Key Arson Case Behind Indictment of Police Commander?
As lawyers for an indicted Chicago Police Commander pore over a large body of evidence that could undermine criminal charges against their client, the question arises whether this commander has been placed in the crosshairs of the city’s wrongful conviction machine.
Commander Glenn Evans was stripped of his police powers last year after he was indicted on charges that in 2013 he put a gun in the mouth of a suspect, gang banger Ricky Williams, and threatened Williams’ life. It was a narrative that took Evans out of the high regard he has enjoyed for cleaning up some of the worst neighborhoods in the city—including political support all the way up to the superintendent and mayor’s office—and put him in the sordid company of cops accused of the worst abuse, like former Commander Jon Burge and his men, cops accused of torturing suspects for decades.
The criminal case against Evans generated a frenzy by the media, particularly those with a history of supporting wrongful conviction claims, like public radio station WBEZ.
The main “evidence” against Evans was revealed by a reporter at the station, Chip Mitchell, who released a state police DNA report that stated Williams' DNA was on Evans’ gun. This report was announced as if it were a sign of Evans’ guilt.
WBEZ and other media outlets then filed Freedom of Information claims on Evans’ work record and listed the history of misconduct complaints against him.
Wrongful conviction lawyers jumped in to vilify Evans even further.
People’s Law Office Attorney G. Flint Taylor, from a WBEZ article:
“He’s one of the worst [excessive-force] repeater cops in the history of the city of Chicago,” Taylor said. “He should be fired.”
Evans, who has enjoyed widespread community support for cleaning up crime and taking a no-nonsense stand on gang members, apparently took no deal. Rather, he decided to go to trial. He then went on the offensive.
His attorney, Laura Morask, maintained that the state police DNA report signified nothing at all, except that Williams and Evans had come into contact with each other, something Evans never denied. There is no proof, she argued, that Evans put his gun in Williams’ mouth.
Then something incredible took place in the case.
As Evans stood his ground and fought the charges, the case began to unravel. Just before trial, the state’s attorney announced that potentially exculpatory evidence emerged from an investigation into the city agency that investigates police misconduct, Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).
Apparently, there may be misconduct on the part of IPRA investigators in the way they handled the Evans case. IPRA had led the investigation against Evans.
One aspect of the misconduct at IPRA may be the release of the state police DNA report to WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell. Citing reporter’s privilege, Mitchell has not revealed how he got the report. But if IPRA did release the report, it would be an egregious violation of Evans’ due process.
With the announcement of possible wrongdoing at IPRA and the existence of exculpatory evidence, the momentum in the case has shifted to Evans’ favor. There is a palpable sense that a lot of people are nervous about the case.
Now questions abound: What is the exculpatory evidence Evans’ lawyers are now sifting through? Why didn’t IPRA, the media or prosecutors discover it? What will it indicate about the charges against Evans? Are the charges legitimate?
And if there is exculpatory evidence against Evans, why did so many institutions in the city go after him with such a vengeance?
The answer to this question may be tied to more than just the accusations of gang member Ricky Williams, for Evans’ career in the police department is tied intimately to the wrongful conviction movement that took shape in the years he went from patrolman to police commander.
And more and more the case against Evans resembles the pattern of corrupt tactics the wrongful conviction movement employs against the police, tactics that have become known recently through the renewed pressure from journalists, retired detectives, and Crooked City.
It’s a modus operandi that seeks to vilify police, regardless of evidence.
A Little History
To understand why Evans would be targeted by this movement, one has to return to a pivotal year in the city, 1999. At that time, convicted killer Anthony Porter was let out of death row for a double murder after investigators at Northwestern University, including David Protess and his students, and Private Investigator Paul Ciolino framed an innocent man, Alstory Simon, for killings Porter was originally convicted of committing. With this fraudulent confession by Simon, Porter was set free.
Last year, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez set Simon free from prison, saying that Protess and Ciolino violated Simon’s constitutional rights, and earlier this year a judge declared Simon innocent. The entire media machine that once celebrated the release of Porter, the most influential wrongful conviction case in the state’s history, had backed a fraudulent case without ever bothering to look at the evidence.
Porter was the killer all along.
It was a chilling sign of the power the wrongful conviction movement has over the Chicago media, the same Chicago media now going after Evans.
The narrative conjured up by Protess and Ciolino in the Porter case was based on the claim that detectives intentionally framed Porter and ignored evidence against Simon. The media and the prosecutors in 1999 went along with this narrative, a sign of the vast alliance between Chicago’s media and the wrongful conviction activists, many of whom have ensconced themselves in the city’s most prestigious universities.
