Sitting in the courtroom of Judge Erica Reddick at 26th and California, one comes to know clearly the cost of a legitimate imaginative life in Chicago.
The reason is that since the takeover of a vast part of the city by a collection of 1960s radicals through what has become known as the wrongful conviction movement, a vicious imaginative tyranny has imposed itself upon the city.
This tyranny is led by attorney G. Flint Taylor at the People’s Law Office, a law firm that got its start representing the families of Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton, who died during a shoot-out with Chicago Police and federal agents in 1969.
Since then, the clients of the PLO are a virtual Who’s Who of America subversives and terrorists, many of them guilty of the most cruel and brutal crimes, including bombings. Included among them are the Weather Underground and FALN. Of the Weather Underground in particular, a common refrain in their political ideology was the call “to kill the pigs.”
But it is not representing terrorists that garnered G. Flint Taylor and the PLO their fame and fortune. It was their pursuit of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Taylor spearheaded the claims that Burge and his men for decades on the south side tortured confessions out of African American suspects.
The long, twisted tale of how Flint Taylor and his supporters created the mythology around Jon Burge and his men is a narrative that takes years to master.
Throughout all of it, Taylor’s arguments against Burge hold a deep moral indignation, claiming that Burge and his men committed the worst atrocities for the worst reasons.
Wrongful conviction allies maintain their narratives with a strict political correctness. It is rare, indeed, to see one wrongful conviction law firm ever question the conclusions of another, and there is an unwavering willingness to attack their detractors with a “by any means necessary” strategy, even, it appears, when the detractors are right and there is overwhelming evidence of corruption in the wrongful conviction methods.
This group-think adherence in the movement is rooted in the political systems Taylor and his allies have openly supported for decades, the Marxist regimes that drew the romantic sympathies of the America left from the 1960s onward. These regimes maintained their power through a demanding and strict allegiance to the party line, no matter how corrupt. Like Castro’s Cuba—a tryanny that still garners the adulation of the left—every institution is subordinated to whims of the ruling party.
An example of making the group-think more important than the individual is described in a new, detailed history of the Weather Underground (WU). It was the 1970s. The Weather Underground went around setting off bombs throughout the 1970s, calling for a Marxist revolution in America.
According to author Bryan Burroughs in his latest book, Days of Rage, WU members lived in what they called collectives in different cities. They would often gather together in these collectives and take turns criticizing each member, attacking each other’s actions, thought patterns, their manners—anything, really—for signs of anti-revolutionary, bourgeois sensibilities. These attacks were reportedly quite vicious and were aimed at undermining the members’ individuality in favor of the group party line. Some members could not endure these vicious attacks and left the movement, according to Burroughs. That meant that only the most ideologically driven members remained.
Taylor’s methods have worked. Banding together with their narratives, Taylor and his supporters have freed one inmate after another and accumulated millions in legal settlements from the taxpayers, from which they, in turn, increase their power over judges, prosecutors, aldermen, activists, intellectuals, and, most of all, the media. They have also entrenched themselves in university departments, selling themselves to students as committed activists and crusaders for civil rights.
The reason they have been able to do so is the fact that Chicago’s corruption is such that its institutions are not driven by principle. Instead, they are guided solely by the currents of power. As Taylor and the wrongful conviction movement gained in power in the city, the city acceded to them, despite the fact that Taylor achieves these victories while many attorneys, police officers, journalists, and citizens reject both his claims and tactics.
All of this brings us back to the criminal courts at 26th and California, in particular the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Erica Reddick.
This is where you will find Taylor and PLO partner Joey Mogul these days, as they prepare for a hearing in which they hope to exonerate yet another convicted killer, this time Alonzo Smith. The claim for exoneration is—drum roll, please—the claim that Burge and his men dragged Smith down to the basement and tortured him into confessing.
From the PLO website:
…in an important ruling, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Erica L. Reddick granted Alonzo Smith a new hearing to present evidence that he was tortured by Chicago Police and forced to confess to a crime he did not commit. The night he was tortured, Mr. Smith was left bloodied on the floor, fearing for his life. He eventually relented to the abuse and falsely confessed to the murder and robbery of James Fullilove.
This tortured confession led to his wrongful conviction and incarceration for 20 years. Mr. Smith has steadfastly maintained his innocence and has persistently alleged that he was tortured by Sergeant John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan, members of the now convicted, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s notorious Midnight crew.
The wrongful conviction movement has become so powerful in Chicago—in large part because of Taylor’s PLO— that convicted killers can get out of prison just by claiming torture.
But Reddick’s courtroom is also where once can observe the willingness of Taylor to silence any opposition to his claims.
Recently, Taylor subpoenaed the email records of Chicago cop and author Martin Preib.
Preib, the author of two books and several magazine articles, is a vocal critic of Taylor and his wrongful conviction claims. He, along with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bill Crawford and two retired ATF investigators, now private detectives, Jim Delorto and John Mazzola, successfully fought to get Alstory Simon freed from prison.
