Time and again, a second look at the “investigations” that led to a so-called wrongful conviction reveals there often wasn’t any investigation at all.
Such was the case when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist William Crawford dissected the exoneration of Anthony Porter in 1999. Crawford discovered that Northwestern investigators admitted under oath that they never even bothered to interview four witnesses who fingered Porter for the murders, chronicled in Crawford's book, Justice Perverted: How The Innocence Project at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism Sent an Innocent Man to Prison.
Of the two remaining witnesses, one was dead and Northwestern investigators are accused of browbeating the other into changing his story.
Despite this absence of any real investigation, Anthony Porter was released from prison.
And just a few weeks ago, an investigator at the city agency that investigates police misconduct, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), made a stunning admission about his investigation into the claims of torture against Jon Burge and his men. In the course of writing his groundbreaking report, Michael Goldston admitted under oath that he never spoke to any detectives or witnesses tied to Burge cases.
The admission by Goldston questions the validity of a report long held as a key piece of evidence in the anti-Burge mythology. It is cited in almost every wrongful conviction claim by attorneys trying to spring a killer or rapist from prison. These attorneys claim that Goldston’s work cites a pattern of abuse by Burge and his men.
When Goldston’s report was published decades ago, the head of Office of Professional Standards at the time, Gayle Shines, praised it, saying, “Both investigators [Michael Goldston and Francine Sanders] have done a masterful job of marshalling the facts in this intensive and extensive project and their conclusions are compelling.”
But Goldston’s July 12 testimony paints a starkly different pictures from anything that could be called “intensive” or “extensive.”
Goldston’s testimony arose from an evidentiary hearing in which yet another convicted killer, James Gibson, claimed he was tortured into confessing to a 1989 murder of an insurance agent and a mechanic.
In this evidentiary hearing, attorneys for Gibson, Joel Brodsky and Chris Bruckman, attempted to introduce the Goldston report as evidence bolstering their claim that Gibson was abused. But special prosecutors Brian Stefanich and Myles O’Rourke fought allowing the report as evidence, saying it amounted to little more than hearsay.
Goldston was called to the stand.
And, just like the testimony of Northwestern investigators in the Porter case when they admitted they never even bothered to talk to more than half the witnesses, the validity of Goldston’s “investigation” immediately fell apart.
Consider this testimony under questioning by one of the attorneys representing Gibson:
Q. And the investigation…in your investigation, what sources did you look at and who did you interview?
A. There were a number of sources. I couldn’t tell you exhaustively hat they were, not off the top of my head. And I did no actual interviews of any individuals who were indentified in my project.
Q. There were allegations against certain detectives, correct?
Q. So you did interview those detectives, correct?
A. No, sir.
Q. There were certain complainants, correct?
Q. You did interview those complainants, correct?
A. No, sir.
Q. Why not?
A. Because I was told not to.
Q. Who told you not to?
A. Whoever was monitoring, overseeing Francine [Sanders] and myself at the time.
Q. But did you interview witnesses other than those people?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did you talk to State’s Attorneys?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did you talk to public defenders?
Even the attorney representing the man trying to get out of prison seems taken back by the lack of any real investigation in Goldston’s report. Goldston admits he spoke to no detectives, no complainants, no witnesses, no prosecutors and no public defenders.
What “intensive” and “extensive” investigation?
What came next was even more alarming.
Goldston admits that the basis of his investigation into Burge was an article by a local journalist, John Conroy, at the Chicago Reader magazine, a reporter with an extraordinary bias against the police and a suspiciously cozy relationship with wrongful conviction law firms, particularly the People’s Law Office.
Neither Conroy, nor any other journalist at the Reader, ever observed any of the misconduct at Northwestern that has come to light in the Porter case and others. Since the implosion of the Anthony Porter exoneration, new questions are arising about Conroy’s objectivity and his own investigative methods in numerous other cases, including the Madison Hobley case.
Under oath, Goldston admits not only that he never interviewed any of the central figures in the cases, but that, based largely on Conroy’s articles, he merely re-interpreted the massive amount of documents associated with the cases.
