Disgraced former Northwestern Professor David Protess is taking claim for the recent release of a convicted cop shooter from prison.
Howard Morgan was freed from prison last month in the waning moments of Governor Quinn’s failed administration. Quinn secretly commuted Morgan’s forty-year sentence. Morgan had been convicted on four counts of attempted murder for shooting at four policemen, wounding three, during a traffic stop in 2005.
According to Protess, his Chicago Innocence Project (CHIP) is calling the release of Morgan, an off-duty railroad cop, one of CHIP’s cases. The claim is posted on the CHIP website.
It makes sense. Protess, after all, was at the final day of the trial when Morgan was sent off to prison. After the hearing, Protess was standing in the courtroom telling Morgan’s supporters how he would turn the guilty verdict against Morgan into a wrongful conviction, even though Protess had not attended one minute of the trial.
Here’s what was proved in court.
In 2005, Morgan was pulled over by police after they observed he was driving with his headlights off, the wrong way on a one-way street. Minutes earlier, officers had heard possible gunshots in the area and were investigating. Morgan was moving away from the direction of those shots. He was not supposed to be carrying his pistol at the time he was stopped.
After he was pulled over, Morgan jumped out of his vehicle and became combative. He pulled out his gun and shot at the officers 17 times. The police returned fire, striking Morgan approximately 18 times.
The release of Morgan from prison left police and prosecutors stunned. A man convicted of trying to kill four police officers who is simply released from prison without explanation is unprecedented, even for Chicago.
Now rumors abound that Morgan’s team is putting together an application for a pardon that will be presented to Governor Rauner.
Based on the modus operendi of the wrongful conviction movement, a pardon would give new life to a lawsuit against the city, claiming the officers, who were almost murdered, were at fault. Protess and Morgan supporters will put together an intense public relations campaign to intimidate the city to settle. And that, as they say, would be that.
The story of the Morgan case is crucial not simply because a man convicted of shooting three police officers was secretly released from prison. It is crucial because the manner in which this scam was pulled off illuminates very clearly the particular nature of Chicago’s corruption, and how deeply embedded and evil this corruption is.
Morgan’s release specifically illuminates how Chicago’s institutions exist merely as agents of power brokering, absent of any higher purpose or ideal. In fact, Chicago stands as a chilling example of what can happen when a city’s institutions have lost all their integrity after decades of corruption.
The image of Governor Quinn secretly signing the papers to free Morgan at the last minute, contradicting the entire, vast legal process that convicted Morgan is a perfect sign of a public office—this time, the governor’s—sold out, for as a yet unknown price.
The reaction of other political entities to Quinn covertly releasing Morgan is also illuminating: There wasn’t any. Rauner did not mention it. Mayor Emanuel did not mention it. No aldermen mentioned it. The reason is that these other powerbrokers saw no political gain from commenting on Morgan’s release, of commenting on the fact that the entire criminal justice system had just been swindled.
Only one law governs Chicago: Go along and get along.
Chicago and Illinois institutions operate only out of the self-interest of those who run it, all of them tied together into one political machine, called the Democratic Party. Chicago, therefore, moves to accommodate corruption, not alleviate it, particularly if that corruption can serve or bolster the power of the Democratic machine.
The consequence is that Chicago and the state give life to the darkest, most evilly intentioned individuals and groups the Crooked City can manufacture.
It’s why gangs have always had such power in the city, why organized crime has flourished even when it has been stymied elsewhere. It is why Chicago is known for its corruption, as if the city itself is an organized crime. And it is.
And it is exactly why the wrongful conviction movement took shape here.
David Protess is one of its most shining examples. His participation in the Morgan case proves once again his intent to undermine a criminal case by any means necessary, even if it means convicting an innocent person or framing innocent cops. Protess’ ability to ensconce himself into the heart of the city and state’s political machine through the celebrity and wealth brought on by his fraudulent exonerations have guaranteed he would never be indicted.