Simon had been incarcerated through the actions of Professor David Protess and his students at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, longtime allies of Taylor and PLO. Simon’s 1999 conviction for a double homicide paved the way for the release of Anthony Porter for the same murders.
The four men argued that Protess, his private investigator Paul Ciolino, and Northwestern students framed Simon as part of a plan to exonerate Anthony Porter in 1999.
Preib’s book, Crooked City, is a step-by-step account of his investigation into the Simon case and the fight to free Simon. Crawford has also recently published another book about the Porter case, Justice Perverted: How the Innocence Project at Northwestern’s School of Journalism Sent an Innocent Man to Prison
Last year, in response to the work by Preib, Crawford, Delorto and Mazzola, Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez released Simon from prison, saying wrongful conviction activists at Northwestern University violated Simon’s rights when they obtained a confession from him.
Then, a few months ago, Circuit Court Judge Thomas Byrne declared that Simon was innocent.
It was the obliteration of the key wrongful conviction case in the state’s history, the one upon which the mythology of the movement had been built. In the Porter exoneration, the claim was that—just like in so many of Taylor’s cases—the detectives framed Porter. It was eventually claimed that they even tortured Porter. But even a cursory review of the case rejects such torture claims as ridiculous. It was physically impossible, for the detectives never met Porter; they only obtained a warrant for his arrest based on witness statements.
The fact that not one wrongful conviction activist ever acknowledged the corruption in the Porter case is a chilling sign of their party-line adherence, a solidarity that achieves absurd heights, for the claim that detectives could be accused of torturing someone they never even met in the course of their investigation was never acknowledged by one single wrongful conviction activist or journalist who supported them.
In the face of this ideological tyranny the wrongful conviction movement holds over the city, of which Taylor is a kind of godfather, Preib, Crawford, Delorto and Mazzolla nevertheless were able to free Simon.
One would think that the advocates of this so called “wrongful conviction” movement and their supporters in the media would be interested in what Preib, Delorto, Crawford, and Mazzola have to say. One would think that they would want to know more about their arguments on key wrongful conviction cases, especially as their claims have been tested in the courts, and won. Especially since their arguments have sprung an innocent man from prison.
But that’s not the way it works in Flint Taylor’s Chicago.
In fact, Preib’s investigation and willingness to reveal the corruption at the heart of the wrongful conviction movement only intensifies Taylor’s ideological rage.
So Taylor demands Preib’s personal emails.
In perhaps any other city but Chicago, the request by the PLO to demand the records of a published author would be laughed out of court. In any other city but Chicago an attempt to harass a writer in such a manner would elicit anger over the violation of free speech. They are records that clearly should be subject to the statues protecting journalists. These emails should be protected by the first amendment, by the rights of privacy.
But not Chicago, where the party line—like some Soviet outpost—rules above all else, even the basic tenants of the Constitution.
So Judge Reddick rejected Preib’s motion—with little explanation or legal justification—that his personal emails should be protected. She passed them over to Taylor and Mogul, who gleefully took them.
What Taylor and Mogul will do by getting the emails is not clear, save that there is no doubt they will be used in some way to maintain their party line about Burge and the wrongful conviction movement.
None of this is any surprise to Preib and Crawford. They’ve learned one essential truth in their crusade to free Alstory Simon: The closer one gets to undermining a wrongful conviction narrative, the more vicious the response from guys like Flint Taylor and their supporters.
Here is the rub for Taylor and his allies: Follow the evidence of corruption in the Porter case, and much of entire wrongful conviction mythology—the one Taylor largely built—collapses.
Consider, for example, what happened in the years after Porter was exonerated and Alstory Simon was sent to prison.
Porter’s exoneration initiated a flood of similar claims that resulted in inmates being set free.
Former Governor George Ryan played a crucial role. Ryan claimed he was so moved by the Porter exoneration, it compelled him to place a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois. Later, he harkened back to the Porter case as he freed several other convicted killers from death row.
What made these later exonerations so unusual was the fact that no new evidence arose that pointed to the inmates’ innocence. In other words, the entire criminal justice system bolstered their convictions, but a governor, one who would eventually be sent to prison himself, nevertheless pardoned the four men, Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Stanley Howard, and Leroy Orange. The pardon of the four men infuriated prosecutors and police alike.
From the New York Times:
Richard A. Devine, the Cook County state's attorney, issued a statement this afternoon calling the pardons ''outrageous and unconscionable.''
''These cases against these men are still before our courts, and it is the courts that should decide the issues in these cases,'' Mr. Devine said, referring to pending appeals. ''By his actions today the governor has breached faith with the memory of the dead victims, their families and the people he was elected to serve.''
Though 102 condemned inmates have been exonerated nationwide since the death penalty was re-instituted in the mid-1970's, several experts said they knew of no other case of an inmate being pardoned directly off death row…
Governor Ryan's action today is also different because Mr. Hobley and the others -- Stanley Howard, Leroy Orange and Aaron Patterson -- have been unable to convince judges or prosecutors that they were wrongly convicted.
These men were “…never been able to convince judges or prosecutors that they were wrongly convicted”?
In any city not caught in the web of Taylor’s party-line propaganda, such an egregious violation of the entire criminal justice system would have initiated howls of protest.
