Crooked City

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Filtering by Tag: Eric Zorn

Burge Keeps Pension. Will David Protess Keep His?

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled this week that former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge will get to keep his police pension, despite the fact that he is in prison for a perjury conviction. Burge's conviction arose from his denial in a civil deposition that he abused suspects. 

The court reviewed the Burge pension issue at the same time the Cook County States Attorney conducted an investigation into a seminal wrongful conviction case involving David Protess, the disgraced former professor at Northwestern University’s Innocence Project.

Protess is currently under fire for his participation in the 1999 exoneration of Anthony Porter for a double homicide, an exoneration that included a bizarre “confession” obtained by Protess and his associates from another man, Alstory Simon, now serving a 37-year sentence for the murders. 

The case is being reviewed by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez as part of the Conviction Integrity Unit, an agency created under Alvarez that reviews cases based upon new evidence of wrongful conviction.

“With the creation of this unit I am demonstrating my commitment to bringing our very best efforts to ensure that only guilty people are convicted here in Cook County. And if we have any reason to believe that we have prosecuted or are prosecuting someone who is actually innocent, we will continue to take immediate steps to investigate the matter fully to see that justice is served,” Alvarez said. 

Alvarez’s review of the Porter case comes in response to a vast body of evidence submitted to Alvarez's office that Porter was in fact the killer, despite his exoneration. Critics of the exoneration say Porter was released from prison only because of alleged “coercive” tactics by Protess, his private inversigator Paul Ciolino, and several hapless Northwestern journalism students. The allegations include coercing a confession from Alstory Simon, bribing witnesses, and obtaining a lawyer for Simon, who, according to a letter written to Alvarez by attorneys, engaged in “provable misconduct."

What is also emerging in the case is the fact that Protess was able to pull off the Porter exoneration because of his allies in the local media, particularly disgraced Tribune writers Eric Zorn and Steven Mills. Mills is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. The record shows these journalists broadcast Protess’ claims without checking the facts, as they if they were public relations employees working for Protess, not journalists at a major metropolitan newspaper looking into a brutal double homicide. 

This record includes the clear fact that the Trib writers never bothered to review basic documents in the case, nor the specific facts of the police investigation, before they wrote about it.

Their coverage of the case begs a question: If these journalists didn't review the record, how could they know whether there was a frame up by the police? 

Now that the new evidence is coming out about the case, the Tribune has initiated a virtual blackout on the story, ignoring crucial new evidence of Porter's guilt that competing newspapers have splashed across their front page.

It’s not just the Porter case that points to wrongdoing at Northwestern during Protess’ tenure at the Innocence Project. 

In 2011, Northwestern itself announced that they had discovered evidence arising from another wrongful conviction case that Protess had lied and doctored evidence. Protess was removed from his teaching position shortly after this evidence was discovered in a internal review conducted by the school. Protess then left the school altogether, but not before the school issued this bombshell statement: 

“The review uncovered numerous examples of Protess knowingly making false and misleading statements to the dean, to University attorneys, and to others. Such actions undermine the integrity of Medill, the University, the Innocence Project, students, alumni, faculty, the press, the public, the State and the Court,” the statement read.  

To some people, making false statements to the state and court is another way of saying they committed "obstruction of justice," the same charge, ironically, that were successfully leveled against Jon Burge. 

But that wasn’t all. Alstory Simon’s attorneys recently wrote a letter to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez requesting the release of Alstory Simon from prison based on all the evidence, old and new, that Porter was the killer, not Alstory Simon. In doing so, Simon's attorneys listed other cases that illuminated a pattern of what they called was “coercive tactics” by Protess and Ciolino, including the following:

—Prosecution Witness Charles McRaney in the Ford Heights Four case stated Ciolino posed as movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer and offered McRaney money, a movie contract and money from a movie deal in exchange for testimony. McRaney told prosecutors that Protess told McRaney he could “use” one of two female Northwestern students if McRany recanted testimony. 

—A key witness in the Madison Hobley case, Andre Council, testified that Ciolino came to his home with Hobley’s attorney and offered the witness' daughter a free college education and enough money that “he would never need to work again” if the witness would recant his statement.

—Prosecutors discovered emails in which Protess brought a female student to a meeting with a jailed witness as a “treat.”