Like one of Chicago’s historic mafia dons, Protess has been able to beat the law time and time again with his political and legal clout.
Protess and his wrongful conviction allies garnered their power in Illinois by claiming that police coerced confessions, often through physical abuse, from suspects. They claimed the police and prosecutors lied about their cases and their conduct. They painted a picture of renegade, racist and criminal public servants who were capable of any type of criminal conduct.
Whether one believes these claims about the police and prosecutors is one issue.
But what is clear about David Protess is that his willingness to undermine legitimate criminal convictions, including the most brutal, horrific murders one can imagine, is premeditated. The record shows Protess plotted for days, weeks, months to undermine legitimate convictions by whatever means necessary, as he is now doing for Howard Morgan.
While it would be a terrible form of corruption for a police officer or detective to show up on a crime scene and begin to undermine a case out of anger, bias, to cover up some mistake, or because the offender had murdered a police officer, it is quite another to plot the undermining of a murder merely for one’s own celebrity and profit, even if it means framing completely innocent men.
This is what Protess is attempting to do in the Morgan case. He is trying to transform three men who were shot while trying to do their jobs into criminals, while making the shooter of these men a victim.
Only in Illinois, and Chicago in particular, where the institutions are governed by one crooked political machine, could a well-experienced monster like Protess get away with such a scam, not once, but time and time again.
After all, Protess did the same thing in the Anthony Porter case. In his plot to free Porter from prison--a gang enforcer who shot two people in front of six witnesses--Protess knowingly framed an innocent man, Alstory Simon, who was not even near the crime scene at the time of the murders. Protess’ plot against Simon took place over several months and involved several other co-conspirators, who clearly gathered together to execute each stage of their plan and to modify this plan in the face of unforeseen developments.
Protess’ actions, therefore, were not a crime of passion or ignorance. It was a sinister, premeditated plot. He and his fellow advocates knew full well Simon was completely innocent of the murders, but they nevertheless concocted a plan that sentenced him to prison for thirty-seven years.
A further sign of their corruption is that even when confronted with the evidence that Simon was innocent, Protess worked desperately to deny it, destroy it, cover it up, manipulate it, and, last of all, vilify anyone pointing it out.
It is a level of evil that is difficult to wrap one’s mind around.
In the face of David Protess’ impact upon the city and state, a Shakesperean world, like that of MacBeth, unfolds, one where everything in the city becomes its opposite. A venerated institution of a free and open society like Northwestern University is transformed into an agent of unmitigated criminality, one where even its students are corralled by and into Protess’ plots.
Northwestern University celebrated Protess for the prestige he brought to the school, particularly the Porter case. But when the school found out what he was really doing, they merely fired him and then buried the revelations about his malevolent conduct.
So it was with the media. Protess was their darling, a crusader for the oppressed, until the evidence that he was a con man could no longer be denied. The papers then shut the story down, ignoring key developments in the case, refusing to address just how badly he had destroyed the system and bamboozled them. Newspapers and other media were transformed into censors of the truth, rather than the pursuers of it.
Prosecutors became aware of Protess’ criminal activity years ago, but never dared indict him. As much as they revealed the truth of his corruption in only a few specific instances—when they had no other choice--they worked just as hard to ensure that he would not be indicted and to ensure that the larger story of his crimes would not be revealed.
And so it went, right on down the line, politicians, prosecutors, reporters. They all gave way to Protess. They all covered up for him.
“Fair is foul and foul is fair,” chanted the witches in Macbeth, who have reportedly moved from their rooms at the Chicago Tribune editorial board to the governor’s mansion.
Protess now “owns” much of the city. He’s got dirt on all of them. Those he could not bring into his conspiracies, like the police, he attacked.
Faculty members of Northwestern University, for example, describe off the record Protess’ vicious tirades and machinations against any colleague or student who questioned his investigative tactics.
Perhaps there is no greater sign of his leverage in the city than the fact that Morgan was released just months after Protess’ own corruption was officially, and finally, acknowledged.
Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez admitted last year that Protess’ conduct in the Anthony Porter case was quite likely criminal when she announced the release of Alstory Simon from prison. But, she lamented, enough time had passed since the crimes were committed that the statute of limitations protected Protess.
But wouldn’t this acknowledgement of Protess’ corruption compel Quinn to hold off on releasing Morgan, or to at least conduct a full review of the case, a review that included talking to the victims who were shot by Morgan?
But considering the evidence in those other cases illuminates the magnitude of and depravity of the corruption in Illinois.
Northwestern, for example, admitted in 2011 that Protess was lying about his cases, to the school, to lawyers, to judges and to the media when school officials fired him from his tenured position. Officials fired him from tenured position for his untruthful and reprehensible behavior.
There was also the evidence that a man exonerated by Protess’ Innocence Project for a vicious rape was also a scam.
Stanley Wrice was convicted for the 1982 brutal rape of a woman. The victim, Karen Byron, was repeatedly raped by Wrice and his accomplices. They beat and burned her. Byron's burns were so severe she was taken to the burn unit at Loyola hospital and was not expected to live, but she did.
Wrice confessed and was sentenced to 100 years in prison. Like so many of Protess’ cases, Protess got some suspicious witness recantations in the case and claimed Wrice was beaten into confessing by detectives.
After Wrice was released, it seemed Protess was again home free. All he and his attorneys had to do was obtain a Certificate of Innocence and Wrice would be on his way to a multi-million dollar settlement from the city, just as Protess and Morgan are hoping to eventually sue the city over Morgan’s arrest.
But in the one of the rare instances when the criminal justice system stood up to Protess and ruled on the basis of evidence, the judge rejected the claims that Wrice was innocent of the crimes.
"Stanley Wrice’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, gasped when Cook County Judge Thomas Byrne issued his ruling and declared that there was “substantial evidence” indicating Wrice “actively participated” in the brutal Sept. 9, 1982 sexual assault.
Wrice said the denial of the certificate — which would expunge his conviction and make him eligible for thousands of dollars from the state — was like a “dagger to his heart.”
And Protess’ crucial witness recantations?
"In his 44-page decision, Byrne said the recantation of two witnesses were “threadbare, untimely and untrustworthy.”
The judge believed Wrice was still guilty. Why, then, was he out of prison? Just as Protess secured the release of a maniac killer in Anthony Porter, now it appears he had liberated a sadistic rapist.
Even in the wake of all this evidence that Protess fixes cases, no one asked the obvious question about Morgan’s release: Isn’t Protess actively engaged in framing the officers in the Morgan case, just as he had framed Alstory Simon and obtained false recantations statements in the Wrice case, just as he had lied in other cases that compelled Northwestern to fire him?
Clearly he is, for Morgan’s conviction was airtight. It survived all of his challenges and appeals. The forensic evidence showed Morgan had shot the officers with a gun he wasn’t supposed to be carrying.
But really, does the truth of what happened in 2005 really matter? Does Quinn even care? What power does truth have in a place like Chicago?
Setting Morgan free is just one more chilling example of Chicago’s corruption, how easily politicians, media--anyone, really, in a position of power--can be bought off, even by the most sinister forces in the city.
It is akin to the days in Chicago when judges were working on behalf of the Mob, throwing murder cases for money.
Boxed into a corner by Protess’ machinations, the officers who were shot by Morgan now look to their union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), for representation.
Normally, fighting Protess and those who are attempting to get a pardon for Morgan would be an uphill battle. But times have changed. Now there is a vast body of evidence indicating how truly depraved Protess is. That evidence could end the crusade to pardon Morgan.
It could also go a long way in pointing out the criminality that pervades the entire wrongful conviction movement. Just a little pressure from the FOP, and the entire house of cards could come tumbling down.
The opportunities for the FOP are immense. A failure on the union’s part to seize them would be…
Well, it would be a tragedy.