The problem with this claim about the detectives in the Porter case was that there was never a shred of evidence they framed anyone. The clear facts of the detectives’ investigation proved such a framing was impossible and that Porter was the killer. It didn’t matter. Northwestern could push the false narrative with the support of the media, and so they did, despite the fact that detectives desperately fought to show that Porter was the killer all along. The prosecutor caved in and Porter was set free, a murderer walking around free as a bird.
Then Governor Ryan, like some third act of Shakespeare play, claimed he was so moved by the Porter exoneration that he placed a moratorium on the death penalty. The family members of dozens of killers were shocked and lashed out at the governor.
Now that the Porter case has imploded, a dark shadow is cast over several other wrongful conviction cases that followed in its wake.
Among them is one so chilling, so evil in the possibility that the suspect was, like Porter, fraudulently released, that the wrongful conviction machine dare not let the spotlight fall on it.
And that case is intimately tied to the career of Evans, when Evans was in his first year as a cop in 1986, utterly unaware that a relatively routine criminal damage to property call would alter the course of his life.
Evans and his partner were called to the home of Patricia Phiefer on the south side.
Phiefer showed the officers that an offender had thrown a brick through her window. The woman told the officers she believed the offender was a man named Madison Hobley.
Hobley had thrown the brick through her window because Pheifer was housing Hobley’s wife and child. Hobley’s wife, Anita, had separated from Hobley after she learned Hobley was having an affair.
Hobley—who had no criminal history—was irate about his wife leaving. He demanded that she return home. He had been regularly calling Phiefer’s home and making threats.
Sure enough, while Evans and his partner were writing out their report, the phone rang. Pheifer told the two officers it was likely Hobley calling, making threats again.
Evans picked up a second phone and listened in on the call. He heard Hobley make threats. Evans heard Hobley say he was going to burn down Phiefer’s apartment.
Evans, struck by the intensity of Hobley’s threats, became concerned. He documented the threat of arson in his case report. He also took the trouble to write out a report to his supervisors, letting them know he was concerned that Hobley’s threats of arson were sincere.
The Hobley Arson
Then Evans’ suspicion turned into a living nightmare. Weeks later, in January of 1987, Hobley fulfilled his arson threat by setting fire to the apartment building where he, his wife, and child lived.
Creating what investigators said was a chimney effect, the fire raged quickly and burned Hobley’s wife and his child to death. Five others also died. Some seventeen others were also injured, some with severe burns that required long stays in burn centers and skin grafts, others who suffered with mangled bones and backs from jumping from the third floor of the building to escape the flames.
Evans worked the night of the fire. He saw crime-scene photos of Hobley’s son, Philip, a boy he had met when he completed the case report for criminal damage weeks earlier. The image of Philip’s burned body never left Evans. The threat of arson weeks earlier haunted him.
“I had sons that were approximately his age at that time. After watching what was once a little boy burnt up beyond belief profoundly affected me. It affected me because it could have been my own sons that could have been victimized that way. Any child’s murder profoundly affects me.”
Hobley was convicted and sentenced to death. Then he began hanging out with a group of men on death row who were also arrested in Area 2 on the south side of Chicago, men who began encouraging each other to claim they were tortured by Jon Burge and his men. Hobley joined in, despite the absence of any evidence that he was coerced into confessing.
Harkening back to the Porter case, Hobley was pardoned by former Governor Ryan, pardoned despite the fact that no new evidence emerged indicating Hobley’s innocence. Every legal proceeding bolstered his conviction.
Just as the Porter case revealed the collusion between the wrongful conviction activists and the local media, Ryan’s pardon of Hobley with no new evidence, announced at DePaul University, signaled that the movement also had deep influence over the centers of the state’s political system.
Evans never for a moment believed Hobley was innocent.
“In my opinion Hobley is absolutely guilty, without a doubt. He made a very specific arson threat about his wife and child over a land line with a witness who also heard it. After he made the threat, approximately two months later, less than a mile away, a fire was set that killed his wife and child along with five other people,” Evans said to Crooked City.
Since his experience in the Hobley case, Evans has always been suspicious of the wrongful conviction movement and openly said so. He has long been a critic of law firms like the People’s Law Office, who have made claims of torture and coercion against the cops.
That wasn’t the end of it. Evans stated that he came forward to federal prosecutors and volunteered to testify against Hobley if they pressed charges against him. Those charges never materialized, though they should have, Evans said.
“It was my willingness to testify that engendered the ire and animosity of the anti-conviction crowd supporting Hobley,” Evans said.
When the Myths Fail
Dealing with the possibility that this central wrongful conviction case is a sham, much like Porter’s, is almost unimaginable for the entire city. How can Chicago admit that the entire city facilitated the release of a mass murderer on trumped-up theories of his innocence?
This question causes one to wonder what the real motive is behind Evans’ vilification.
