After Acquittal of Police Commander, Nine Murders Hang Heavy on Eric Zorn

Just a few days after Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans was acquitted on all charges that he stuck a gun in a suspect’s mouth and threatened his life, the Chicago media began covering their tracks. 

The Chicago Tribune, which had been publishing one article after another claiming DNA evidence in the case indicted Evans, published a grudging editorial suggesting that Evans was, after all, falsely accused by a self-admitted street dope dealer.

The Tribune :

But the public ought to defer to the judge's evaluation of the case. Sometimes cops are falsely accused, and there was more than enough reason to think that this was one of those instances.

Not everyone, however, on the Tribune team was back peddling. Columnist Eric Zorn offered no olive branch, though Zorn was all over the case when the story first broke, saying that even the superintendent was part of what Zorn termed a “scandal,” in light of the allegations against Evans.

Rather than apologize for getting yet another story involving the Chicago Police completely wrong, Zorn posted an article on his Facebook page written by his long-time wrongful conviction soulmate Rob Warden, a former top dog of Northwestern University’s Law School.  

In this shocking article—one that borders on the deranged in its barely disguised and wholly unjustified fury against the judge in the case, Judge Diane Cannon, Warden hurls one of the most vindictive, ludicrous, and nonsensical attacks on a judge ever published. Claiming that “perhaps Cannon simply is not educable,” Warden states: 

Thus, even assuming that the acquittal of Glenn Evans was colorable and rational — a dubious proposition, given the absence of a plausible explanation consistent with innocence for the DNA on his service pistol — Cannon is anything but a credit to the criminal justice system. Her decision in the Evans case exemplifies a double-standard: If acquittals generally were warranted by evidentiary inconsistencies as inconsequential as those that Cannon claimed left her with reasonable doubt about Evans’s guilt — the complaining witness was inconsistent in his description of the weapon involved and told investigators at one point that the officer who assaulted him used his left hand although Evans is right-handed — there would be far, far fewer convictions.

Try reading that paragraph ten times and figuring out what Warden is saying, apart from the fact that he’s furious Cannon acquitted Evans. 

That Zorn, or anyone really, still holds Warden as some legitimate authority on alleged police misconduct cases is, in and of itself, fairly shocking. It would take thousands of pages to list the abuses that took place at Northwestern University in the years Warden worked there to fully demonstrate the lengths to which Warden and his minions will go to construct a fraudulent misconduct case against Chicago Police Officers. 

But suffice it to say that no judge, even those most sympathetic to wrongful conviction zealots like Warden, could convict Evans on what prosecutors brought forth as “evidence” in the Evans trial. The complainant could not identify Evans in two photo lineups. His story changed over andover again as new evidence emerged and the DNA experts who conducted the test admitted it was not conclusive evidence of Evans’ guilt.

“His [Williams’} testimony taxes the gullibility of the credulous," Judge Cannon declared.

So what the hell is Warden talking about? A judge ruled based on the evidence, or, in this case, the lack of it. So what? 

It is a mark of the radicalism that permeates the anti-police campaign by Warden, Northwestern, and Zorn that Warden could attack Cannon so viciously in response to a verdict she had no choice to make. Warden’s ludicrous article—and Zorn’s willing to broadcast it to his readers on Facebook, even as his own paper was admitting the case against Evans was no good, is another example of how wrongful conviction advocates and their media allies engage in an intense attack upon anyone, be it cop, prosecutor, witness, journalist, or even a judge, who dares question their efforts to vilify the police.   

One has to step back from the Evans case and ask a question: Why? Why was the Evans case so important to Warden, the Tribune, and Zorn in particular? Why did they make Evans a target of a media frenzy with evidence that quickly withered away in his trial? Why would they build such a case on the claims of street dope dealer, whose testimony taxes the gullibility of the credulous.”

The reason becomes clear when one looks more closely at the history of nine murders, murders inextricably linked to Glenn Evans, in which the offenders were fraudulently released from prison, in large part through the collusion of journalists like Eric Zorn in cooperation with wrongful conviction activists like Rob Warden. 

In the context of these nine murders, the criminal case against Evans appears as a desperate attempt by wrongful conviction activists and their media allies to undermine Evans’ credibility as these murders potentially move back into the legal and public spotlight. If they do—and they should—no one stands to lose more than Eric Zorn. 

First, the history.  

