Alleged shooter in 2011 Chicago cop killing seeks new judge to rule on motion for a new trial

Alexander Villa, awaiting sentencing after a 2019 trial verdict, has said police and prosecutors hid evidence from his lawyers.

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Chicago police officer Clifton Lewis

Officer Clifton Lewis was moonlighting as a security guard at an Austin convenience store to save money for his wedding when he was gunned down in 2011 during a robbery.

Sun-Times (file)

A month after prosecutors dropped charges against his two co-defendants in the 2011 slaying of Chicago Police Officer Clifton Lewis, a man found guilty of fatally shooting the veteran officer has asked for a new judge to handle his bid for a new trial.

Lawyers arguing post-trial motions for Alexander Villa, who is awaiting sentencing more than three years after he was found guilty in Lewis’ murder, allege that Judge James Linn has been pressuring them to close out the case ahead of Linn’s retirement next month, and that the judge is ignoring evidence that prosecutors and police withheld key evidence from Villa’s trial attorneys.

The motion for a new judge will be heard by Judge Timothy Joyce, who is supervising judge over Linn. A longtime order maintained by the presiding judges at the courthouse states that supervising judges select which courtroom will hear motions to substitute judges.

At a hearing Wednesday, Joyce did not seem inclined to delve too deeply into allegations of bias and improper conduct by Linn. Joyce balked at a request by Villa attorney Jennifer Blagg that the judge read her 140-page motion for a new trial, as well as a supplement to that filing and transcripts showing purportedly biased statements by Linn.

“If you think I’m going to read a stack of documents that may run more than 500 pages, that’s not going to happen,” Joyce told Blagg. “I can’t imagine any such issue in this case would require me to do that.”

Joyce set the next hearing on the motion for Aug. 3.

Blagg and co-counsel Eric Bisby have turned up what they say is crucial evidence that was held back by investigators handling the yearslong investigation into Lewis’ slaying, including cellphone data that shows Villa and co-defendants Tyrone Clay and Edgardo Colon were nowhere near the scene when Lewis was gunned down.

The judge presiding over Colon and Clay’s cases, Erica Reddick, had appeared frustrated to learn of the new evidence, and ordered a sweeping release of thousands of records and reports related to the investigation. The two assistant state’s attorneys who had handled the Lewis case since 2011 were pulled from the case this spring without explanation.

Prosecutors dropped Clay and Colon’s cases in June, on the morning of a hearing at which the former lead prosecutors on the case and multiple detectives had been subpoenaed to testify.

Lewis was working off-duty as a security guard at M&M Quick Foods, an Austin convenience store not far from the home he shared with his longtime girlfriend. Lewis, who had taken the job to earn extra money for a wedding celebration, had proposed just days before two masked men — allegedly Clay and Villa — burst into the store and opened fire. Clay and Colon were arrested weeks later and confessed, but those statements were thrown out as evidence by an appeals court that found police had continued interrogating both men after they had asked for an attorney.

Colon, who had been convicted and sentenced to more than 80 years in prison, was granted a new trial and released on bond before the charges were dropped. Clay had spent 12 years in jail awaiting trial.

Tyrone Clay Cook County Jail

Tyrone Clay leaves Cook County Jail on June 21 surrounded by family and attorneys. Clay was accused of shooting Chicago Police Officer Clifton Lewis in a 2011 robbery. Prosecutors dropped the charges before a hearing in which detectives and prosecutors were to be questioned about their failure to turn over exculpatory evidence.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Villa’s lawyers said that in a meeting in chambers July 12, Linn told prosecutors not to turn over records to Villa’s lawyers despite an agreement that they would get copies of the same documents that were to be turned over to Clay and Colon before their cases were dropped. Linn also had not printed out copies of Villa’s lengthy motion for a new trial, which was filed in September.

Citing a purported example of Linn’s impatience, Villa’s attorneys quoted the judge in an April 2022 hearing in which he “praised” prosecutors for “putting up with” the expansive discovery requests.

“I know you are exhausted from this, and I am starting to get exhausted, too,” Linn said. “All cases come to an end, and this case will come to an end also, just like every other case does.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that Judge James Linn is a supervising judge. He is not. The story also said that Linn assigned Judge Timothy Joyce to hear a motion for a new judge. He did not.

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