CROOKED CITY

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Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader Stick With the Party Line...

In a democracy, the purpose of the media is to meticulously investigate the actions and claims of institutions to make sure the people occupying positions of power in them are truly obeying the law and fulfilling the obligations of their office. In doing so, the media serves a crucial, almost sacred function in preserving the system of rule by the people through elected representatives.

In a tyranny, or a system of government run by one crooked political party, the purpose of the media is to obediently expound the propaganda of the ruling party, regardless of evidence, facts, or even justice. In this system, the media becomes a crucial agent to the state’s corruption. 

Chicago, run by one political party for decades, is proof of this. Over the years, the wrongful conviction activists have moved from 1960s radicals throwing rocks at the police, calling for revolution, and supporting terrorists into pivotal players within the city’s Democratic political machine. They did so with the help of media outlets like the Chicago Reader. 

To understand the relationship between this movement and the local media, one only has to return to one of the most gruesome murders in the state’s history, a story picked up by media around the world. 

On November 16, 1995, in Addison, Illinois, three people, including Fedell Caffey, attacked 28-year-old Deborah Evans. Evans was shot in the head.

She was nine months pregnant and had three children. 

The bullet did not kill Evans. 

Afterwards, Caffey and another offender hunted down Evans' daughter Samantha and stabbed her to death.

They returned to Evans. With scissors and a knife, they cut out Evans’ unborn male fetus while she was still alive. They gave the baby mouth-to-mouth and he lived. 

The three offenders, including Caffey, left, bringing the infant and another of Deborah's sons with them. Realizing the son they brought with them could be a witness, they murdered him, first by trying to poison him, then by strangling him, then dumped his body in an alley.  

The story of a woman murdered and her child cut from her stomach was one of the most chilling criminal cases in the state’s history. 

All three offenders were convicted. Caffey was sentenced to death, but that sentence was converted to life in prison when Governor Ryan placed a moratorium on the death penalty.  

Caffey eventually obtained the services of Kent College Law Professor Richard Kling, a prominent wrongful conviction attorney in Chicago.

Kling posited an incredible theory. 

He argued that Caffey got an unfair trial because a prosecutor in the criminal case was allegedly using drugs. Kling said he had a witness, Greg Pruitt, who would testify that he sold drugs to this prosecutor. 

Kling’s theory was that the prosecutor threw the case because the prosecutor was afraid another witness would come forward with testimony about his drug use and purchases, so the prosecutor put the murders on Caffey instead. 

Dupage Officials lambasted the accusations as a desperate move to vilify prosecutors. 

From the Tribune: 

DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett argued against the depositions, claiming the accusations "are outrageous and frivolous. This is nothing but dragging the reputations of good public servants in the dirt."

Birkett said Pruitt, who has a lengthy criminal record, already has been interviewed twice recently and has denied having specific knowledge of the drug involvement allegations.

"At best, Pruitt heard a jailhouse rumor third-hand and repeated it at some point," Birkett said.

The accusations were so ludicrous they never really went anywhere. But at one point, a hearing was granted to go over the allegations. 

In the hearing, it's doubtful, though, that Kling and his supporters got the testimony they wanted.  

Kling’s witness, Greg Pruitt, was sworn in. In a short time, Pruitt dropped a bombshell statement. 

Pruitt testified that he was making statements against the prosecutor—claiming he sold the prosecutor drugs—not because it was true, but because Pruitt was getting paid to do so.

Getting paid? 

When a witness in a wrongful conviction case comes forward with accusations that they were coerced into making a statement by police, the Reader reporters fall all over themselves writing about it.

But not so when there allegations are made against wrongful conviction lawyers themselves. 

It gets worse. Who was paying Pruitt? A private investigator named Sergio Serritella, according to Pruitt. 

Here is the actual testimony.    

Q: So you gave a lot of statements on this, and the bottom line is you have no personal knowledge as to whether or not (this prosecutor) used or bought drugs, isn't that right?

A: Right...

Q: In this, this fellow named Serritella, Sergio Serritella, asks you -- he shows you a photograph, which is here, and he asks you if that's the person you saw buy cocaine from your worker, and you said yes...

A: Yes...

Q: So are you saying that when you told Mr. Serritella that, that wasn't true?

A: Yes, it wasn't true.

Q: It wasn't true, okay. All right, I thought that's what you were saying, but I wanted to be sure.

A: I got paid for this interview.

Q: You say what?

A: I got paid for this.

Q: What did you get paid for it?

A: $100.

Q: Okay, by Mr. Serritella?