Here’s what Goldston said under oath:
Q. Well, how did you conduct your investigation?
A. Well, as I recall, I started with an article that appeared in the Chicago Reader newspaper, and that article was about a number of individuals who had make allegations of being—of having confession coerced from them and being tortured at Area 2. And what I did was, I sought whatever sources I could to learn as much as possible and went from there.
Q. For example, then, did you look at the Corporation Counsel’s [city attorneys] files on the cases where there had been civil suits?
Q. Did you look at the—did you read the depositions in those civil suits?
Q. Did you also look at the police department files and reports in the cases where there were allegations of abuse?
Q. Did you also look at the State’s Attorneys files in those cases?
Q. Did you also look at the Public Defender’s files in those cases?
Q. Did you read the transcripts of the hearings and trials in those cases?
Q. Did you look at the court files in those cases?
Q. Were there any other sources of evidence that you can recall?
A. Not off the top of my head….
But here’s the problem. All those sources were already on record and had largely been reviewed in other disciplinary and legal proceedings. OPS had cleared Burge in two previous investigations and lawyers from the PLO had sued Burge twice civilly, and lost. So Goldston, without actually interviewing anyone, takes a second look at the record and comes to a contrary conclusion, based in large part upon one article in the Chicago Reader.
This is an investigation?
Wrongful conviction lawyers often speak as if the case against Jon Burge and his men is unequivocal, but the truth is that many informed people in the city are highly skeptical about the claims of abuse in case after case. Many lawyers in city believe many of the men they have exonerated are guilty.
Special Prosecutors Brian Stefanich and Myles O’Rourke, for example, seem highly doubtful about the legitimacy of Goldston’s report in their questioning of him. Their willingness to contest Gibson’s innocence claims also seems to indicate they aren’t buying his abuse claims.
O’Rourke asks Goldston about the fact that convicted criminals often manufacture false claims of abuse.
“I know that individuals under those circumstances have made allegations against the police,” Goldston said.
“And you found on occasion that some of those allegations were either unsustained or unfounded, correct?” O’Rourke asked.
“Yes,” Goldston admitted.
O’Rourke then confronts Goldston with the fact that in these cases the vast majority of motions to suppress confessions based upon abuse claims were rejected in the courts.
O’Rourke next makes one of the more obvious and telling points, the fact that as Goldston was researching and writing the report, many attorneys for the inmates claiming they were abused had civil lawsuits pending in the federal courts. A report concluding that Burge and his men abused the individuals could win millions of dollars in settlements for these attorneys and their convicted clients.
O’Rourke further notes that Goldston’s report was reviewed by an independent commission, a “police foundation review team.” O’Rourke reveals that this commission said the report “failed to meet the minimal standard of what would be required of an adequate investigation of this type.” (Like actually interviewing people involved in the cases?)
O’Rourke confronts Goldston about a mass killer named Leonard Kidd, citing a special prosecutor’s report that concluded Kidd’s claims of police abuse were ludicrous.
And so it goes. Under the scrutiny of prosecutors, Goldston reveals he didn’t do any investigation at all, just as Northwestern “investigators” admitted in a 1999 grand jury hearing that they never bothered to interview witnesses or detectives. If the Northwestern investigators had interviewed them, it is likely Porter never would have been exonerated.
Goldston’s testimony is another potential black eye for the Illinois Torture and Relief Commission (TIRC). A state-supported agency that ostensibly reviews torture claims against Burge and his men, TIRC has been under fire by family members of the murder victims, who have complained that TIRC is comprised of many stalwart wrongful conviction attorneys and activists and has routinely violated its mandate. It was TIRC, not the courts, that resurrected Gibson’s torture claims and provided him with another chance to be released from a brutal double murder.
Reports like Goldston’s, which claimed a pattern of abuse by Burge and his men, paved the way for the establishment of TIRC. But with an admission by the report’s author himself that there was little real investigation conducted, just how legitimate are the conclusions of TIRC? Just how legitimate is the agency itself?
In other words, is TIRC, like Northwestern, releasing bona fide killers on uninvestigated claims of innocence?
Is this what TIRC members and their supporters would call justice and civil rights?