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Key witness appears to recant in case of accused cop killer Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson at a court hearing earlier this year | Pool photo by Zbigniew Bzdak for the Chicago Tribune

A major prosecution witness in the case of accused cop killer Jackie Wilson appears to have recanted key parts of this testimony, according to a bombshell affidavit introduced by Wilson’s attorneys at a court hearing Thursday.

Eyewitness Dewayne Hardin had testified at the trials for both Wilson and his brother, Andrew, that he had watched Andrew shoot Chicago Police officers Richard Fahey and William O’Brien in 1982. Wilson’s lawyers want a judge who overturned Wilson’s conviction last week to set the 57-year-old free on bond while he awaits a third trial, one at which his attorneys said Hardin will say Jackie Wilson looked on in shock as his brother killed the two officers and was not behind the wheel of the getaway car.

“Today, I am finally revealing the actual events that I witnessed because I can’t live with it any longer,” Hardin’s affidavit closes, “If called upon to testify, I could do so competently.”

Judge William Hooks, who last week tossed Wilson’s conviction and ordered a new trial, seemed skeptical of evidence offered by special prosecutors even before defense lawyer G. Flint Taylor offered up Hardin’s statement. The judge said he would rule on the bail Friday.

Wilson’s lawyers have asked the judge to set bond at $50,000, a sum that would allow him to leave prison for the first time in nearly four decades.

Outside the courtroom, attorney Elliot Slosar said the prosecution’s decades-old case is not strong enough to keep Wilson in jail ahead of trial, and that Wilson’s acquittal — after 36 years in prison— is all but certain.

“We expect Jackie Wilson to be the longest-serving exoneree in Illinois history,” Slosar told reporters.

In a deposition taken last month in Dallas, Texas resident Hardin said he saw Jackie Wilson “in a state of shock” as his brother struggled with and killed the two CPD officers after a traffic stop, rather than acting as the getaway driver. Hardin said he was fed a story by detectives and prosecutors to implicate Jackie Wilson in the slayings. Hardin said he tried to tell the truth in a subsequent meeting with prosecutors, who said they would charge him with probation violation if he changed his story.

Hardin’s affidavit also states he did not see another man who had testified he witnessed the shooting, and believes he was bribed. After the trial, he said he received $3,500 from the Fraternal Order of Police. He said he later raised his concerns with an attorney for the city Corporation Counsel ahead of Jackie Wilson’s second trial, and said he was offered an award from Mayor Harold Washington. He turned down the award, but was given a job with the city.

During Thursday’s hearing, Hooks frequently interrupted Assistant Special Prosecutor Lawrence Rosen, challenging the attorney’s recollection of the lengthy case file and noted repeatedly that prosecutors had yet to confirm whether witnesses who had testified at Wilson’s last trial in 1989 were even still alive.

Citing a deposition Wilson gave in a federal civil lawsuit, Rosen said that Wilson said he and his brother had hatched a plan to bust their friend, Edgar Hope, out of the hospital. Hope had been injured during his arrest for the shooting of another Chicago Police officer. The brothers were on their way when they were pulled over by Fahey and O’Brien.

Outside the courtroom, Special Prosecutor Michael O’Rourke said he intended to “get to the bottom” of Hardin’s apparent recantation — prosecutors only learned of the affidavit in court Thursday — and downplayed its importance.

“We’re going to investigate that. But the key witness, and the key testimony, comes not from Hardin, but from Jackie Wilson and his videotaped deposition.”

Jackie Wilson “participated in a plan to break Edgar Hope out of Cook County Hospital, a murderous plan, with weapons, (and) in the course of that the murders of the two officers occurred,” O’Rourke told reporters in the courthouse lobby.

Jackie Wilson and his brother were convicted on two counts of first-degree murder at their first trial in 1983, with Andrew sentenced to death and Jackie to natural life. Each appealed and won a second trial. Tried separately from his brother, Jackie was acquitted of Fahey’s murder, but sentenced to life again for O’Brien’s killing.

Andrew Wilson won a new trial based on his allegations of abuse by Burge. Tried again in 1987 — with prosecutors barred from using his forced confession as evidence— Andrew Wilson was again convicted and sentenced to life. He died in prison in 2007.

Chicago Police Officer Richard O’Brien, left, and his partner, William Fahey | Sun-Times file photo
Chicago Police Officer Richard O’Brien, left, and his partner, William Fahey | Sun-Times file photo