Remember Alstory Simon, the guy Protess and Ciolino framed for the murders that Porter had been convicted of? Remember that Simon was let out of prison last year? Well, his lawyers filed a $40 million lawsuit against Northwestern, Protess, and Ciolino.
That lawsuit could force the city back to the Hobley case.
A central witness in the Hobley case testified under oath that Private Investigator Paul Ciolino, the same Ciolino who framed Simon for the murders, attempted to bribe this witness into changing his testimony against Hobley.
One particularly troubling aspect of this witness’s statement is that it matches the description by witnesses in the Porter case who also said they were bribed by Ciolino.
In short, Simon’s lawsuit threatens to reveal the dark modus operandi at the center of the wrongful conviction movement, leading to other cases, like Hobley’s.
In fact, that modus operandi is becoming clearer every day, even without Simon’s lawsuit taking shape.
One wonders, then, if the intense campaign to charge Evans with crimes, to accuse him of the sort of vicious, hateful treatment of suspects that is employed in most wrongful conviction cases, might not be part of a larger campaign to discredit him, to vilify him.
Absent from the media reports about Evans are his awards for crime fighting, his rescue of officers under fire that won him a Medal of Valor award.
The frenzy with which the entire city went after Evans on such insubstantial evidence, initiated by a gang member, seems to hold a kind desperation. There is also the sense that the entire alliance of players going after Evans, from the media to the wrongful conviction attorneys, to the prosecutor himself, all seemed to assume he would fold.
Perhaps there is a lesson in Evans’ strategy.
In any case, discrediting Evans would be crucial for the wrongful conviction machine.
The Hobley case is no murder in the park, like the Porter case. It is a mass murder involving children and many innocent people. It was a crime scene no responding cop could ever forget and it was a long brutal night going to the morgue, seeing the bodies, interviewing the family members. Detectives had to go to the hospitals. Some of them even watched the firemen carry out the bodies from the building.
Hobley’s innocence is maintained despite the chaos and horror of this crime scene, an almost impossible thing to imagine. It is built on a wrongful conviction narrative even more fragile than the narrative for Anthony Porter’s exoneration, a witless scenario that a group of detectives in the midst of such human suffering were so calloused, so evil that they concocted a fraudulent story against an innocent man. They did so while other detectives were scattered around the city gathering evidence that could easily undermine their trumped up theory. Somehow in an era without cell phones they reached out to all these other detectives and supervisors to get them to join in on their conspiracy, and all of them, without one protesting or refusing, went along with it. The detectives did this against a man they did not know, who had just lost his own wife and child.
And why, why would they risk their reputations, their freedom, their pensions to frame Hobley, whom none of them had ever met before?
All because he was black?
In the end, what is most incredible about so many wrongful conviction claims is that anyone could possibly believe they are true.
Think about it.
What a coincidence for the detectives to learn as they were framing Hobley that he just happened to threaten an arson against his family weeks earlier, a threat documented in a case report.
Talk about dumb luck in a frame-up job.
Or wait a minute. Was Evans’ case report documenting the arson threats also concocted?
Did the detectives write up a false report, give it a false report number, distribute it to the various departments and sneak it into the files there? Did they somehow know about Phiefer housing Hobley’s wife, the exact dates and times, her address, all within hours of the fire?
Did they then get Evans to go along with the frame-up, an officer in his first year on the job, still being trained by his Field Training Officer?
That would be tricky, all based on the claim that the detectives were acting from some racial animus, because Evans is African American.
And how about other details that emerged bolstering the detectives’ frame-up job? Hobley admitted, for example, that after he escaped the fire, in which his child and wife had died, he went to his mother’s apartment.
And what did he do?
He took a bath.
One wonders if there was ever in the vast history of violent crime in Chicago another instance in which a man who had just learned his wife and child had been killed in a fire, went and took a bath.
The fact that a bath far more likely signified he was once again trying to get rid of evidence—like the smell of gasoline residue spilled on his skin—is hardly mentioned by the wrongful conviction activists who fought so hard to free him.
But it certainly must have been a telling detail to the detectives, the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and all the appeals courts that agreed with the guilty verdict.
It’s important to pause a minute and observe one key theme in both the Porter and Hobley cases. Both men based their exoneration claims on false claims of coercion, a sign that already in the 1980s making false claims against the police was common.
Yet the local media, and in particular WBEZ’s coverage of Evans, immediately ran to the record of complaints against Evans in his work history without acknowledging something all cops already know: Offenders routinely make false allegations against the police.
Why wouldn’t they? They’ve gotten out of prison for murders and then been made multi-millionaires for doing so.
Evans was never convicted on any misconduct charges and he enjoyed widespread support from the communities where he worked. But WBEZ and other media outlets jumped right on these complaints in every one of their pieces, never mentioning the vast body of evidence indicating that false accusations against the police are routine.
