After they’d filled every last seat in the courtroom, they squeezed into the aisles, some sitting on the floor, blue-shirted police officers and Occupy Chicago protesters and bow-tied members of the Nation of Islam.
All the doors of Judge Clayton Crane’s room were thrown open so every last supporter of a black railroad police officer shot by Chicago Police in 2005 – and of the four white officers he’s been convicted of trying to kill – also could bear witness in the hallways.
Howard Morgan, 61, faced up to 80 years in prison.
By the end of a traffic stop on Feb. 21, 2005, at 19th and Lawndale, he had 28 bullet wounds in his body. Three of the four responding officers also had been shot, though none had life-threatening wounds.
Police said Morgan became uncooperative while they were trying to handcuff him, grabbed an unregistered Glock 9mm handgun and opened fire, unloading 17 rounds at them.
His first jury acquitted him in 2007 of aggravated battery and discharging his weapon but deadlocked on four attempted murder charges against the officers. He was retried in January despite his claims of double jeopardy – of being tried again for a crime he was acquitted of. That second jury convicted him of four counts of attempted murder.
At the time of the shooting, Morgan was employed as a patrolman for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, a job he took after 8 ½ years with the Chicago Police Department, said his attorney, Randolph N. Stone. He has no other criminal history, Stone said, quoting from a letter written by the Rev. Jesse Jackson asking Crane to “temper justice with mercy.”
But Assistant State’s Attorney Dan Groth called Morgan a “sociopath” for trying to murder four uniformed police officers.
“Society needs to be protected from him,” he said.
Officer Eric White told the judge he drove his wounded partner, Officer Nicholas Olsen, to the hospital.
“By the grace of God, all of us, including Howard Morgan, survived that morning,” he read from a victim-impact statement.
“The bullet fragment in my leg doesn’t really bother me. The one I heard and felt whiz past my left ear that gives me nightmares, and watching as he shot John Wrigley in the chest will torment me forever,” he read.
Wrigley said he survived that shot to the chest thanks to a bulletproof vest. He spoke directly to Morgan.
“What is so reprehensible, Mr. Morgan, is that you have shown no remorse or accountability in regards to your actions and choices that night. In fact, you have done the opposite. You attempted to hide behind the racial fears of our community.
“After all the evidence and testimony was heard, you were rightfully convicted,” he continued. “You are a fraud, Mr. Morgan.”
Morgan made no apology, no plea for mercy to the judge. He spoke of his 21 years of work in law enforcement and insisted he was attacked.
“God bless my wife and family, and it’s all in God’s hands, and I have nothing else to say, thank you.”
The judge did not believe Morgan’s account.
“I have no idea what possessed your actions that night,” he told Morgan.
The room’s silence held. Crane then delivered his sentence: 40 years.
The police and their union head filed out the side doors, many congratulating and shaking the hands of Wrigley, White, Olsen and Officer Timothy Finley, who was not wounded that night.
Rosalind Morgan watched deputies walk her husband back to the jail where he’s been kept since the verdict. As soon as the hearing was over, she shoved a small checkbook at his attorney, saying, “Have Howard sign these.”
Stone flipped the book open: How many?
“All of them,” she replied on her way out to speak with reporters.
Morgan and her daughters and pastor and their friends lamented the judge’s decision in the courthouse lobby.
The judge never considered her husband’s law enforcement career, she said. He’s a man of God, a father and grandfather, and he was already acquitted during the first trial, she said, of the gun charges.
“I’m highly offended and disappointed,” she said. “My heart is breaking.
“If double jeopardy doesn’t apply to Mr. Morgan, then who?” she wondered, crying.
“This wall of injustice must come down.”