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Double murder charges dropped against man who was serving life sentence

James Gibson, left, shakes hands with lawyer Joel Brodsky in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Friday. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

Cook County prosecutors on Friday dropped charges against a man who was sentenced to life in prison 30 years ago for a double-murder in Englewood in 1989.

James Gibson had been set free on bond last week while awaiting a new trial for the murders of Hunter Wash and Lloyd Benjamin — a crime he had been convicted of at a 1990 bench trial. An appeals court ruled that the trial was tainted by the involvement of detectives who worked for former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

The moment was three decades in coming, and had been delayed by a pair of appeals court rulings — the last of which included a scathing review of Judge Neera Walsh’s findings on whether or not Gibson had been beaten by detectives, and granted Gibson a new trial in front of new judge.

Gibson had refused prosecutors’ offers to take plea deal — like one offered to his co-defendant, who accepted and was released in 2016. Gibson’s mother and son both died while he was in prison.

“I didn’t take a (plea), because I wasn’t guilty! I didn’t take (a plea) because I wanted to bring respect back to my family,” Gibson, 53, said, shouting. “I wanted to bring pride back to my momma, who died and left me, worried on her deathbed that her baby was in jail.”

James Gibson addresses reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Friday, April 26, 2019. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times
James Gibson addresses reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Friday, April 26, 2019. | Andy Grimm for the Sun-Times

In court, Special Prosecutor Robert Milan seemed to be grudgingly dropping charges.

“Due to the appellate court decision, the passage of time, the death of a witness and the lack of cooperation of other witnesses, regrettably, the state must dismiss all charges,” Milan said, reading from a sheet of paper. “It is the position of the special prosecutor that this was not a wrongful conviction.”

Milan’s decision to drop the case also came after Gibson’s lawyers had filed a motion seeking to have the special prosecutor tossed off the case, citing both Milan’s career as an assistant state’s attorney, which overlapped with Burge’s time as a police commander, and questioning whether a special prosecutor could be assigned to a criminal prosecution.

“They copped out… and left,” Gibson said. “Because if they wouldn’t have, we would have came in there and beat ’em.”

Gibson’s lawyer, Joel Brodsky, had noted at the bond hearing last week that the star witness — who at one time had also been a suspect in the killing, had died — and other witnesses had recanted statements that tied Gibson to the crime.