In recent years, Chicago’s Cook County has become known as a hub of wrongful or ill-gotten convictions. In 2010, former police commander Jon Burge, who’d been accused of torturing hundreds of suspects, was convicted of lying to investigators. Northwestern University’s Innocence Project counts approximately 50 death row exonerations in Illinois, which emptied its death row in 2003. The National Registry of Exonerations says there’ve been 103 convictions overturned since the late ’80s.
Now, the New Yorker says there could yet be hundreds of more cases that may deserve further scrutiny.
In a 10,000-word article, reporter Nicholas Schimdle tells the story of Tyrone Hood, who in 1996 was convicted of murdering a local college basketball star named Marshall Morgan. Numerous individuals have found major inconsistencies in the case against Hood, though his conviction has not been overturned. Schmidle’s reporting suggests Morgan’s own father may have carried out the act, since he’d taken out a life insurance policy on his son shortly before his death, and confessed several years later to murdering his girlfriend.
Instead, Schimdle says, the Chicago Police and the Cook County railroaded witnesses into fingering Hood — the Morgan case had turned into a “heater” attracting media attention, and authorities were looking for closure on the case, no matter whether the result was just. For Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago and a member of the city’s Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, set up in the wake of previous findings of misconduct, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has “fairly consistently stood behind shaky convictions,” — even ones that he described as a “shame and stain” on the city, Schimdle reports.
Futterman suggested several reasons that the office might resist rigorous reviews of certain cases. There were “economic incentives,” given the potential liabilities, and “relationship issues” flowing from the office’s “heavy reliance” on the testimony of officers. Internal investigations of abusive practices had the potential to “undermine hundreds of felony convictions that relied on the word of crooked detectives,” triggering a cascade of overturned verdicts.
Futterman says 80% of Chicago police officers have received three or fewer misconduct complaints in their careers.
Schmidle’s story focuses on one particular detective, Kevin Boudreau. Boudreau has never been charged with any wrongdoing. But Schimidle says the torture-inquiry commission found 38 incidents of alleged misconduct involving Boudreau — “an eye-popping number” for Futterman. “If an individual police officer is exposed, how many other criminal cases might that undermine?” he asks.
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