After decades of trials, an accused cop-killer goes free, leaving behind too many questions
The prosecution against Jackie Wilson ends with a longtime prosecutor getting fired and the judge castigating the prosecution.
Last week, a special prosecutor dropped all charges in a particularly infamous cop-shooting case in Chicago, that of Jackie Wilson, who had been charged with his brother, Andrew, of killing two police officers in 1982.
That the special prosecutor dropped the case, after decades of legal maneuverings, was understandable and perhaps inevitable. The prosecution’s case was always poisoned at its root by a confession obtained by police torture and reliance on a highly dubious witness.
But the bizarre way in which the case was abandoned leaves us perplexed. A string of questions deserve answers. We really don’t know whether this is a job for yet another special prosecutor — to make sense of it all — or a top-notch writer of true-crime books.
The legal fees for the special prosecutor? For this most recent trial alone — the third — top a half-million dollars. And the defense hasn’t even submitted its request for payment yet.
Here’s some of what we’d like to know:
Why did the special prosecutor in this most recent effort to convict Wilson continue to rely on the testimony of William Coleman, a man with an international reputation as a conman, liar and extortionist? Even former Cook County prosecutor William Kunkle, now a retired judge, had long ago concluded that Coleman, who provided jailhouse testimony that Wilson had confessed to the murder, was a con man. What motivated Coleman to testify against Wilson?
Why did former Cook County assistant states’ attorney Nick Trutenko not tell defense lawyers, who had spent years trying to find Coleman after the second trial and assumed he was dead, that he still was in touch with Coleman? Even Coleman’s ex-wives and second family had lost touch with him for some 25 years.
Why did Trutenko, who was fired on Thursday, lie on the witness stand that he had never talked about Coleman with special prosecutors or other assistant state’s attorneys — when, in fact, he had?
Why did one witness change his testimony between the first Jackie Wilson trial in 1983 and the second in 1989?
Wilson was with his brother Andrew, who died in prison in 2007, when Andrew shot and killed Police Officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien. At the first trial of the both brothers, witness Tyrone Sims said Jackie Wilson had a look of shock on his face while his brother fired at the officers. At the second trial, when Jackie Wilson was on trial by himself and prosecutors needed better evidence, Sims tried to leave out any mention of a shocked look.
How was assistant state’s attorney Lawrence Hyman, the supervisor in the felony review unit who took the Wilson brothers’ original torture-induced confessions, allowed to take the Fifth Amendment when asked about whether former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” tortured suspects in the 1970s and ’80s, including Wilson?
How much did county prosecutors — including a succession of elected state’s attorneys — know over the years about police torture in this case and others before it became public?
The shakiness of the Jackie Wilson case might never have come to light had it not been for the work of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, which in 2015 recommended a new trial after finding credible evidence the police had tortured Wilson. Three years later, Judge William Hooks freed Wilson after 36 years behind bars pending a new trial. Hooks threw out Wilson’s confession, ruling police had tortured him to get it.
Why did the state’s attorney’s office not reveal the police torture earlier?
Why, for that matter, did a judge and lawyers have to devote two weeks during a pandemic, wearing masks and switching courtrooms to avoid the virus, to establish all the weaknesses in this case?
Questions in a second cop-killer case
In another case that is raising more questions than answers, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in December opposed a convicted cop-killer’s request for parole. But in July, according to a story this week by Frank Main of the Sun-Times, she changed her mind, without explanation. She won’t say why.
She wrote a letter to the state parole board saying she “does not oppose the granting of parole” for Ronnie Carrasquillo, who was convicted by a corrupt judge of fatally shooting Chicago Police Officer Terrence Loftus in 1976.
Foxx has the right to change her mind, and there are reasonable arguments for her doing so. But in such a politically contentious case — members of the parole board have flipped from one side to the other repeatedly over the years without explanation — we really think Foxx should explain her thinking.
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