Pattern of Evidence?
Chicago Tribune, Northwestern gear up for another round of wrongful conviction Scams
A record-setting settlement in the far northern suburbs is a grave sign that the Chicago Tribune and two prominent law firms have put Lake County in their wrongful conviction crosshairs.
Despite a chilling body of evidence pointing to corruption in Chicago's wrongful conviction movement, the law firms of Loevy and Loevy and Northwestern Law School negotiated a $20 million settlement from several Lake County municipalities. The settlement, which includes the city of Waukegan, was made in connection with the Juan Rivera murder case.
Rivera was tried three times for the murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker in 1992, but was released after the appeals court threw out the conviction.
Loevy and Loevy and Northwestern maintained Rivera was wrongfully convicted, that Lake County authorities coerced him into confessing. Prosecutors and police maintained Rivera was guilty.
One thing wrongful conviction law firms rarely do when making allegations against police and prosecutors—accusations Loevy and Loevy and Northwestern have been making for decades in Chicago—is spell out just how police and prosecutors formed and executed the framing of an innocent man.
They rarely spell out the details of how such grand conspiracies were conducted, the incredible array of circumstances and plotting that would have to come together for investigators and prosecutors from different units and cities to coerce someone into confessing, and then cover it up for years throughout several trials. More so, they would have to explain how the investigators could be certain that no new evidence would arise, like the real killer, that would expose their criminal coercion.
They also rarely explain why so many authorities would do something so evil, particularly in a child murder case. Their argument so often rests on the myth that police and prosecutors are so evil they didn’t really care if they caught the right offender.
The claims of coercion by Lake County authorities is even more absurd when one sees that they had three convictions under their belt and a sworn confession, as well as police certain that Rivera knew things only the offender could know.
No, authorities believed Rivera was guilty, and out of that conviction and sense of duty they proceeded with the case.
What makes the allegations against them even more dubious is that fact that key wrongful conviction cases in the last few years have fallen apart, revealing a sordid world of bribed witnesses, obstruction of justice, and a cold-blooded willingness by lawyers in the movement to release killers and rapists.
But what is perhaps the most alarming aspect of the Rivera settlement is the journalists who have taken up the story and the specific nature of their claims.
Chicago Tribune journalist Steve Mills covered the Rivera exoneration step by step, pushing a central wrongful conviction claim that the Rivera case is part of a “pattern of evidence” in Lake County, a pattern, Mills writes, in which authorities there have wrongfully convicted several people.
“Rivera's case is one of five Lake County murder or rape prosecutions that have imploded in the last five years under the weight of DNA evidence indicating prosecutors had put an innocent man behind bars. Just last week, State's Attorney Mike Nerheim agreed to free Angel Gonzalez, who spent about 20 years in prison for a 1994 rape and abduction, after DNA cleared him of involvement.”
Any time Tribune reporter Steve Mills begins describing a “pattern of evidence” in support of wrongful conviction law firms like Loevy and Loevy and Northwestern University Law School, alarms should go off.
The reason is that such claims by Mills constitutes its own “pattern of evidence,” a pattern that, when put in context, is far more chilling than the tenuous, and likely fraudulent, allegations made against Lake County authorities.
Here is why.
A “pattern of evidence” now exists on the public record that shows, during Mills’ reign as the key wrongful conviction reporter at the Tribune, the newspaper has wholly ignored crucial evidence, slandered police officers without checking the facts, and advocated the release of murderers who were, in fact, completely guilty. In the history of American journalism, it would be difficult to find a more dramatic, macabre betrayal of ethics than the Tribune during the Mills era.
So when Mills marches into Lake County and starts vilifying the entire criminal justice system there the public should be highly suspicious.
It’s important to stress that Mills’ misconduct is not random or sporadic. On the contrary, it is indeed a pattern, one that holds the singular aim of boosting wrongful conviction claims by vilifying police and prosecutors, regardless of the facts or the cost.
In short, what happened to the Trib during Mills’ career is that the paper was transformed into a crucial propaganda arm of the wrongful conviction movement. The result was catastrophic. The Tribune effectively compelled prosecutors and municipalities into releasing clearly guilty offenders and settling civil cases simply to avoid incessant media pressure.