It Gets Worse
So the Hobley case was bad enough, right? Letting him out was bad enough, but that was the end of it, right?
One of the attorneys who represented Hobley and got him out was a law professor at DePaul University, Andrea Lyon.
After Northwestern freed Porter and other inmates and the school’s narratives of wrongful conviction won massive settlements in civil lawsuits, many other attorneys wanted a piece of the action. Wrongful conviction departments sprang up all over the city. Lyon was a faculty member in one of them. She had fought desperately to get Hobley out of prison, but she had lost every one of her appeals.
A measure of her unbridled zeal to get Hobley out, no matter how insubstantial her arguments were, was Lyon’s attempt to use a gas can police discovered at the scene the day after the fire as if it somehow signified police corruption. Lyon posited one theory after another that the police planted the gas can in an effort to frame Hobley. This claim initiated two years of evidentiary hearings before a judge, who vociferously rejected the claims, with rejections bordering on ridicule.
But it didn’t matter. Riding the hysteria of wrongful conviction that began with the fraudulent Porter exoneration, Lyon met with Governor George Ryan.
In an impassioned speech at Lyon’s DePaul University, Ryan announced he was pardoning Hobley and three other men.
Family members of the victims and the prosecutor, Dick Devine, were shocked. Equally shocked were Evans and every detective who had worked on the case.
From the New York Times:
Watching the live broadcast from her home on Chicago's South Side was Ollie Dodds, whose 34-year-old daughter, Johnnie, was among those killed in the 1987 fire for which Mr. Hobley was convicted.
''I just sat there and cried, I couldn't believe what he was saying,'' Ms. Dodds said, adding that if the governor had lost a daughter in the fire he would not have let Mr. Hobley go free.
Then there was a development so clearly corrupt that even in Chicago it was impossible to ignore.
Andrea Lyon, the attorney who talked Ryan into pardoning Hobley, became an attorney on George Ryan’s own defense team.
That’s right. After Ryan pardoned a mass murderer without any new evidence of this murderer’s innocence, and after the entire criminal justice system bolstered his guilt, Lyon then joined Ryan’s defense team, trying to keep out of prison the governor who sold his office for bribes.
Oh, yeah, she represented Ryan pro bono.
The fact that Lyon represented Ryan for free was a sign of such quid pro quo in a case involving a mass murder that even Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, the virtual public relations spokesman for the wrongful conviction movement, had to point it out:
My [Eric Zorn’s] take, which I explained to her, was that no matter what was in her [Attorney Andrea Lyon’s] heart, her membership on Ryan's pro bono legal team looked like payback-- a return favor, a quid pro quo (my last Latinate phrase today, I promise)-- which in turn made Ryan's actions on the death penalty look like a favor…
Lyon bristled at the suggestion of payback and, as I reported, said this was "absolutely not" the case…
Appearances, however, remain troubling.
The Jon Burge Conviction
Well, that’s the end of the story, right?
That’s the end of the outrages in the Hobley case?
Don’t bet on it.
There’s another sordid chapter. There is always another chapter in Chicago.
The crowning achievement in the wrongful conviction movement was the conviction of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, the poster boy by activists in their incessant claims that police are racist torturers. For years and years wrongful conviction advocates, led by the G. Flint Taylor at the People’s Law Office, had been fighting to nail Burge in a criminal case.
Taylor sued Burge twice over allegations of torture and lost both times. The juries didn’t buy his arguments about Burge and his men, just like the jury didn’t buy the claims of Hobley’s innocence.
Undaunted, Taylor pressed on with his claims.
He was able to generate an indictment against Burge on the claim that Burge lied during a civil case when Burge denied ever abusing anyone.
And the civil case in which Burge made this statement?
Jon Burge was convicted in connection with one of the greatest frauds ever perpetuated in Illinois’ history, one in which a mass killer was set free.
How devastating would it be for the wrongful conviction movement, for the entire city that has given it life, were it to be shown that, in order to convict Jon Burge, the city liberated an offender who incinerated his own family?
Things are getting a little anxious these days in Chicago.
The image of a no-nonsense, plain spoken Commander Glenn Evans, whose career is intimately tied to the Hobley arson and all its fallout, telling the truth about the Hobley arson is chilling for the wrongful conviction activists.
Best if he were discredited. Best if he were vilified, lest the truth ever come out in the Crooked City.
For more information about corruption in the wrongful conviction movement, check out the following books…
Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and an award winning writer.
William Crawford is a retired Chicago Tribune journalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Crawford and Preib have presented their findings about the wrongful conviction movement at universities, libraries, book readings, and literary gatherings, where they garnered excellent reviews. If you are interested in having them speak, please email CrookedCity24@hotmail.com.