By Dustin Seibert
In Chicago Lawyer, we spent the last 11 months profiling Cook County's state's attorney's office and public defender's office. Our goal has been to show a side of both offices that readers might not see in the traditional daily newspapers or through pop culture's portrayal of the offices.
After 10 stories and one photo essay showing how these attorneys balance work with life outside of the courtroom, one story needed to be told: The story about the people of Cook County, who these lawyers dedicate their careers to serving.
With every homicide case the two offices face off on, there is at least one accused and, quite often, several victims. Without the dedication of the attorneys in these offices, criminals may roam free to kill again or the wrong people could suffer for crimes they didn't commit. There are countless stories swirling about and here are just a few.
A recent Saturday morning saw a meeting room at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum transformed into a somber event to remember the dead.
Cardboard foldouts stood about 2 feet high displaying nearly 5,000 pictures of homicide victims from across Cook County. On the corner of each table of pictures were boxes of Kleenex, depleted by the family members who weaved around the tables of pictures to find their family and friends.
The scene, from the state's attorney's office's annual Homicide Victim's Memorial Service, reminds people that violence does not discriminate. People of all races and ages shed tears as they looked at the equally diverse pictures on the board.
Pamela Green (left), shared a hug with Natalie Solava, Cook County state's attorney's office's victim witness assistant specialist, during the event. Green's only daughter was murdered.
Photo by Natalie Battaglia.
This September marked the 22nd anniversary of the event. Pamela Green has attended every year for the past 12 years in memory of her daughter, Dannyel Freeman.
Freeman came home for the 1994 holiday season from medical school at University of Southern Mississippi, where she planned to graduate the following spring.
Green said gang members approached her daughter and nephew in their car and insisted they pay for the right to walk down the street they were on. When she laughed them off, one of them shot her. She lived for 11 days, dying Jan. 11, 1995.
To this day, Green does not celebrate New Year's Eve.
She said she personally set out on a successful mission to find her daughter's killers after what she believes might have been a racially motivated lack of attention to her case.
"I hunted them down. I faxed (former Mayor Richard M.) Daley a letter over a 100 times a day. I had to let them know where they were," she said. "I didn't feel they were looking for her as much as they would have had she been a white honor roll student on her way to medical school."
Green and her family endured several trials and appeals for her daughter's accused killers because, she said, the judge exhibited prejudice toward one of the gang members as he leveled a prison sentence. The shooter currently serves a 60-year sentence after a second trial.
"The trial was horrendous; I wouldn't put that on my worst enemy," she said. "She was my only child, and to have to go through that, and look at the perpetrators smirk all during the trial. My family had to be put out of the court every day."
She spoke glowingly of the assistant state's attorneys who helped her through the ordeal, simultaneously hugging one of the Victim Witness Assistance Unit staff members at the memorial.
Someone from the unit recommended she start attending the memorial in the late 1990s.
"I have so many wonderful people who were with me during four trials. I have to recommend them because they were very helpful," she said. "(The assistant state's attorneys) were so marvelous … they were determined to get a guilty verdict."
Green circled the meeting room in search of her daughter's picture. After asking a few questions, she discovered that her daughter's picture was lost when a water main broke in the state's attorney's office and flooded the storage area in summer 2010. The realization brought on tears from her and one of the memorial organizers.
However, there's no likelihood that this setback will prevent Green from coming to the event again with her daughter's school friends in tow, each wearing a customized T-shirt to commemorate their lost companion.
"We're all here for the same thing … we've all lost a loved one through some tragedy. It's very emotional, but it gives us all a chance to grieve together," Green said. "Everybody's family does something special on an anniversary, but this is nice they all get a chance once a year to come together."
A way to cope
Freda Wright came to the memorial service with several family members, old and young, each wearing "In Loving Memory" shirts. She maintained her composure until she reached the photos of her older sister, Donna Wright, and Donna's son, Jerome.
And then the tears started while recounting her reason for being there.
On May 7, 2001, Donna asked her boyfriend, Tony White, to leave her house following a dispute. Before leaving, White recovered a 9mm handgun from underneath a mattress and stole her keys, she said. He remained outside the home for 30 minutes, waiting for her to fall asleep. He then went back in and shot Donna and Jerome, she said.