Is this what happened in Lake County?
Consider the statement by the Mayor of Waukegan in response to a $20 million settlement Waukegan and other municipalities made to Rivera’s lawyers.
From the Tribune:
(Waukegan Mayor Wayne) Motley also lashed out at other municipalities in the case. Court documents, as well as a social media post from Motley, show that the county, the state and other municipal defendants agreed to settle the lawsuit before Waukegan, leaving the city out on a legal and financial limb.
"It was very inappropriate for them to do what they did. I was not happy," the mayor said.
These are hardly the statements of a mayor who believes Rivera is unequivocally innocent or that his police and prosecutors are criminals framing innocent men. Throughout the Rivera case, prosecutors stood by their claim that Rivera was guilty. It is clear there is still a strong conviction among Lake County authorities that Rivera is the killer.
So why did these other municipalities settle? Was it Mills’ willingness to run with the claim that authorities criminally coerced a confession from the wrong man in not just this case, but several others? The fact that some municipalities settled, writing a check but admitting no wrongdoing, left Waukegan to stand alone, and so they settled as well.
It wouldn’t be the first time prosecutors and cities caved into a Mills-led wrongful conviction media blitz.
All one has to do is go back to 1999, a pivotal year in Illinois for Mills, the Tribune, and murderers.
In that year, Mills unleashed a wrongful conviction rampage against police and prosecutors in Chicago. Mills claimed after a long “investigation” that police and prosecutors had wrongfully convicted dozens of people. Here was Mills’ “pattern of evidence” rearing its ugly head, sixteen years before he used it again in Lake County. Case after case was thrown up by Mills as examples that the prosecutors had the wrong guy in prison. The articles placed a huge burden on then state’s attorney Dick Devine.
Capital punishment in Illinois is a system so riddled with faulty evidence, unscrupulous trial tactics and legal incompetence that justice has been forsaken, a Tribune investigation has found.
With their lives on the line, many defendants have been represented by the legal profession's worst, not its best.
They have been given the ultimate punishment based on evidence that too often is inconclusive, and sometimes nearly nonexistent.
They have seen their fates decided not by juries that reflect the community as a whole but by juries that include not a single member of their racial minority.
One wonders exactly what Mills’ investigation was. Nevertheless, as part of this tsunami, the Tribune and Mills came forward with accusations from Northwestern University’s Innocence Project that a key death penalty case, that of Anthony Porter, was a fraud.
It took two days to put Anthony Porter behind bars and send him on his way to Illinois' Death Row. It took nearly 17 years to set him free.
Between those bookends of Porter's incarceration, the criminal justice system failed him at several critical turns, according to police and court records as well as interviews.
The Porter exoneration was a dream come true story for the wrongful conviction movement. Porter had been only a few days from being executed before Northwestern got involved in the case and saved the day.
Porter had originally been convicted of a double homicide that took place in 1982 and sentenced to death. Mills gave voice in his articles to Northwestern’s claims that Porter was innocent and another man, Alstory Simon, was guilty. Northwestern investigators, headed by then Professor David Protess and Private Investigator, Paul Ciolino, obtained a videotaped “confession” from Simon for the murders in 1999. Protess and Ciolino had also obtained a lawyer for Simon, a lawyer and personal friend, Jack Rimland, who encouraged Simon to confess to the crimes without even conducting a review of the case.
This obtaining of a lawyer for Simon would have garnered the skepticism of even a first-year journalism student. For how can two men claiming a man was a murderer obtain a lawyer for this man, a lawyer who let him plead guilty without even reviewing the evidence?
Reeling from Mills’ claims, Devine gave in to the Northwestern claims about Porter being innocent and Simon guilty. Devine did so without even reviewing the circumstances of the videotaped confession by Simon.
The clearest evidence that Devine was giving in to media pressure arose from recent evidence that has surfaced in the Porter scandal.
Devine’s decision to release Porter and arrest Alstory Simon threw his office into chaos. One of the top prosecutors in the case, Tom Epach, argued passionately against releasing Porter, insisting that Porter was guilty. Epach also condemned the decision to take Simon into custody, saying he was innocent. But Devine refused.
