Early this week, prosecutors convinced a federal judge to knock a significant amount of prison time off the sentence of a notorious El Rukn killer.
Two days later, that onetime gang member, Derrick Kees, appeared at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse to again implicate Nathson Fields in a 1984 double-murder for which Fields has been acquitted. Kees told jurors “I’m here to tell the truth,” but he admitted he sought an even bigger break before giving crucial testimony that favored City Hall at trial this week.
“I wanted time served,” Kees testified.
Kees is a former El Rukn enforcer who took orders back in the 1980s from the gang’s onetime leader, Jeff Fort. Kees denied Wednesday being a “hit man,” “serial killer” or “sociopath.” But he told the jury “I killed people,” and he declined to say how many. Still, prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer in November to reduce Kees’ prison sentence from 25 to 12 years, putting Kees on track to be released in November 2021.
Pallmeyer complied Monday.
The feds sought the break in Kees’ sentence because he provided “substantial assistance to the government” by agreeing to repeat his prior incriminating testimony against Fields. Fields, also a former high-ranking El Rukn, spent 18 years behind bars before he was cleared in 2009 for the 1984 murders of Talman Hickman and Jerome “Fuddy” Smith. He was first convicted in 1986, but it was later revealed that the judge in the case had taken a $10,000 bribe.
Fields filed a lawsuit in 2010 against the police and prosecutors who put him behind bars. He first took the lawsuit to trial in 2014, landing a meager $80,000 judgment. But U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ordered a new trial because former El Rukn General Earl Hawkins emerged from prison months after testifying against Fields, appearing to be the beneficiary of a hidden “bonanza” deal.
On Wednesday, as in 2014, Kees testified that he had a conversation with Fields, Hawkins and others after the murders of Smith and Hickman. He said Hawkins gave a “play-by-play” of the killings, and then Fields said “it was a good exercise.”
Kees once faced as many as 99 years in federal prison for racketeering and other crimes on top of a state murder sentence of 55 years. However, Kees began to cooperate with authorities in 1989, and he said Wednesday that he “always wanted a deal.” His federal prison sentence was quickly knocked down to 25 years, and authorities knocked his state sentence down to 50 years in 2013 in exchange for testimony against Fields.
“Derrick Kees will have served approximately 33 years and will be 64 years old in 2021,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Yonan wrote as he made the latest request to reduce Kees’ sentence. “In addition to providing substantial assistance, the length of his sentence will still exceed that of all the other cooperating El Rukn witnesses, most by a very substantial amount.”
Fields’ attorneys say Kees’ latest break is “unprecedented,” and they argued in court papers that Kees could actually wind up going free next year. Prosecutors asked Pallmeyer to reduce Kees’ sentence on Nov. 17, three days after Fields’ lawsuit went to trial.
“There is no way that a court would permit either side to call a fact witness . . . who, for example, had been promised $25,000 in exchange for his testimony,” Fields lawyer Jon Loevy wrote.
But Kennelly let Kees testify Wednesday in spite of Loevy’s complaints. And from the witness stand, Kees said, “money wouldn’t help me.”