A: Yes…

Q: Did you ask the investigator for $100?

A: No. I just figured that as long as I lead them on, I get a hundred dollars, and every time I seen him, I got a hundred dollars.

Q: Was it for transportation?

A: I don't know. It was just tell him what he want, I get a hundred dollars…

 Pruitt: …People had their heart on for the state's attorneys. So, you know, it was a lot of, a lot of -- you know, it was a lot of BS going on and I may -- you know, I told certain people certain things because the money was good, you know. I think I had trips and everything, you know, just for telling somebody for what they wanted to hear.

And it wasn’t just money Pruitt said he was getting. He also testified that he was given tickets for a trip to the west coast. And the witness said he got these trips through an actual Chicago journalist, Marion Brooks: 

THE WITNESS: I just wanted to go to Seattle,Washington, one day. So I called up Marion Brooks, and she got in touch with her, and I had an airplane ticket.

THE COURT: Who got in touch with who?

THE WITNESS: Marion -- I mean, Marion Brooks got in touch with that --

THE COURT: With that lady in the picture.

THE WITNESS: Yes.

THE COURT: And you ended up going to Seattle.

THE WITNESS: And I had a ticket at the airport.

 In any other city but Chicago, such statements in a key wrongful conviction bid would have garnered front page coverage. A media feeding frenzy would follow. That frenzy would be even more intense, given the fact that similar accusations have been made in other high-profile wrongful conviction claims. 

It is called a pattern of evidence. 

One thing that would have stood out in Pruitt’s testimony was the claim that he was getting paid by private investigator Sergio Serritella. What is so troubling about this is that Serritella once worked with former Professor David Protess at Northwestern University’s Innocence Project. 

Protess and Northwestern are currently facing a $40 million lawsuit over the Anthony Porter case. Porter was exonerated for a double murder in 1999 as Protess and his private investigator Paul Ciolino argued that another man, Alstory Simon, committed the murders. They obtained a dubious and clearly coerced confession from Simon, which allowed Porter to go free and put Simon in prison.  

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez recently vacated Simon’s sentence and set him free, condemning the actions of Protess and Ciolino in the case. After her review, Alvarez said Protess and Ciolino had violated Simon’s constitutional rights. 

The actions of Protess and Ciolino in many other cases are now filled with accusations of bribed testimony, coercion, and obstruction of justice. 

The lawsuit filed against Protess, Northwestern, and Ciolino, for example, lists what Simon’s lawyers point to as a pattern of corruption in wrongful conviction cases going back more than a decade. 

The fact that Serritella was accused of paying Pruitt for statements—false statements—provides yet even more evidence of payments for false witness testimony from Northwestern investigators. 

All this evidence points to an obvious question that was never asked: Was Kling’s attempt to get a hearing for Caffey through a witness who admitted he told lies for money another example of a wrongful conviction scam?

There is another question that should be asked. Kling is running around finding holes in convictions, arguing that the wrong guys were put in prison. He makes outlandish claims against prosecutors and police, but where was he in all the years the abuses were taking place at Northwestern? Why did the prosecutor see them, but not Kling? Why do wrongful conviction lawyers and their sycophant journalists suffer from such a strikingly selective observation of injustices? 

These elemental questions are never asked. The bombshell admission by Pruitt about getting paid for false statements barely garnered any attention in the city’s local media. 

So it is with a mixture of anger and disgust that one reads the recent article by Reader “journalist” Mick Dumke about the murder of an off-duty Chicago detective in 2008, entitled Who Lied in Drug and Double Murder Case: Police or Their Key Witness.

In this Reader article, Dumke takes up the cause of Kling in connection with killer Jason Austin. 

Austin was a Traveling Vice Lord who walked up to a parked vehicle on Chicago’s west side in 2008 where he fatally shot off duty Detective Robert Soto and his companion Kathryn Romberg, who were sitting in a car outside Romberg’s residence. Soto was able to provide a description of Austin and the vehicle he was in before dying. 

Jeffery Scott was a witness in the case. He described the murders in detail to police, but when it came time to testify before a grand jury, Scott changed his story. 

Scott at one point said he only made the statement about witnessing the murders because police slapped him around and told him to do so. In refusing to repeat this earlier statements that Austin did it, Scott claimed the police coerced him into a statement by beating him. 

There was no evidence of police abuse in this case. What is almost certainly the truth is that Scott was intimidated into changing his story by gang members, who hold their respective neighborhoods in virtual hostage when it comes to making sure no one testifies against them.  

