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A special prosecutor is needed to probe indefensible handling of Jackie Wilson case

We need to know how police and prosecutors created such a “monstrous cloud” of misconduct.

Jackie Wilson, his wife Sandra and niece Candace laugh outside the Cook County Criminal Court after a hearing on prosecutorial misconduct Friday on Oct. 2. Murder and robbery charges against Wilson, who is a torture survivor of late Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, were dropped amid his third trial in the fatal shooting of two Chicago police officers, after the discovery that Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko concealed a witness.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The troubling ending of the Jackie Wilson trial cries out for a special prosecutor to establish how a case could go so far off the rails.

On Oct. 1, special prosecutors dropped charges against Wilson, who spent more than three decades behind bars for a 1982 cop killing committed by his brother, Andrew Wilson. On Friday, Cook County Judge William H. Hooks officially granted Jackie Wilson a certificate of innocence.

As the case unfolded this fall, it became clear that scandalous behavior on the part of authorities kept Wilson, who was with his brother at the time of the killing, under a cloud for so long. Wilson’s third trial abruptly ended when prosecutors dropped charges after learning that Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko, who prosecuted Wilson’s second trial, concealed his relationship with jailhouse informant William Coleman, a key witness. State’s Attorney Kim Foxx subsequently fired Trutenko.

It has been five years since the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission — after an extensive investigation — found there was credible evidence Wilson had been tortured by Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” of police officers.

Along the way, key written notes were withheld from the defense, an assistant state’s attorney took the Fifth Amendment, evidence was destroyed, prosecution witnesses were discredited and disproved testimony was read into the record. Yet special prosecutors still brought a third case against Wilson even as the evidence had crumbled away, while their legal meter kept ticking until it topped $600,000 of taxpayer money.

Moreover, mask-wearing lawyers and court personnel were required to risk COVID-19 to go through a two-week trial that did not need to take place.

In his ruling on Wilson’s certificate of innocence, Judge Hooks wrote, “[T]he Court would be remiss if it did not comment on the monstrous cloud that the tortured confessions of Andrew and Jackie Wilson, the false testimony of Coleman, and the unremitting prosecutorial misconduct by ASA Nick Trutenko and several other prosecutors has left over this entire case for decades.”

On Monday, Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr., who is headed to the appellate court, said he will leave to his successor the decision on appointing a special prosecutor. That’s not surprising. Martin doesn’t have much time left to get up to speed on the case. But we hope that next judge takes a good look at the case and concludes that this is one that needs a thorough airing.

We need to know what went so horribly wrong.

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