U.S. request could block evidence in probe of Chicago cop’s murder

Federal prosecutors say it might violate law to release files from a massive joint investigation launched with CPD in the wake of Officer Clifton Lewis shooting.

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Chicago police officers carry the casket of Officer Clifton Lewis, who was gunned down while working as a security guard at an Austin convenience store in 2011.

Sun-Times Media

In back-to-back hearings at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday, a pair of judges each expressed impatience with delays in the cases of three men charged in the decade-old murder of Chicago police Officer Clifton Lewis.

Judge Erica Reddick scolded lawyers for the department after they claimed federal prosecutors had effectively blocked the release of a trove of records subpoenaed by attorneys for alleged gunman Tyrone Clay and getaway driver Edgardo Colon.

Minutes later and a few floors up, Judge James Linn quashed similar subpoenas in deference to federal prosecutors, and warned lawyers seeking a new trial for convicted shooter Alexander Villa to prepare to make their case with evidence they’ve already uncovered.

At issue were files related to Operation Snake Doctor, a wide-ranging takedown effort targeting Villa and other Spanish Cobra gang members that was launched by Chicago police and federal law enforcement after Lewis was gunned down during a robbery at an Austin convenience store.

Lawyers for Villa this year learned of the operation by combing through some 35,000 pages of emails turned over by the department in response to a public records request. Those emails, they say, showed CPD and prosecutors never turned over information about alternate suspects, arrests and interrogations of Cobras to defense lawyers.

Christina Hake presented Reddick with a letter from the U.S. attorney’s office, warning that releasing information on the investigation, which began in 2012, might violate federal law. Lawyers for the city and defendants are expected to file a joint motion to have a federal judge review case files to release more documents.

Reddick insisted the city still provide any files related to Lewis’ murder— but not the Snake Doctor probe — by Monday. When Hake asked for more time, Reddick, who six weeks ago ordered CPD and the state’s attorney to go “to the outer limits” to retrieve nearly any record related to the Lewis case in November, was curt.

“We only just got the specific records [request] today, to be fair,” Hake said.

“We don’t want to talk about ‘fair’ with all the time that’s been expended here,” Reddick said, noting that Colon and Clay had been charged nearly a decade ago.

Presented with the same letter from the U.S. attorney, Judge James Linn on Wednesday quashed more than a dozen subpoenas from Villa’s lawyers.

Villa’s lawyers are seeking to overturn his 2019 conviction, and claim to have uncovered critical pieces of evidence they say were not in the police files turned over by prosecutors ahead of Villa’s trial, including a cellphone analysis that showed the three men’s phones were nowhere near the shooting scene when Lewis was shot, and police interviews that showed alternate suspects — one of whom failed a lie detector test when questioned.

Linn ruled that a final hearing on Villa’s motion for a new trial would proceed in February, without waiting to see what records might come to light in Colon and Clay’s case. Villa has not yet been sentenced.

Colon was found guilty in 2017 and sentenced to 84 years in prison — but he is now free on bond after an appeals court ruled he was interrogated by police after he requested a lawyer multiple times. Clay’s trial has been stalled by litigation over his confession, which an appeals court threw out after finding it was obtained after he asked for a lawyer.

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