It was 2005 and the biggest wrongful conviction case in the state’s history, the exoneration of Anthony Porter for a double murder in 1982, was headed to a civil trial. Porter’s attorneys were trying to fleece the city out of $24 million, claiming detectives framed Porter for the shooting.  The trial itself was a surprise, as no one expected the Porter civil case to make it into a courtroom. Rather, they expected a settlement. There was just too much media hype, spearheaded by Zorn and his Tribune, pushing the claim that Porter was innocent and the cops and prosecutors were crooked. 

But the detectives fought desperately for a trial, hoping to show the jury and the public that, despite the claims of journalists and columnists like Zorn, Porter was the killer and should never have been released. 

The detectives’ strategy was partly successful. In the trial, their attorney, Walter Jones, proved once again that Porter was the killer. The jury ruled against Porter and for the detectives. Porter, a gang enforcer, got no money. 

But the detectives’ hopes that their names would be cleared, and the truth about Porter being the killer would come out, were dashed. After the verdict, Eric Zorn wrote one of the most chilling columns in the history of the city, revealing clearly just what happens to anyone who contradicts his anti-police party line. Zorn published a vicious attack on Jones, who stated moments after the civil trial that he believed Porter was the killer.

Zorn:

Yet Tuesday, shortly after the jury's verdict was announced, Walter Jones, the attorney representing the city, pointed to the table in the courtroom where Porter sat during the trial and told Tribune reporter Charles Sheehan: "The killer has been sitting in that room right there all day."

It was a stunning, graceless and infamous accusation.

Anthony Porter was innocent.

In this column, Zorn is almost frothing at Jones for declaring what Jones had just proven in court: Porter was guilty. Zorn condemns Jones and declares Porter innocent. It is almost impossible to look back at this column by Zorn in the context of what had just taken place in the trial as anything but willful deception.

And so, thanks mostly to Eric Zorn and his willingness to ignore all the evidence that Porter was guilty, and his willingness to attack anyone who pointed it out, the Porter-is innocent myth carried on, all the way until two years ago, when the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez reviewed the case. After a year-long review, Alvarez attacked the conduct of Northwestern investigators who fought for Porter’s exoneration based on the claim that another man, Alstory Simon, committed the murders. Alvarez set Simon free. In releasing Simon, Alvarez singled out two men in the Northwestern investigation for their likely illegal conduct in framing Simon to free Porter, former Professor David Protess and private investigator Paul Ciolino.  

The release of Simon from prison and then the declaration by a judge that he was innocent several months later revealed just how depraved was Zorn’s column after the civil trial, nine years earlier. Zorn could have looked fairly at the facts of the case all the way back in 2005. But he didn’t. In doing so, he acted as a kind of media henchman for Northwestern Professor Protess, Ciolino and the rest of the wrongful conviction zealots who had fraudulently exonerated Anthony Porter and framed Alstory Simon. 

Zorn’s vicious attacks on Walter Jones, and then on those who were fighting to free Alstory Simon, are hardly different from the vicious attacks Zorn’s ally Rob Warden has now leveled against Judge Cannon in the Evans case. 

See the pattern here? Disagree with us and we will launch a vicious attack on you. Zorn is the media strongman, enlisted by wrongful conviction activists not only to push their fraudulent claims, but then to attack their critics. 

But Zorn’s conduct in the Porter case is only a prelude to an altogether more macabre plot in which he also played a key role. This was his writing about the arson by Madison Hobley in January of 1987, an arson in which seven people were burned to death, including Hobley’s own wife and child. Scores were injured, some of them badly burned, others when they leaped out of upper floor windows to escape the flames.  

In March, 1998, Zorn wrote:

The case against Hobley, then an employed medical technician with no criminal convictions on his record—is far from overwhelming. It's based primarily on the testimony of two witnesses who said they saw him buying a can of gas shortly before the fire and the testimony of police from Area 2—a station where the city now admits suspects were routinely tortured—that Hobley confessed his guilt to them. Hobley maintains he, too, was tortured by interrogators.

Again, it is extraordinarily difficult not to see these columns by Zorn, just like his columns about the Porter case, as willful deception. The reason is that Zorn’s columns on the Madison Hobley exoneration omit two crucial words: Glenn Evans.  

One of the most powerful, unequivocal pieces of evidence pointing to Hobley’s guilt was brought by Glenn Evans himself. 

Several weeks before Hobley set the fire that killed the seven people, he was overheard by Evans making arson threats on a telephone call. Evans, a rookie at the time, heard the threats after he and his partner were called to a residence where Hobley’s wife was staying with a friend after she temporarily broke up with Hobley. 

Evans, even though he was just a rookie, was so troubled about the arson threats that he documented them in a case report, then wrote another report to his supervisors about them. He contacted detectives working the Hobley arson after he heard about the fire. When the detectives learned of these documented threats, they were certain they had the right man. 

