Gentle readers, remember back when former Illinois Governor (and now convicted felon) George Ryan ordered a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois because of the “wrongful” conviction of David Porter? Porter of course, was the man convicted of a double murder and sentenced to death row. The Northwestern University’s “Innocence Project” supposedly found the truly guilty man and worked tirelessly to spring Porter from death row, citing police misconduct in the original case.
Porter was released, and later pardoned by Ryan, thanks to journalistic malpractice. Another man, Alstory Simon, testified in open court that indeed he was the killer of the two people.
But it all fell apart. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez released Simon from prison and he is now suing Northwest University, members of its so-called “Innocence Project” and others for $40 million in a wrongful conviction lawsuit, claiming Northwestern Professor David Protess and his private investigator coerced a confession from him in their quest to spring David Porter. Alvarez said in open court that if the statute of limitations hadn’t expired, Professor David Protess and his investigator would be facing criminal charges for their actions.
But it was all made possible by the “make a name for yourself, the truth be damned” Chicago Reader reporter John Conroy and his co-conspirators in the Chicago media. In fact, Conroy’s reporting on Northwestern University’s “Innocence” Project was the high water mark of his career.
And thanks to more scrupulous reporters, it’s all unraveling around him and may prove to be the low-mark of his life.
Read this story by Martin Prieb about the journalistic malpractice that is so commonplace in Chicago’s media. It’s what happens when unethical, shoddy reporters are more concerned with promoting an agenda than the truth.
It’ll take a few minutes, but it’s impressive.
We’ll leave you with a tease:
It was the worst crime scene many detectives had ever seen. A building had caught fire on the south side of Chicago in January of 1987. Seven people trapped inside died, including a mother and her child on the third floor. More than a dozen other people were seriously injured, some with burns and some with broken bones from jumping out of windows to escape the flames.
There were several ambulances, fire engines everywhere. Neighbors came out with blankets and shoes. Police arrived. Eventually, many of them relocated to the hospitals and the morgue to begin collecting evidence and statements.
In short time, investigators determined the fire was an arson. An unknown offender had poured accelerant outside apartment 301, the dwelling where the woman and her child died. The seven people who died really didn’t have a chance. They died cornered by the flames fast approaching them.
Eventually, police visited the man who was the father/husband of the woman and child who had died together in apartment 301. His name was Madison Hobley. Somehow Hobley had escaped the flames, though his wife and child didn’t. Originally contacted as a potential witness, Hobley’s conflicting statements drew the suspicion of the detectives, who read Hobley his rights and asked him to take a lie detector test, which he failed. Hobley then admitted to the crimes twice, saying he set the fire because his wife would not let Hobley’s mistress live with them in the same household.
Throughout their interactions with Hobley, the detectives were impressed with how little emotion he demonstrated after just losing his own wife and son.
Hobley would be sent to death row, joining a group of men later known as the Death Row 10. These men would claim they were tortured into confessing to their various crimes. Some would get out of prison, including Hobley.
Eventually, Hobley would settle for $6 million with the City of Chicago.
Of all the wrongful conviction cases, Hobley’s was in many ways the most incredible. One day he is convicted of seven murders and is sent to death row, the next he is a multi-millionaire.
The main journalist who took up Hobley’s claims of innocence—the journalist whose influence helped spring Hobley and make him rich—was a reporter from the Chicago Reader, John Conroy. In many ways, Conroy’s articles about Hobley marked the climax of his career.
Before taking up the Hobley case, Conroy had written articles throughout the 1980s and 1990s at the Reader claiming a group of detectives, led by Jon Burge, were a collection of racist thugs. These detectives had, according to Conroy, beaten confessions out of guilty and innocent men alike, even electrocuted them. According to Conroy’s articles, Burge and his men really didn’t care if the man they identified as the perpetrator was guilty or innocent.
Conroy enjoyed a long relationship with wrongful conviction law firms, his articles filled with their quotes and claims about cases. Despite these regular articles at the Reader, Conroy’s articles never resulted in any conviction of Burge or his men. In fact, none of Burge’s men had ever been convicted in a criminal case or lost a civil trial in connection with abuse allegations against them.
That is not to say Conroy’s articles didn’t have a huge impact. His relentless drum beats against Burge and his men eventually pushed the claims against Burge to a hearing in front of the Police Board, a collection of civilians who have the power to hire and fire police officers. At the end of these police board hearings where Conroy’s theories of police torture were given full expression, Burge was fired and two of his men were suspended for 15 months. The two underlings eventually returned to work, but Burge never did.
Burge’s firing provided a legitimacy to the claims of torture against him. It was huge achievement for Conroy and the Chicago Reader.
There was another crucial body of evidence generated against Burge and his men. After Burge’s firing, a special prosecutor was convened. This special prosecutor ultimately published a report on their findings. The report concluded systemic abuse had taken place among Burge’s men, but stated the statute of limitations had run out. Burge and his men could not be indicted, it said.
With Burge’s firing, the special prosecutor’s report, and the claims of dozens of gangbangers and killers, Conroy became an icon in the Chicago journalism community, in particular at the Chicago Reader. He wrote books, gave speeches about police torture.