Illinois appeals court rejects exonerated man’s certificate of innocence

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Wayne Washington spent 11 years in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. He was 20 years old in 1993, when Cook County prosecutors indicted him and his co-accused, Tyrone Hood, with the murder of Marshall Morgan Jr. Morgan, a student and outstanding basketball player at the Illinois Institute of Technology, was found lifeless. in an abandoned car on the south side of Chicago.

Washington, now in his 40s and father of 12, maintains that two Chicago police detectives beat him until he confessed to the crime, and that he only agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a 25-year sentence in 1996 so that he “still has a chance to live.” He was paroled in 2007, but lived for years with the stigma of being a convicted murderer.

However, a survey published in 2014 by the New Yorker uncovered evidence that Morgan’s father was the likely culprit and brought more attention to the case. Cook County State Attorney’s Office overturned Washington’s conviction a year later and dismissed the charges against him – shortly after Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn commuted Hood’s 75-year sentence.

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While Washington’s conviction has been overturned, he still fights an uphill battle for a Certificate of Innocence, a document that would clear his record, formally acknowledge his innocence and wrongful conviction, and allow him to seek financial restitution from the State. Karl Leonard, an attorney who represented Hood in his request for the certificate, said the documents can also help people heal psychologically after wrongful conviction.

“The statement from the people who sent you to jail that we made a mistake greatly helps people cope with what happened to them,” Leonard said.

Washington applied for a certificate in 2015. Associate Cook County Circuit Court judge Domenica A. Stephenson denied his request. He and his lawyer, Steven Greenberg, therefore appealed to the First District Court of Appeal. But on Monday, the appeals court upheld Stephenson’s ruling on the 2-1 decision supported by appeals judges Mary Ellen Coghlan and Daniel James Pierce. (Coghlan was recently retained by voters in Cook County in the 2020 election, and Pierce is set to be retained in 2022.)

Monday’s result, and the Circuit Court ruling before it, did not focus on Washington’s innocence. Instead, the judges cited a technicality in state law to claim that he willfully brought about his conviction when he pleaded guilty.

The First District Appeal Courthouse at 160 N. LaSalle St., Chicago.

Appeals Judge Carl Anthony Walker wrote a dissent departing from the interpretation and warning of his colleagues on the broader implications of their opinion, writing that “wrongful convictions and accusations like these can devastating families, blocking career opportunities and undermining the integrity of our justice system. “

“Washington deserves the state’s help in recovering from the consequences of police offenses against it,” wrote Walker, which Cook County voters withheld in the 2018 election. the majority of this aid continues the difficulty associated with too many wrongful accusations against blacks and browns. “

Greenberg said he was “pissed off” when he read the majority opinion. He believes the appeals court violated the spirit of the certificate of innocence.

“The purpose of the law is to right a wrong, to compensate those who have suffered because they have been trapped,” said Greenberg. “And no one disputes that Wayne was trapped.”

“If you are beaten in confession, it does not seem very voluntary to me”

Washington declined to be interviewed for this article.

“He doesn’t mean anything other than that he feels like a victim again,” Greenberg wrote in a text message to Injustice Watch.

Washington was in a convenience store on the south side several days after Morgan’s body was discovered when Kenneth Boudreau and John Halloran, the two Chicago police detectives, arrested him and Hood and took them to the police station for questioning, according to an article in the National Register of Exemptions.

Washington initially denied any involvement in Morgan’s murder, but later confessed to the crime, according to an ongoing investigation. civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago. The lawsuit claims police punched and slapped Washington while he was handcuffed, and that police said another man implicated him in Morgan’s murder – until he agreed to sign confession.

Court records show the alleged informant and other supposed witnesses later recanted, saying detectives coerced them into supporting the case against Washington and Hood. Boudreau and Halloran, who worked under former Cmdr. Jon Burge, faced multiple misconduct charges for beating suspects to obtain confessions.

Before Washington pleaded guilty in 1996, Hood, who maintained his innocence despite the beatings, was sentenced to 75 years in prison after unsuccessfully defending his cause. The same three-judge panel that denied Washington a certificate of innocence recently granted Hood one because he had never pleaded guilty or confessed to the crime.

The majority opinion issued by the appeals court on Monday, written by Pierce, dismissed Washington’s petition “not because the petitioner has failed to prove his innocence,” but because Washington’s case did not answer one of the many requirements for granting a Certificate of Innocence in Illinois.

Specifically, Coghlan and Pierce argued that Washington was not eligible for the certificate “because, by his own conduct, he willfully brought about his own conviction by making a statement to the police and pleading guilty.”

The only dissenting judge, Walker, argued that Washington should not be excluded from his certificate because his confession was physically coerced into him and he did not deliberately try to mislead detectives.

Walker dispute that an accused’s decision to plead guilty often has nothing to do with his guilt. He cited case law suggesting that the criminal justice system encourages people to engage in a “cost-benefit assessment” in the hope of securing a more lenient but unavoidable sentence.

In other words: many defendants might not risk running a case and getting a harsher sentence, even if they are innocent.

Leonard hopes the decision in Washington’s case will prompt legislative changes to the way certificates are issued. He thinks there needs to be a better definition of what “willful” means to bring about conviction.

“If you are beaten in confession it doesn’t seem very voluntary to me, and if you find yourself in a situation where you feel your only choices are to plead guilty or spend your life in jail, it doesn’t seem very voluntary for you. neither do I, ”Leonard said.

Greenberg has said he intends to take their fight to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“They will definitely hear this one,” he said.

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