Clearly media pressure working on behalf of Northwestern was a primary motive in driving Devine to free a guilty man and indict an innocent one.
Mills was the most influential journalist writing about the Porter case, working hand in hand with the Northwestern investigators.
One wonders if the same infighting took shape in Lake County over the Rivera case, if the pressure by Mills’ articles compelled some of them to give in and settle, while others wanted to keep fighting the case, even after three separate trials.
Mills’ claim about the Porter case:
“The criminal justice system failed him at several critical turns, according to police and court records as well as interviews.”
Not really. Porter was the killer and the criminal justice system had convicted him. The criminal justice system failed in 1999 in large part because of Mills’ sinister pressure.
But to measure just how corrupt Mills and the Tribune could be, let’s go back to this crucial “confession” Northwestern took from Alstory Simon in 1999 and Mills’ reporting of it.
The videotaped admission to the murders was obtained by private investigator Paul Ciolino, who was working with Northwestern, on February 3, 1999. Ciolino spent the day driving to Alstory Simon’s residence in Milwaukee, then returning to Chicago later on. The following day, the Tribune published the exclusive story on the Simon confession, written by—you guessed it—Steve Mills.
In this story, there was no caveat about the suspicious nature of the confession, no willingness to question why a man would suddenly confess to two murders to a complete stranger who burst into his apartment early in the morning. More so, there was not one sentence in Mills’ story listing the immense amount of evidence that thoroughly rejected the possibility that Simon had anything to do with the murders, the same evidence that showed Porter committed the crimes.
Mills listed only the unquestioned claims of the Northwestern investigators.
“In a stunning development in a controversial Death Row case, (Alstory Simon) made a videotaped statement Wednesday implicating himself in the 1982 murders of a South Side couple and appearing to clear condemned prisoner Anthony Porter.”
It was a stunning admission, stunning in the overwhelming evidence of coercion, stunning for the fact that Mills had made no effort to actually investigate the circumstances of the “confession.”
And it was no short news article Mills—a graduate from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism—wrote that day. It was a long article, with quotes from key players, minute details, and plenty of background favorable to Northwestern. It wasn’t as if Mills was sitting at his desk and got a late afternoon phone call from Ciolino about the confession. It was if Mills was well versed on what Northwestern was up to beforehand, and he was prepared to release the story when given notice.
But one thing is absolutely clear, Ciolino and Protess knew who to call in their effort to publish their false claims about the case. They knew which journalists would play ball without any pesky questions.
And so the Northwestern plot to spring Porter and frame Simon went ahead full steam, Mills serving as the go-between for Protess and Ciolino and the public, who had no idea what was really going on. Porter was exonerated and Simon was sentenced to 37 years in prison. The Tribune won a Pulitzer in part for Mills’ coverage of the Porter case.
The Porter case transformed the Illinois criminal justice system, and paved the way for even more exonerations, every bit as dubious as the Porter case. And whose byline was attached to every story championing these wrongful conviction stories?
You got it.
Fast forward to October of last year. That guy Northwestern got to confess, Alstory Simon, whose confession Mills wrote about, the confession upon which a great part of the wrongful conviction mythology was constructed? It was the subject of a vast review by the prosecutors’ office. And it didn’t pass the smell test, not by a long shot.
Simon was released from prison by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, fifteen years after Protess, Ciolino and Northwestern made the case for his guilt and got him to “confess.”
And why did Alvarez let Simon out?
Here is what the Tribune printed:
“The bottom line is the investigation conducted by Protess and private investigator Ciolino as well as the subsequent legal representation of Mr. Simon were so flawed that it's clear the constitutional rights of Mr. Simon were not scrupulously protected as our law requires," said Alvarez, who indicated she would have considered obstruction of justice or witness intimidation charges if the statute of limitations hadn't run out, wrote the Tribune.