—In the Alstory Simon case, witness Inez Jackson admitted implicating Alstory Simon in the murders because Protess said he could get Inez’s son out of jail. She also said Protess and Ciolino promised her a large payday for fingering Simon. 

—Witness Walter Jackson also stated that Protess offered to get Jackson out of jail if Jackson would help Porter. 

“All told, six witnesses in Alstory (Simon’s) case corroborate that Protess and Ciolino offered book and movie deals in their presence…” said Simon’s attorney in the letter to Alvarez. 

And what about the journalists who gave voice to Protess’ claims in the Porter case and others? A cursory review of the Porter investigation by Detectives Salvatore and Gray reveals the Northwestern claim that the detectives coerced witnesses in the case was impossible. 

Is it possible journalists did not even review the police investigation? It doesn’t look as if they did. In fact, there are some signs these journalists helped cover up the truth. One of the most disturbing examples was by Eric Zorn, a columnist clearly dizzy with admiration for Protess.

This evidence came out in a civil trial against the detectives. Porter’s attorneys were clearly expecting to make millions in a settlement. But the detectives fought for the case to go to trial (hardly the behavior of detectives who had "framed" someone). In response to the detectives'  demands that the case go to trial, it was farmed out to  an attorney named Walter Jones. At first Jones thought Porter was innocent and he planned on settling. That was until the detectives walked him through it, taking Jones to the crime scene at Washington Park. In doing so, Jones quickly saw Porter was guilty. He refused a settlement and courageously went to trial, arguing that Porter was the killer. Along the way, he found more witnesses fingering Porter. 

The jury agreed with Jones' theory and came back with a not guilty verdict against the detectives. Shocked, one journalist walked over to Jones and asked how it could be that Porter got no money. Jones pointed at Porter and said Porter was the killer.

Furious that Jones would dare contradict the Northwestern party line about Porter being innocent--even though Jones had just proved in court that the Porter exoneration was false-Zorn wrote a scathing personal attack on Jones.

“The City of Chicago owes Anthony Porter a big apology for a stunning, graceless and infamous accusation lobbed at him by an attorney representing the city,” wrote Zorn, arguing the ludicrous claim that the city of Chicago owed an apology to a predatory killer, lifelong gang member and enforcer, stick-up man, and wife beater, whom six witnesses fingered as the offender in a double homicide. 

But what about the evidence in the trial? Why didn't Zorn write about that? Had Zorn even bothered to hear it? Had he listened to the witnesses? How come a jury of 12 could see so easily that the Porter arrest was legit, but Zorn couldn't? And why would he assail an attorney who had just proven it? 

Another example of Zorn's possible journalistic collusion with Northwestern is his vilification of those fighting for Alstory Simon and those fighting to clear the names of the detectives.

Zorn refuses to address an obvious question: If the Porter case held so much evidence of malfeasance, what about other wrongful conviction cases, like the ones listed by Simon's attorneys? Rather than vilifying the attorneys, police, and journalists who point out the evidence of wrongdoing at Northwestern, shouldn't Zorn be investigating it? 

It's as if Zorn, Mills and the Tribune are afraid to look at the dark world the Porter exoneration reveals, one they embraced without questioning.  

Zorn's columns and blog entries have unleashed a wave of antipathy by active and retired cops, many whom have slowly learned about the Porter case and Northwestern University. Many of these cops have been the victims of his poison pen. Some have attempted to post on his blog, demanding that Zorn explain himself, but he is now censoring it, not unlike the Tribunes' refusal to cover crucial new evidence in the Porter case. It's quite a fall for a columnist who, like Protess, once rode high on the wrongful conviction bandwagon.

In any case, Burge can keep his pension.

Will Protess keep his? 


Zorn Censors, Ridicules...

Chicago Tribune Columnist Eric Zorn, a main supporter of Northwestern University in their wrongful conviction claims, particularly the Anthony Porter case, now censors his blog. In response to any criticism from a Chicago Police Officer, he can only ridicule, then censor their comments. This is Zorn's blog about the Central Park Five Case and Zorn's coverage of wrongful convictions.