Especially when one takes a close look at the cases, particularly the Hobley case.
Hobley was convicted of setting a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his own wife and child. It was a legendary crime scene in Chicago, the fire department pulling out horribly burned bodies, and more than 17 people injured, often grotesquely, from jumping out the third floor window to escape the flames.
The evidence was overwhelming, including multiple confessions by Hobley in front of different investigators.
The detectives who worked the case and saw Hobley go free were furious. They prepared long and hard to defend their investigation in Hobley’s civil trial, the one where he was attempting to become a millionaire by suing the city.
The fact that the detectives fought desperately to take the case to trial is hardly the behavior of crooked cops. If they had actually abused Hobley, the last place they would want to go would be a civil trial in front of a frothing collection of wrongful conviction attorneys, who could gather more evidence against them.
In preparation for the civil trial, private investigators Jim Delorto and John Mazzola once again played a key role. They uncovered even more evidence that showed Hobley’s overwhelming guilt and the absurdity of his exoneration.
Part of their investigation, for example, included going to the residence of Hobley’s mother. It was here that police first encountered Hobley hours after the 1987 fire.
They met Hobley at his mother’s apartment. Suddenly, without any prompting, Hobley handed the detectives a bag with clothes in it, saying that the detectives would probably want it. The detectives had made no request for his clothes. In fact, they weren’t even thinking about it. To them, Hobley was just a witness.
This gesture by Hobley surprised the detectives. Who hands clothes to cops without them even asking? They took the bag and put it in the trunk of their car. This handing over of the clothes would become another piece of evidence pointing to Hobley’s guilt, because the clothes Hobley gave them did not match the description of the clothes he was seen wearing by several witnesses right after the fire at the crime scene.
Because of this discrepancy in the clothes, detectives later obtained a warrant to search the residence of Hobley’s mother to see if they could find the real clothes Hobley was wearing, and submit them for testing, for evidence such as gasoline spills.
But the detectives came up empty.
There was a good reason why.
Delorto and Mazzola found out years later when they returned to the apartment of Hobley’s mother, during their re-investigation for the civil case against them. When they got there, the Hobleys had moved away. Delorto and Mizzola met with the landlady.
She had quite a story to tell them.
She told Delorto and Mazzola that the night of the fire, Hobley’s mother came to her apartment and handed her some clothes and told her to keep them so the police would not find them. The mother threatened the landlady with harm if she didn’t comply. Terrified, the landlady did what she was told.
Now that the Hobleys had moved away, she was willing to tell the truth.
The new evidence Mazzola and Delorto dug up didn’t matter in the end. The detectives would never get their civil trial. The city settled with Hobley’s lawyers right before the trial was to start, shocking the entire police department. The detectives had prepared for months to show that the criminal justice system had worked when it convicted Hobley of the seven murders, and the city just caved in. A mass murderer walked right out of death row and became a multi-millionaire.
Bad enough, right?
Well, it gets worse. It always gets worse.
Hobley’s lawsuit also named Jon Burge, though there is scant evidence Burge had anything to do with the original criminal investigation.
In the course of the case, Jon Burge denied ever abusing anyone. This denial became the foundation for the long-coveted criminal conviction Taylor and his movement sought against Burge, for Burge was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for making these denials.
That’s how Burge ended up in prison.
But now that the narrative over the Porter case has been destroyed by Crawford, Preib, Mazzola and Delorto, there is a major problem for the wrongful conviction movement. The fraudulent Porter exoneration paved the way for Hobley’s exoneration, and now the Hobley exoneration appears every bit as dirty as Porter’s.
So one question rises up against Taylor and the wrongful conviction crowd: In order to get their long sought-after conviction against Jon Burge, did the wrongful conviction machine knowingly liberate a man who incinerated his own family?
It’s a question that can’t be asked, not as long as Taylor and his allies author the party line in Chicago.
Instead, the full weight of the wrongful conviction movement will be invoked to avoid this question and attack anyone who asks it, just as the full weight of the wrongful conviction movement went to work to vilify Bill Crawford in his crusade to liberate the wrongfully convicted Alstory Simon.
One reason the question cannot be asked is the fact that it undermines the moral sanctimony with which Taylor has unleashed his 30-year crusade against Burge and the Chicago Police Department. The question takes the first step in transforming Taylor from an icon of principled justice to another seedy player in a city that feeds on its own corruption.
Consider: Whatever moral indignation Taylor employs against Jon Burge pales in comparison to the mounting evidence of letting a mass murderer like Madison Hobley out of prison, making him rich, and using him as a means to indict Jon Burge.
Which brings us back to another compelling question:
What is the cost for someone, particularly a writer, of imagining the city outside the rigid dictates of Taylor’s political correctness?
The answer to that question resides on the second floor of the criminal courts building at 26th and California, room 206 to be specific, the courtroom of Cook County Judge Erica Reddick. There a writer might find himself coughing up emails to Taylor and Mogul by an order from Reddick.
This is the price you pay for an imaginative life outside the dictates of the most Crooked City.