Alvarez’s decision to free Simon came in response to complaints by a small group of lawyers, retired cops, cops, and a journalist, all of whom pointed out evidence that Porter was guilty and Simon innocent. This evidence was right on the public record, particularly in the transcripts of a crucial grand jury held in 1999, right after Porter was set free. Mills had been made aware of this evidence time and time again. Regardless, Mills never wavered from the Northwestern fiction about the case.
Some questions arise about Mills.
Why is Simon’s confession clearly coerced in the eyes of Alvarez, but not to Mills? Why didn’t Mills see the irregularities, the violation of Simon’s rights, the criminal conduct, but Alvarez did? Why didn’t Mills ask about these irregularities when he wrote the story? Why did no one at the Tribune observe these clear signs of coercion? If they had, likely Simon would not have wasted away in prison for 15 years of his life.
The answer is simple. The true “pattern of evidence” arising throughout Mills’ career is that he has been working on behalf of wrongful conviction lawyers like those at Northwestern, tirelessly pushing the Northwestern agenda that the police and prosecutors are a bunch of crooks and racist thugs, just as he is now doing in Lake County.
This is the real “pattern of evidence,” and each day it expands.
How ironic that the biggest wrongful conviction journalist in Chicago played a key role in the worst wrongful conviction conspiracy of them all, a conspiracy confirmed when Alvarez set Simon free.
One question you will never, ever get Mills to address either in his articles or in the strategy of his investigations: If Northwestern was this dirty in the Porter case, how many others are there?
On the contrary, even after Alvarez announced the release of Simon and assailed Northwestern, Protess, Ciolino, and Rimland, Mills went right back to his wrongful conviction cases, including Rivera’s in Lake County.
There is another crucial event in the Porter case that shows how Mills is willing to cover up evidence of wrongdoing by wrongful conviction activists, another sign that he is working on behalf of law firms like Loevy and Loevy and Northwestern.
Remember the argument among prosecutors in 1999 when Porter was set free? Remember that prosecutor Tom Epach argued to Devine that Porter should remain in prison?
One of the crucial pieces of evidence that forced Alvarez to review the case and release Simon was an affidavit submitted by Epach. In this affidavit, Epach described arguing with Devine about the case and expressing his opinion that Porter was guilty and Simon was innocent.
If ever there was a smoking gun in a wrongful conviction case, it would be a top prosecutor coming out and admitting—in a sworn affidavit, no less— that his office knowingly made the wrong decision, for the wrong reasons, perhaps even criminally.
Mills and the Tribune’s reaction to this groundbreaking statement?
They ignored it, a clear sign that Mills and the paper are willing to ignore crucial evidence to push on with their wrongful conviction crusade.
Even though it meant an innocent man, Alstory Simon, was still wasting away in prison.
Nevertheless, the magnitude of Mills’ co-conspiracy in the Porter scandal increases in the face of even more evidence of corruption at Northwestern.
Simon’s attorneys recently filed a $40 million lawsuit against Northwestern, Protess, and Ciolino after Simon got out. In the lawsuit, Simon’s attorneys cite a pattern of similar conduct by Northwestern in other cases. In total, they bring forth much evidence and witness statements accusing Protess and Ciolino of bribing witnesses, lying, coercing witnesses, over a long period of time, in many cases. They argue that Northwestern ignored this evidence and then covered it up.
Somehow, this “pattern of evidence,” right in the Tribune’s own backyard, seems to have escaped Mills and the Tribune for more than 16 years. Yet Mills and the Tribune are able to see such patterns all the way out in distant Lake County.
How strange. Cook County prosecutors had no trouble seeing the misconduct by Protess and Northwestern. Simon’s attorneys had no trouble seeing a pattern of evidence.
Most conspicuously, Mills refuses to make the obvious connection between Northwestern’s transgressions in the Porter case, and others, in the Rivera case.
If Northwestern was lying in the Porter case—creating a false narrative of police and prosecutorial misconduct on a vast, vast scale—couldn’t they be doing it again in the Rivera case? In other words, doesn’t Northwestern’s pattern of submitting fraudulent claims in other cases cast doubt on their claims in the Rivera case? Doesn’t it merit at least being mentioned in Mills’ articles, especially if Mills is going to introduce patterns of misconduct by Lake County authorities?