Outraged Blogger, named Jake, who cannot fathom anyone claiming the original offenders in the Central Park Five Case were guilty:

Martin, so your theory is that a psychopathic serial rapist/murderer who always worked alone, including once before in Central Park, decided that night to team up with five total strangers he met in the park to rape the jogger, that somehow that serial solo rapist is the only person among this improvised pack of six to leave any physical evidence behind whatsoever (in the form of DNA), and that each of the other five, for some unknown reason, declined to mention the existence of that sixth rapist in any of their statements to police. The bases of this damned stupid theory are your belief that her injuries are consistent with multiple attackers, your assertion that, despite the presence of knife injuries, Reyes (the "sixth" rapist) didn't mention using a sharp instrument in his statement, even though he used sharp instruments (a knife, an ice-pick) in other attacks, and your faith-like belief in the confessions of scared kids who didn't realize they could never take it back that implicated everyone *but* the one person whom we know was actually was there. I don't have the facts to dispute the snippets of information you post on your blog -- I frankly don't trust them, because you obviously never met a confession that wasn't true, or a police theory that wasn't correct, and you generally seem motivated by a single-minded whackadoo agenda -- but it doesn't matter, because your snippets aren't nearly enough to demonstrate even a possibility, much less a probability, much less proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that any of the five convicted of that crime actually did it.

If you want to get on your high horse on behalf of victims, I'd do it for the five women he attacked after April 1989 one of whom, a pregnant mother, was murdered while her children were in the next room, another of whom was almost blinded (using sharp instruments) by Reyes, after he didn't get caught for the Central Park rape, even though he was already in police crosshairs and could have been caught.

Police are, for the most part I'm sure, hard-working and well-meaning, but everyone makes mistakes. Like doctors, police have an awesome responsibility not to f up -- their mistakes can cost a lot. A good person tries to learn from past mistakes so they don't happen again. Only a prick blusters on that they never happened in the first place.

My Response:

Over the past few months a top prosecutor signed an affidavit saying he thought the release of Anthony Porter was wrong. He had doubts about Alstory Simon being the killer and had grave doubts about his confession. 

Front Page story on the Sun Times.

The Tribune and Zorn?


Lawyers for Simon submit a letter saying Simon's lawyer engaged in provable misconduct and cite a pattern of coercive conduct in other cases. 

Sun Time coverage, Zorn and Tribune silent.

A man convicted of raping and killing a three-year-old girl is exonerated by Northwestern's Law School in 2012. Last month, he is accused of slitting the throat of a man over a dice game. 

Coverage all over the world. 

Zorn and Tribune silent. 

A new documentary played last month by filmmakers in the Porter case who did something Zorn would never dream of doing: They talked to everyone involved, all the witnesses, the investigating cops, the journalists.

They invited Zorn. Maybe he would be interested in seeing how badly he screwed up the biggest wrongful conviction case in the state's history. There were also witnesses in the documentary describing coercive tactics by Northwestern in other cases. This is called a pattern of behavior, or a modus operandi, something Zorn and the Tribune refuse to acknowledge. 

Most of all, Zorn could have confronted some of the detectives whose lives he has ruined over the years and they could have sat down with him and showed him how badly he got it. 

But I guess he had plans that night. 

Zorn's technique, along with his other wrongful conviction activists, is to take a case out of the courtroom where a jury has heard all the evidence, then try it in the press room, where journalists like Zorn can pick some evidence and testimony and ignore others. They can also out and out lie. 

It is also a tactic of these advocates to say people made claims they never made. You are an example, Jake.

My snippets. You might want to take your dazzled eyes off the Burn documentary and review the case clearly. There is a large collection of lawyers, journalists, detectives and politicians who know these kids were guilty, having made admissions that only someone who had been at the crime scene could have made.

The youths told police that a man named Tony raped the woman. Tony was Reyes’ nickname. 

The allegation in the CPF is not that the cops made a mistake. It's that they engaged in a frame up, just like the allegations in the Porter case. 

Like so many fraudulent wrongful conviction claims, the story of these allegations are compelling. The poor innocent youth who were running around the park terrorizing people never made claims of police coercion until after they obtained civil rights lawyers and learned that this element was essential to recover a settlement. What a coincidence. 

