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The Angel of Death Row and the Court Jester

                   

                   

By William B. Crawford

Sometime in the year 2,000, a man and a woman paid a surprise visit to the southeast side Chicago home of Andre Council, a visit that can only be described as bizarre and brazen. Council had testified as the Cook County State’s Attorney’s star witness years before, in the 1990 arson/murder trial of Madison Hobley and now the two visitors wanted to talk to Council real bad about his 1990 testimony. 

It was principally on the strength of Council’s testimony that a jury in the Cook County criminal courtroom of Judge Christy Berkos found Hobley guilty of setting fire to an apartment building in the 1100 block of East 82nd Street on January 6, 1987 that caused the death of seven of the buildings occupants, including Hobley’s wife, Anita, 21, and his fifteen-month old son, Philip. Following a post-conviction hearing, Berkos sentenced Hobley to death. 

The woman half of the team that wanted to talk to Council during the 2000 visit to his home was Andrea D. Lyon, a graduate of Rutgers University who went on to obtain a law degree from Antioch School of Law. At the time of the Council visit, she was the director of the Center for Justice in Capital Cases at Chicago’s DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

Fourteen years after her highly unusual 2000 chat with Council, she would be appointed Dean of Valparaiso Law School, becoming the first woman to head the century-plus old Hoosier law school. Upon landing at her new “Valpo Law” post in 2014, Lyon said, “Valparaiso Law is a community dedicated to excellence in legal education as well as social justice. In short, it is a special place and I am thrilled to be part of it.”

But Lyon is far more than a fighter for social justice. She also is an Angel. An Angel of a lawyer, that is. But don’t take our word for that characterization. The claim to Angel-ship comes from Lyon herself, in a 2014 book she authored bearing the title, “Angel of Death Row: MY LIFE AS A DEATH PENALTY DEFENSE ATTORNEY,” originally published by Kaplan Publishing, a division of Kaplan Inc. 

Amazon’s web site, where the “Angel of Death Row” is available, introduces the potential reader with the following foreword on the author and her tome’s narrative: 

“Nineteen times, death penalty defense lawyer Andrea D. Lyon has represented a client found guilty of capital murder. Nineteen times, she has argued for that individual’s life to be spared. Nineteen times, she has succeeded. Dubbed the ‘Angel of Death Row’ by the Chicago Tribune, Lyon was the first woman to serve as lead attorney in a death penalty case. Throughout her career, she has defended those accused of heinous acts and argued that, no matter their guilt or innocence (emphasis ours), they deserved a chance at redemption.”

At Lyon’s side during the 2000 visit to Council’s house was Paul Ciolino, in many ways a polar opposite of his female colleague. A 1974 graduate of Reavis High School in Burbank, Illinois, Ciolino attended nearly a dozen junior colleges before finally obtaining an associate degree from Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills. Ciolino, who became a licensed Illinois private detective, also was saddled with a checkered past, which included his once having threatened to put a bullet in the head of a south suburban man who had been hassling one of Ciolino’s clients. In an earlier incident, he was fined $2,000 by state regulators for having acted as a private eye without an Illinois license and barred from working as a private eye for a year. 

At the time of the visit to Council’s house, Ciolino was well known to Chicago’s newspaper and internet readerships. After all, it was Ciolino, who, acting on an illegal charade crafted and supervised by David Protess, a now disgraced former professor at Northwestern University’s Medill school of Journalism, extracted an illegal and sensational 1999 confession from Alstory Simon in which Simon admitted fatally shooting a young couple in the pool area of Chicago’s Washington Park in 1982.

As a consequence of the illegal confession, Simon was sentenced to 37 years in prison and the real killer, Anthony Porter, who had been sentenced to death for the 1982 double homicide, was summarily freed by State’s Attorney Dick Devine after spending 17 years on death row and ultimately pardoned by then Gov. George Ryan. 

The overriding purpose of Lyon’s and Ciolino’s visit to Andre Council’s home? Real simple. To get Andre Council to alter the testimony he had given to a criminal court jury that led to Hobley’s conviction and sentence of death in 1994.

Their visit came in anticipation of a 2003 civil federal lawsuit Hobley would file against the City of Chicago and seven police officers: Commander Jon Burge, Detectives Robert Dwyer, James Lotito, Virgil Mikus, Daniel McWeeny, John Paladino and Sgt. Patrick Garrity. The suit was filed by Kurt H. Feuer of Leovy & Leovy after Gov. George Ryan, facing mounting legal troubles of his own, pardoned Hobley on Jan. 9, 2003, at the recommendation of the Illinois Prison Review Board based on new evidence brought to the board’s attention by Feuer and Lyon. 

Specifically, Ciolino and Lyon wanted Council, who would be called as a key witness in the federal civil suit, to recant his trial testimony, which was so damming of Hobley, and change it so it would accord with their theory of the case--namely that Hobley was innocent--and thus pave the way for a handsome payout from the defendants to Hobley and Hobley’s legal team. 