If that were only the end of it. If only the pattern of evidence of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement ended right there. But it doesn’t. It goes on and on.
Consider another egregious sign that Northwestern and Loevy and Loevy are manufacturing false evidence.
Both Loevy and Loevy/Northwestern University worked together on a recent case in which a recantation witness they brought forth failed miserably to convince the judge that his recantation was true. The recantation witness was part of a larger plan by Loevy and Loevy/Northwestern to exonerate two gang members convicted of first degree murder. The judge ripped apart the witness brought forth by Loevy and Loevy, and called him a liar.
Not only did the judge reject the witness statements, Prosecutor Anita Alvarez indicted him for perjury, and he pled guilty.
So, one of the most prestigious law schools in the country has yet another witness identified as a liar in an effort to free convicted killers.
One wonders: Where is Mills’ precious “pattern of evidence” now?
It’s not just Mills who is culpable of turning the Tribune into an instrument of wrongful conviction conspiracies. It’s the entire editorial board of the Tribune.
One would think, after all, that after Simon was released from prison last year and Alvarez announced the likely criminal conduct of Protess and Ciolino, someone at the paper would pull Mills aside and initiate some review of his conduct, of the fact that he clearly never truly investigated the Porter case at all. One would be alarmed at how badly the paper had betrayed its readers, its mission, the criminal justice system, and basic human decency, by freeing a sociopathic killer like Porter and framing an innocent man like Alstory Simon.
One would think that some editor, someone in a supervisor position, would initiate an investigation of Mills to find out what went wrong and to take action on the evidence that Mills had been conspiring with wrongful conviction activists all along.
“Steve,” the editor might say, “there’s a lot of evidence you got the Porter case all wrong. Now, Steve, calm down. Calm down. I know what you’re going to say. The police are all crooks. They are all thugs and racists. But just think about it for a minute. This case involves the brutal murder of a couple in a park by a career gang thug and it resulted in the likely false imprisonment of an innocent man for 15 years. It had a profound influence on the criminal justice system. What we’d like to do is take you off wrongful conviction cases for the next few months until we find out what went wrong. After all, how does it look that the paper who championed the wrongful conviction movement got it so wrong? We’ll just have you do a little copyediting pending the results of our investigation.”
Not at the Trib.
In fact, just the opposite. The Tribune gave Mills free reign to keep writing about wrongful conviction cases, all the way until he parachuted into Lake County and started seeing—big surprise—a pattern of corruption among the prosecutors and cops out there, just as he had in 1999 against the Chicago Police, just as he has his entire career.
It gets worse. In Chicago, it always seems to get worse.
The Rivera case is not the only child murder case Mills has covered for the wrongful conviction movement. After his articles in 1999 sprung Anthony Porter and framed Alstory Simon, a litany of wrongful conviction cases took shape, Mills’ byline stamped all over them, frothing to argue that more offenders were innocent.
One case was Madison Hobley, a man convicted of setting a fire that killed seven people, including his own child. No legal proceeding ever declared Hobley innocent. In fact, each one reinforced his guilt. In the wake of the Porter hysteria, a hysteria Mills largely engineered, a governor renowned for corruption, George Ryan, pardoned Hobley. The police, prosecutors, family members of the victims were outraged.
And, like Rivera, Hobley was made rich in a settlement.
The question moving to the forefront is not whether Lake County authorities conspired to frame Rivera. The question is: How many killers have Mills and Tribune have cut loose? How many child killers?
Perhaps we will never know.
It’s possible Rivera didn’t kill Holly Staker. Perhaps the veteran investigators, the prosecutors through three trials got it wrong, as did the three juries. Perhaps the appeals court was right, though appeals courts in Illinois have their own sordid history.
But the claim that authorities conspired to frame Rivera and are doing so in other cases holds little basis outside of the wrongful conviction fantasy world where Mills and the Tribune have long resided.
But there is one thing is for certain. When Steve Mills comes to your town to write about a pattern of evidence in wrongful conviction cases, alarms should go off, alarms that can be heard all the way in Lake County, blaring from some unknown center of the Crooked City.
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