse might become the official narrative of the Englewood Four case, even though the marine unit did, in fact, find a shovel and a wooden handle.