The original trial judge reviewed for several months the possibility of police coercion in the original trial to determine if the confessions were legitimate, painstakingly reviewing the entire investigation and found nothing even remotely close to coercion. One of the little innocents made statements about the attack before the police even knew about it. Fairstein, a nationally renowned expert on sex crimes, overheard the youths making incriminating statements. 

Then, of course, the personal attacks begin. The prosecutor, an accomplished writer, can’t even hold a book signing without the mob attacking her. In true grace and dignity, she invites the agitators to discuss the case and no one takes her up on it. I could see Zorn in this crowd, then going home and writing a toast to them.

If only this case had gone to civil trial like the Porter case, which humiliated Zorn and compelled him to hang the lawyer who had just shown the public what a travesty it truly was, then perhaps the public could see. But the CPF activists, including that renowned truth seeker Al Sharpton, knew they only had to wait until a Democrat got elected and shazam, they got the settlement they wanted. 

Another connection between the CPF and other wrongful conviction scams is the willingness, the eagerness of activists to believe wholeheartedly the statements of a sociopathic killer, not under oath and not subject to cross examination, over the large body of evidence reviewed at trial by a jury and by appeals court judges. They cite in the CPF case the fact that Reyes has a modus operendi. He always acted alone. Review his criminal history and you will see very little clear modus operendi. He is a crazed predator who seized on all kinds of opportunities to attack and kill. He raped his own mother, committed robberies, burglaries. When the desire for mayhem arose, Reyes acted. It doesn’t matter whether he was alone or not. This is a pathetic attempt by people who actually know little to nothing about the criminal mind to present themselves as if they do. 

It’s hardly different than the claim by Northwestern that Porter was innocent because witnesses said he fired with his left hand and he was right handed, as if robberies that end up becoming double homicides follow some script. There are million reasons why Porter would move the gun to his left, including grabbing the loot from his victims. 

The activists refuse to look at the evidence that the prosecutor’s decision to vacate the convictions was controversial in his own office. Senior members in the department were furious at this decision, just as they were in the Porter case. 

Physical evidence? What physical evidence exists against Alstory Simon? Yet there he sits in prison compliments of Northwestern University. The confessions of these youths, who were already in the park wilding at the same time, are overwhelmingly indicative of guilt. Each legal proceeding that reviewed arrived at the same conclusion, as if some young woman with a political agenda can see what all these detectives, proseuctors, juries, judges and appeals judges couldn’t, not unlike the image of kids in their 20’s suddenly finding evidence in the Porter case. The offenders made statements implicating each other, trying to minimize their own conduct. Many rapes the attackers are unable to ejaculate. There is nothing unusual about it. In fact, this is exactly what police and prosecutors argued from the first moment of the case: there were other offenders than the one who left DNA. 

How telling that the City attorneys never even bothered to interview the medical staff, just as the state’s attorney released Porter based on a “confession” video they hadn’t even looked at. 

Like so many wrongful condition claims, the CPF falls apart under any scrutiny. Sarah Burns addressed this fact by simply leaving out the interviews from people who contradicted her mythology, including attorney Michael Armstrong. If you’re really interested in justice in this case, you might want to talk to him for several hours about his investigations and his dealings with Burns and her father. 

Fairstein and the detectives unfortunately fall into the same fate as the detectives in the Madison Hobley case in Chicago. They desperately wanted to get to civil trial, where they knew their investigation would hold up and Hobley would be shown to be the killer, just as the civil trial did in the Porter case. But alas, they were all sold out by the Democratic Machine. 

"It was a huge disappointment," Fairstein said before the settlement, "but litigation is ongoing and we think it will make clear their participation in the attacks."

Many of these issues were covered in a recent reading on my book, Crooked City, and my article Crossing Lines in New City, at the Chicago Public Library. The Tribune, and Eric Zorn’s behavior were a central talking point. 

As for your name calling, right back at ya, brother.  Right back at ya.

Zorn deleted the comments with this:

ZORN REPLY -- My apologies. Posts by this monomaniac are supposed to go directly to the spam filter where I can make sure he's staying on topic (which he almost never does).

How badly the lead detective in the Porter wants to sit down with Zorn and go over the Porter case. He's been waiting 30 years to talk to a Tribune writer. One wonders if Zorn will take him up on it.