Witnesses intimidated into changing their stories emerges in another part of the investigation. Austin’s alibi was that his Buick, the one suspected of being used during the murders, was in a repair shop. The owner of the shop at first told police he had returned it the day before the murders, but then changed his story right before he was supposed to appear before the grand jury and said it was still in the shop. 

Here is what prosecutors later said about the mechanic’s changed testimony.

From the Tribune:

The witness, a mechanic at a West Side auto shop, told the officer he was scared and didn’t know what to do, prosecutors say in the court filing.

By the time he arrived at the Leighton Criminal Court Building to testify, the filing alleged, the witness had changed his story – a key factor in the unraveling of the criminal case against Jason Austin, a drug trafficker known as J-Rock who was feared in his West Side neighborhood known as the KO.

After this witness and others changed their testimony – the result of gang intimidation, prosecutors say -- the charges against Austin were dropped.

Chicago Police, along with the FBI, soon after initiated an investigation against Austin for his drug trafficking on the west side, near where he had murdered Soto and Romberg. Police and prosecutors attempted to bring up the murders during Austin’s sentencing for the drug trafficking charges. 

The police worked hard to get a killer off the street, a gang member running a vast criminal enterprise that left his neighborhood among the most destitute and violent in the city. 

But this is unfair, an injustice, according to Kling. 

Dumke writes: 

The central problem is that either police or the key witness in the case—or both—committed perjury, attorney Richard Kling argues in a brief filed last week..

The appeal could open another chapter in a seven-year-old saga that illustrates how complicated the search for truth can be in the criminal justice system. Kling, who's worked on hundreds of murder and drug-related cases, says, "I've never had one like it before."

To be clear, no one is claiming Austin should walk free, or that he's a sympathetic figure. By all accounts, J-Rock, as he was known, was a gang leader and drug dealer for years before being found guilty in 2012 of conspiring to deal heroin. Kling isn't challenging that conviction—only the sentence for it. In doing so, he also raises questions about the double murder case…

Kling wants the appellate court to reconsider. And he maintains that the heart of the sentencing evidence—the testimony of Jeffrey Scott—may be the most problematic of all.

In the sentencing hearing, Scott stood by his 2008 allegations that detectives hit him, kicked him, and handcuffed him facedown on a bench during the murder investigation, though he added that in retrospect, "it wasn't that harsh."

Perhaps the truth would not be so elusive for Dumke if he would put Kling’s claims in some kind of context, if he would take into consideration the Caffey case and the fact that Kling was resting his arguments on a drug dealer who admitted he was making statements only to get paid. 

Perhaps the truth would not be so elusive if Dumke would take into consideration all the evidence that wrongful conviction attorneys generate false witness statements, bribe witnesses, and frame detectives and Dumke would observe how neatly Kling’s claims fit into this pattern in both the Caffey and Austin cases. 

The central question in Chicago is no longer whether the police coerced confessions from suspects and witnesses. The central question is: How deep does the corruption among wrongful conviction lawyers go? 

Dumke knows the corruption goes very deep, indeed. 

But you will never see Dumke write a story exploring this corruption. 

For Dumke and the Chicago Reader, pointing out the corruption within the wrongful conviction movement is the same as pointing out the corruption among themselves, and the record of corruption in these cases often borders on pure evil.  

So Dumke and the Reader must push on, ignoring or deflecting the evidence of their own malfeasance in so many wrongful conviction cases and toeing the party line for lawyers like Richard Kling. Each day it grows more absurd, more cruel. 

And the irony is biting. For years the Reader accused police of not coming clean about corruption in the police department. 

When will they? 

The police never touched any witness in the Austin case. It’s ludicrous. They would not give Austin an instant defense by abusing him. They were, in fact, among the best investigators in the city. No one committed perjury on the police side. 

Murder charges were dropped against Austin in what was clearly a sign of witness intimidation by gang members. The police and FBI built another case. They brought in the murder case to Austin’s sentencing because it was relevant, because a guy like Austin who would walk up and murder two people for no reason belongs in prison. 

The police were doing their job. 

If only Dumke and the Chicago Reader would do theirs. 

A baby cut from the stomach of a murder victim. Two people, one an off-duty detective, murdered in their car. Seven people burned to death in an arson. A couple engaged to be married cut down in a south side park. 

With every piece of evidence that emerges pointing to corruption in the wrongful conviction movement, it must be that much more difficult for journalists like Dumke, Mike Miner, Steve Mills, and Eric Zorn to live with themselves, to crank out articles whose sole purpose is to maintain the ideology holding together the most Crooked City.

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