Behind bars for 36 years, Jackie Wilson walked free Friday afternoon.
A Cook County judge ordered him released after throwing out Wilson’s confession that had led to his being convicted of slaying two Chicago police officers.
“[I’m] happy to be a member of society again after 36 years of incarceration for a crime I didn’t commit,” Wilson said moments after his release from custody. “It’s been a rocky ride. I’d just like to move forward with my life barring any further complications and I’d like to make my contribution to society.”
Wilson, 57, was twice convicted of murder in connection with the shootings of Chicago Police Officers Richard O’Brien and William Fahey in 1982.
In a blow to prosecutors, Cook County Judge William Hooks ordered Wilson released on a $10,000 I-bond, which means he didn’t have to post any cash to get out of jail. Last week, Hooks threw out Wilson’s confession, ruling cops had tortured him to get it, and tossed his conviction.
On Friday, Hooks said prosecutors “utterly failed” in their arguments to keep Wilson locked up. One of Wilson’s attorneys, G. Flint Taylor, described his client’s reaction afterward.
“It’s a shock to his system that after 36 years of pleading his case … that a judge in this building has listened to him and has looked at the evidence rather than what the FOP and others have tried to promote,” Taylor said.
The case has drawn intense interest from both police officials and police reform advocates.
FOP President Kevin Graham attended the court hearing Friday and afterward said he was “very disappointed that a man who is responsible, who was at the scene, who has admitted to being there when two honored police officers … were murdered and gunned down and he walks out on a $10,000 I-bond. That’s disgraceful.”
Outside the courtroom, Special Prosecutor Michael O’Rourke said: “We’re disappointed but we are prepared — and will be prepared — to retry this case and we have every intention to do so.”
O’Rourke also disagreed with the judge’s characterization of the prosecution.
The prosecutions against Wilson and his brother, Andrew, have a long and twisted history. Andrew Wilson was the gunman in the murders of the two police officers, who pulled the Wilson brothers over during a traffic stop.
Andrew Wilson won a new trial based on allegations that he was beaten and shocked during his interrogation by Jon Burge and detectives under his command — the first in what would become a long line of cases documenting abuse by Burge’s Area 2 investigators. Andrew Wilson was convicted at trial again and died in 2007, still locked up for the murders.
Jackie Wilson was the alleged getaway driver. His claims of abuse had been ignored by trial judges and appeals courts, but the state Torture Relief and Inquiry Commission eventually granted him a new hearing.
After a series of hearings that spanned months, and included Burge and other retired detectives who worked on the case, as well as an assistant state’s attorney taking the Fifth Amendment when questioned about the abuse, Hooks last week tossed Wilson’s confession and ordered a new trial.
At a bond hearing Thursday, Wilson’s lawyers argued that Wilson should go free while awaiting trial, noting that without his forced confession as evidence, prosecutors would have little chance of convicting Wilson a third time.
The defense also introduced a bombshell: an eyewitness to the shooting had sworn out an affidavit just last month, saying he lied on the witness stand at Wilson’s previous two trials — and during Andrew Wilson’s two trials — because of coercion by police and prosecutors.
Another key witness claimed the Wilson brothers admitted to him that they killed Fahey and O’Brien. But defense lawyer G. Flint Taylor said the man was “peripatetic liar” with a long record of fraud and perjury.
Special Prosecutor Lawrence Rosen admitted he did not know if other state witnesses from Jackie Wilson’s previous trials still were alive, but said transcripts of their testimony could be introduced at a new trial. The prosecution also intended to introduce a videotaped deposition from an unrelated civil rights lawsuit, in which he said Wilson stated that he and his brother had hatched a violent plan for a “suicide mission” to break a friend, Edgar Hope, out of the jail hospital.
Elliot Slosar, one of Wilson’s attorneys, said they’ve lined up housing for Wilson and also helped him get a psychologist and assistance with the job search process and with understanding technology.
“Jackie’s going to have to learn what it’s like to live in 2018, to learn what it’s like to live in Chicago, IL today versus what it was like at the time of his arrest,” Slosar said. “We’re confident that Jackie will be successful at reintegrating, but it’s going to be a difficult process.”