It would not take a keen investigator to see the magnitude of Hobley’s arson threats just weeks before the actual arson. It is bombshell evidence, showing clearly that setting his wife and child on fire were foremost in Hobley’s mind for weeks. But try to find one sentence in any Zorn column about the Hobley arson acknowledging this key piece of evidence. Just one sentence. Zorn simply ignored it, ignoring that this evidence refuted Zorn’s own ludicrous claims that the evidence against Hobley was not “overwhelming.”

What kind of journalist writes about a fire that kills seven people, including two children, and ignores the indisputable fact that the offender made threats to commit this arson weeks before he actually did so? 

One can see, then, what a shattering disappointment it is for the Tribune, Zorn, Warden and the other wrongful conviction supporters in the city that Evans was acquitted of all criminal charges earlier this month. Had he been convicted—if he had even taken a plea bargain—Zorn and Warden could have discredited any claims made by Evans in the Hobley case. 

“Well, Evans makes these claims about the Hobley case, but, after all, here was a man convicted of sticking his pistol down the mouth of a suspect and threatening his life,” Zorn could have written. 

And it isn’t just Evans’ role as a key witness in the Hobley case that contradicts Zorn’s incredible claim that the evidence against Hobley was not “overwhelming.” Here’s a few things other things Zorn never mentions about the case:

—Witnesses at the crime scene described Hobley wearing completely different clothes than what Hobley claimed, a clear sign he was trying to hide those clothes because they might have traces of the gasoline on them, the gasoline he spilled outside his apartment door and down the stairwell. Hobley admitted in his confession that he had lied about the clothes he was wearing, just as the witnesses said. 

—Hobley was never observed by any witness making any attempt to rescue his son or wife, though he participated in the rescue of others. He was never observed making any attempt to call up to them in their apartment. What husband/father wouldn’t be manic in his attempt to rescue his own wife and child?  

—Hobley’s changing accounts of his escape from the building while his wife and child remained inside contradicted the vast forensic evidence of the fire. Fire investigators testified that if Hobley had gone out into the hallway of the building to investigate, as he claimed, he would have been incinerated. 

—Hobley eventually told detectives he suspected his mistress was the real offender, yet in the hours after the fire he never made any attempt to notify the police, or any authorities, about the woman he says he believed just burned his own wife and son to death. Who believes they know who just killed their own wife and child and doesn’t bother to alert authorities? 

—Hobley failed a lie detector test, then confessed to the detective administering it. He then confessed again to two detectives. If the detectives had framed Hobley, they would have had to bring this other detective in on their conspiracy, quite a tall request in a quintuple murder case covered extensively by the media. Hobley provided details of buying the gas in his confession, details that matched what two witnesses, one of them the owner of the gas station, said. Were these witnesses part of a conspiracy as well? 

The evidence goes on and on that Hobley was, in fact, overwhelmingly guilty, just as the evidence showed Anthony Porter was overwhelmingly guilty of a double murder. The jury in the Hobley trial was convinced, so much so that the jury voted to give Hobley the death penalty. 

The truth is that Zorn’s columns about the Porter and Hobley cases are emerging as some of the most disturbing columns ever written by a Chicago journalist.

But hold on. It gets worse. 

Zorn and his allies who were claiming Hobley was innocent scored one Pyrrhic victory in their crusade to undermine the case based on evidence. In an appeal by Hobley’s attorneys to the Supreme Court, the court was troubled enough by some claims about a gas can taken recovered by detectives to demand an evidentiary hearing. Judge Dennis Porter conducted these hearings. In them, Hobley’s attorneys made various arguments of a police conspiracy based on a gas can, which detectives recovered from the building the day after the fire. True to form, the attorneys alleged that detectives planted the gas can as part of their frame-up of Hobley.  

What followed was two years of intense scrutiny by Judge Porter into every facet of the gas can conspiracy theory by Hobley’s lawyers, a theory Porter soundly rejected after the lengthy process. In the end, Porter openly ridiculed many of the claims made by Hobley and his attorneys.

Zorn’s reaction after he attended the hearing in which Judge Porter rejected the conspiracy theories?

Accordingly, the other half of my expectation Monday morning was that [Judge] Porter would do just as he did--shade the benefit of the doubt on each issue to the prosecution, thereby allowing the Cook County state's attorney's office to keep the lid on this can of worms a little while longer.

