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In stunning reversal, judge rules man won’t get new trial in Jon Burge-tainted case

Reed was granted a new trial in 2018, but a new judge assigned to his case said Friday he should stay in prison.

Flanked by supporters, Armanda Shackleford, mother of Gerald Reed, cries as she speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Friday morning, Feb. 14, 2020. A Cook County judge overturned an order granting Reed a new trial for a 1990 double-murder.
Flanked by supporters, Armanda Shackleford, mother of Gerald Reed, cries as she speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Friday morning, Feb. 14, 2020. A Cook County judge overturned an order granting Reed a new trial for a 1990 double-murder.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

More than a year after a Cook County judge threw out Gerald Reed’s conviction for a 1990 double-murder, a different judge Friday reversed that decision and ordered Reed back to prison to serve out his life sentence.

The order by Judge Thomas Hennelly undoes an order mandating a new trial for Reed based on allegations he was beaten by Chicago police detectives working for former Cmdr. Jon Burge.

A throng of Reed’s supporters filed out of Hennelly’s courtroom Friday after the hearing and chanted “Free Gerald Reed” as they marched to the courthouse lobby. Leaning over a walker in front of klatch of reporters’ microphones, Reed’s mother Armanda Shackleford wept.

“I never would have thought that this judge would do what he did today,” she said.

Judge Thomas Gainer retired the week after he granted Reed a new trial in December 2018, ruling that medical records discovered decades after Reed was convicted of the murders of Willie Williams and Pamela Powers provided proof of Reed’s abuse claims. After inheriting the case from Gainer, Hennelly announced he was going to dive into transcripts and records collected over the 28 years Reed has spent behind bars.

Courtroom observers said Hennelly made clear he did not believe Reed’s claims of abuse, though the ruling was based on his belief that Gainer’s order barred only a verbal statement to detectives, not a written confession. Since prosecutors never used the verbal statement — Reed had denied involvement in the killings — at trial, Hennelly ruled that Gainer’s decision to bar the remarks wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the trial.

Reed’s attorney Elliot Zinger said Gainer believed the written confession, too, was problematic when he vacated two murder convictions and ordered a new trial.

“Obviously, Gainer meant both confessions were the result of torture. This is not an issue raised by the special prosecutor about Judge Gainer’s ruling. Where does it come from that Gerald’s right to a new trial has evaporated, and now he’s basically called a perjurer and sent back to the penitentiary?”

Hennelly cited a ruling last month by Judge William Hooks upholding the conviction of George Anderson, a case that was also tainted by the involvement of detectives who worked with Burge. Hooks said Anderson had lied about being beaten into confessing to two murders, hoping to “ghost ride” on similar allegations against Burge and his men and get a new trial.

Special Prosecutor Robert Milan had said even without Reed’s confessions, there was ample evidence that Reed committed the murders, including witnesses who said Reed had bragged about killing Powers and Williams and ballistics evidence linking him to the murder weapon.

“There is extensive evidence supporting Mr. Reed’s guilt regarding these crimes. Too often in our criminal justice system, the victims and their families are overlooked,” Milan said in a statement Friday. “We hope that today’s ruling provides some relief to the families of Pamela Powers and Willie Williams.”