 In anticipation of that federal suit, Andre Council was deposed in part on October 22, 2004 by James Sotos, an attorney who was representing the named defendants, that is John Burge et al. While the deposition is hundreds of pages, for the purposes set forth here, the focus is on Andre Council’s account of the Lyon/Ciolino visit to his home in 2000. 

Council begins by telling Sotos that at some point in the year 2000, two persons show up at his house on East 147th Street, whom he identifies as Andrea Lyon, a woman with “black long hair….medium build, kind of heavyset,” and Paul Ciolino, whom Council describes as “a white guy....not heavyset, maybe medium.”

After Council inited his unanticipated guests into his house, Sotos asks the witness to describe the initial exchange between him and Ciolino and Lyon. 

“Well, both of them was talking to me. I don’t remember little details. You know, they were telling me that, you know, he didn’t do it.”

Sotos:    He meaning who?

Council:  Madison Hobley. You know, that’s the way---they say Madison Hobley, he wasn’t the one who set the fire. The lady was telling me, you know, that I need to concentrate on looking at him as not being guilty, you know….he wasn’t guilty. So they was  telling me, you know, that this is going to come up again, you know, and that I was going to have to go----that they was appealing this case.”

Council’s deposition testimony then takes a turn into an area where it appears that his guests are attempting to offer him something of value in return for his altered testimony, a tactic used time and again by Ciolino in the Alstory Simon/Anthony Porter saga.

 Council: And they were both telling me that, you know, my…it was a mantle piece, something like this. My daughter’s picture was sitting up there right in front. They was asking me did I have kids.

Sotos: Asked if you had kids?

Council: Right….And so they was asking me what grade, what grade they were in, how old was my kids and was they going to college. I said, yeah my daughter is older and they was talking about what she going to college for. I told them I didn’t know what she was going to college for. I told them I didn’t know what she was she going to do. And they asked me, you know, how would I like to not work anymore. They said that they have ways they could do it. You know, she said she deal with colleges. 

Council again: And he was telling me the same thing, basically, that they would send my daughter to college and I wouldn’t have to pay for it.

Sotos: What do you mean, if you changed our testimony?

Council: Exactly. They told me first of all, he’s not guilty I’m like, first of all, I’m saying this to myself, they didn’t know Madison Hobley before this case comes up. You know I could see if they live right next to him or they knew him, but they didn’t know anything about him at all. 

Sotos then asks Council whether his guests told him what they wanted him to say.

“They wanted me to say that I didn’t….that I wasn’t sure. She was writing down, which I never said this before, but I’m going to say it now. She was writing on a sheet of paper the things that I should say.

Sotos: Andrea Lyon was?

Council: Right. 

Council concludes this portion of his deposition with the following:

“And then they was both telling me they could just help me….Just to go in there and tell the people, hey, you’re not sure. You know, after thinking about it, she was drinking a pop, and she was saying, you know, you’re not really sure…..And, so, she told me I wouldn’t have to work no more. I say, you know, you all got to go.”

On the way out the door, Council said his departing guests said, “If I wanted to change my mind, here’s the card and contact us and they’ll be back out to talk to me again.”

With that, the Angel of Death Row--or is it the Devil of Death Row---and Ciolino, the sometime gun-slinging private eye with the checkered past hit the road.

For the record, the Hobley case never went to trial, much to the unhappiness of the police defendants who urged that the case proceed. Under an unusual settlement, the City agreed to pay Hobley and his attorneys in excess of $7 million for his “wrongful conviction.” 

William B. Crawford is a former writer, reporter and legal affairs columnist who won many major awards, including a Pulitzer, during a twenty-four-year career at the Chicago Tribune. After leaving the paper in the mid-'90s, he worked as a vice president in charge of communications for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange before co-founding a niche public relations/media strategy firm on Michigan Avenue. His latest book(below) is a non-fictional account of the how the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University put an innocent men behind bars for fifteen years. Crawford's  work was instrumental in recently freeing this innocent man, Alstory Simon, from prison. 

Reviews:

"It's only fitting that the man who was the driving force behind Alstory Simon's release wrote the definitive record of the case. Highly recommended!"

"This is a tale of a miscarriage of justice so grotesque that it may make you question every well-intentioned "justice" or "innocence" project in the country. But then it reminds you that this particular perversion of justice was largely the result of one seemingly amoral man's efforts. Best of all, it is an absolutely compelling read."

"Thank you Bill Crawford. It's regrettable the media outlets that were complicit in peddling all the BS the Innocence Project fed them refuse to acknowledge their lack of due diligence and responsibility in setting these murderers free, and the danger and financial expense this has put upon the taxpayers of Chicago."

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