Man convicted of 1989 double murder released after posting bail

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James Gibson, who was sentenced to life in prison for a 1989 double murder. The Illinois appeals court granted him a new trial. | Prison photo.

After serving nearly 30 years behind bars for a double murder on the South Side, a man who said he was tortured by detectives was released late Thursday from jail while he awaits a new trial for the 1989 crime.

James Gibson, who was granted a new trial after a state appeals court found he had been beaten during his interrogation by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge’s underlings, posted the $2,000 needed to secure his release, hours after a brief court hearing at which Cook County Judge Alfredo Maldonado pointed out holes in the case created by numerous witnesses who have died or recanted their testimony.

“(Prosecutors) have given no proffer about any eyewitness who actually saw the shooting or even could confirm Mr. Gibson was there, or any physical evidence tying Mr. Gibson to the murders,” the judge said.

Gibson had been serving a life sentence for the double murder.

Maldonado set Gibson’s bail at $20,000 and required Gibson to wear an electronic monitoring device while he awaits trial. Before Gibson was released, one of his lawyers, Joel Brodsky, said the Cook County sheriff’s office would be inspecting the home where Gibson will live while on bond.

Gibson, 53, showed little reaction in the courtroom as Maldonado made his ruling. As the door opened to the holding area adjacent to Maldonado’s courtroom, the sound of applause spilled into the courtroom. Gibson’s lawyer, Ramon Moore, said defendants waiting in holding cells gave Gibson a standing ovation.

Gibson’s family members embraced in the hallway. A few feet away, Special Prosecutor Lawrence Rosen huddled with Bill Benjamin, whose father, Lloyd, was gunned down alongside mechanic Hunter Walsh.

Rosen said prosecutors plan to retry Gibson but have set an April 26 deadline to formally announce their intentions.

Gibson’s lawyers have filed a motion seeking to have Gibson’s prosecution turned over to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. The defense argued that while a special prosecutor was required to litigate Gibson’s bid for a new trial because of the involvement of Cook County prosecutors in cases tainted by Burge torture allegations, a special prosecutor has no authority to take the case to trial.

Talking to reporters in the courthouse lobby, Gibson’s niece, Sarmarra Berks, told reporters she had known Lloyd Benjamin, an insurance salesman whose territory included the Englewood neighborhood where he was killed, as well as Walsh, a good-natured business owner nicknamed “Mr. Smilely.”

“Unfortunately, the Chicago police dropped the ball,” Berks said.

Benjamin said despite the multiple appeals that have gone Gibson’s way, he remains convinced he is guilty.

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