In other words, Zorn attacked Porter, claiming Porter was not ruling on the evidence, or again, the lack of it, but simply bailing out prosecutors, just as Warden attacked Judge Cannon in the wake of her not guilty ruling in the Evans case, and just as Zorn attacked attorney Walter Jones for daring to claim that Anthony Porter was guilty of a double murder. 

See the pattern again here? Disagree with us and we’ll attack you like a bunch of rabid wolves. 

What Zorn will not admit is the obvious: It would have been impossible for the courts to extend any more latitude to Hobley’s attorneys to prove their loony theory that Hobley was innocent. 

Tellingly, Zorn also fails to inform his readers that Judge Porter also ruled that a witness brought forth by Hobley’s attorney in the gas can saga—an inmate in prison—was lying. 

Prosecutors in the Hobley case:

Judge Porter’s ruling was issued after two years of discovery, including depositions, and after hearing voluminous testimony. Significantly, Judge Porter ruled that the linchpin of Hobley’s “planted can” theory, fellow arsonist Donnell McKinley, committed perjury in attempting to support this conspiracy hearing. 

It wouldn’t be the last time one of Zorn’s treasured wrongful conviction theories would be rife with witnesses accused of lying. 

Hold on, though, it gets even worse for Zorn. There are even more fundamental ties between the corruption in the Porter exoneration and in Hobley’s. 

One of the bombshell developments in the Hobley exoneration was a claim of attempted bribery by a central witness, Andre Council—one of the witnesses who saw Hobley purchase the gasoline shortly before the fire. Council told prosecutors that one of Hobley’s attorneys, DePaul Law School Professor Andrea Lyon, and a private investigator, Paul Ciolino—the same Ciolino who worked the Porter case—paid a visit to Council’s home. There, Council said, Lyons and Ciolino attempted to bribe Council into changing his testimony against Hobley.  

Zorn’s columns cover this chilling sign of bribery in an arson that left seven people dead, right? 

Nope. Not a word from Zorn. 

Nevertheless, Council’s statement is a crucial bridge from the Hobley case to the Porter, tied together by private investigator Paul Ciolino, who worked on both cases and stands accused of bribing statements from witnesses in both exonerations, including bribing the so-called confession from Alstory Simon in the Porter case. 

Zorn is at the center of these cases as a columnist who wrote extensively about both of them, claiming the convicted killers were innocent. But more and more, these nine murders cast a dark shadow on Zorn and the Chicago media’s relationship to the wrongful conviction movement. 

These nine murders also provide a chilling explanation why this media machine seemed almost hysterical in their drive to see Evans convicted in a case that held so little legitimate evidence of his guilt from the outset.  

No doubt Zorn and his entourage assumed—hoped, really—that Evans would have taken a deal and pled guilty to a lesser charge. But they underestimated Evans’ courage, his willingness to fight the case at the risk of everything. The fact that Evans witnessed Hobley’s crime and then witnessed this mass killer walk free from death row no doubt was a pivotal reason Evans fought, and prevailed. 

And that may not be the end of it for Zorn.  Evidence mounts that more cases will emerge undermining the legitimacy of his columns for the last two decades. 

Public relations executive and former Tribune reporter, Dan Curry, for example, has published a blog, What Really Happened in Paris, focusing on corruption in another downstate double murder case that led to the exoneration of two convicted killers. 

That case, spearheaded again by Northwestern University’s David Protess, was covered extensively by Eric Zorn. 

In that case, Curry questions why Zorn at one time covered every aspect of the story when he was alleging a wrongful conviction, but is now silent when new evidence emerges that the original offenders may be guilty after all. 

Curry: 

In Zorn’s case, it simply is a bridge too far to declare himself possibly wrong about the numerous columns he wrote about the case. He has already declared himself possibly wrong about the Anthony Porter case, also involving Northwestern University. One case could be an anomaly — two might be a pattern. 

One wonders: Are the nine murders hanging over Zorn’s head now turning into eleven? What will be the final tally?  

There is another reason why Zorn and his wrongful conviction allies would want Evans discredited. Zorn and his entourage of media colleagues built much of their movement in painting former Commander Jon Burge and his men as racist thugs, as cops who went around torturing suspects. Those allegations never went anywhere in a courtroom until the Hobley case came along. In the end, Burge’s sole conviction in connection with the torture allegations arose from the Hobley case. 

What will it mean for Zorn, Warden, Northwestern and the rest of the wrongful conviction gang when the Hobley exoneration case is revealed as one of the greatest frauds ever perpetuated in the state’s history? 

No wonder they all wanted Evans’ head so badly, his head on a wrongful conviction platter, paraded all around 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, 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. 

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