Freda Wright of Chicago talked about the deaths of her sister and nephew, while looking at their photos during the Cook County state's attorney's office's memorial service. "We didn't think it would work, the law. But it did," Wright said.
Photo by Natalie Battaglia.
Donna died instantly. Wounded in one of his eyes, Jerome suffered brain damage and was placed in a medically induced coma. He lived for a year before dying in a nursing home from a seizure.
Wright said Jerome's injuries prevented him from grieving properly, even though he knew his mother died.
"There was nothing we could do but cry for him because he couldn't grieve," she said. "We were blessed to get back the Jerome we got, but he wasn't the same."
Wright said the assistant state's attorneys handled the case with care and diligence, obtaining White's conviction in 2007 and working successfully to quash the defense's claims of insanity.
"He spent two years in a nuthouse trying to get away, but the state's attorney persevered … all the evidence was there," she said. "If you waited outside for 30 minutes to come back in and catch her while she's sleeping, you knew what you were doing. He was in his right mind."
Wright said her sister's killer is in Menard Correctional Center, where he will likely remain for the rest of his life. Last summer, he tried to get his case retried and was denied.
"I never want to see him again," she said. "I don't want him to ever look me in the face and think what he did was OK."
Attending the memorial every year is Wright's way of coping with the pain along with others who also experienced loss, she said. She will always make an effort to get to the event.
"We didn't think the law would work, but it did," she said. "The Lord makes no mistakes. We have to deal with it, but we also have to forgive in order to go on."
The family and friends congregated in the pavilion's main auditorium for a 45-minute vigil with video clips, a candle-lighting ceremony to honor the dead and speakers including Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Norman Golliday served as the vigil's keynote speaker. He is the grandfather of Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old Fenger High School student who made national headlines when an amateur video recording of his fatal beating in an after-school gang fight was played countless times on television and the Internet.
An honor student and an innocent bystander, the teen got caught in the middle of a brawl that many people saw unfold. For many, it made him a symbol of senseless gang violence. Three of the four young men convicted in the youth's killing have been sentenced to no less than 25 years behind bars.
Norman Golliday, grandfather of Derrion Albert, who was beaten to death, lit a candle for his grandson after making remarks during the Cook County state's attorney's office's 22nd annual memorial service on Sept. 24.
Photo by Natalie Battaglia.
Golliday delivered the speech on Sept. 24 — the second anniversary of his grandson's death.
"It's important that people get to speak for the family that they lose," he said. "The victims themselves … they don't get to say anything. They don't have a voice because they're no longer with us."
He said the memorial is a good example of the state's attorney's continued dedication to his family.
"I think it's a good thing that people come. Since this situation with my grandson, my daughter's got a lot of support … not only from the state's attorney's office but the people that come to this event," he said. "We met some people that have been very helpful and instrumental in our lives and it's important that other people experience this as well."
His family chose him to speak publicly on behalf of the teen. But it's through his work as a substance abuse case manager that he reaches young people to prevent them from winding up in the same place as his grandson or his attackers.
"I try to impress upon them the importance of being mindful and thinking before they act," he said.
A challenging job
Lori Smith served as the vigil's overseer. As the director of the state's attorney's office's Victim Witness Assistance Unit since November 2010, it was her first time as memorial director.
To prepare, Smith took two days to sift through each of the thousands of pictures posted as well as sitting in on a handful of homicide trials and working with the support groups within the unit to provide assistance after the memorial. She said the process was emotional and humbling.
"My goal was that the memorial be peaceful and respectful and create a space for people to really reflect on their loved ones and bring together a community of sufferers," she said.
The Victim Witness Assistance Unit — part of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau — is designed to serve victims of crime as well as witnesses. Its services range from victim notification, crisis intervention and family support during cases to travel arrangements for family members who wish to be in court. Several members of the unit assisted mourners at the memorial service.
Smith, who oversees about 60 employees, described the type of person that will be successful in the Victim Witness Assistance Unit.
"It takes somebody who's compassionate; who has not only a love for people but a desire to stand with people in the very worst moments in their lives and be able to hold up a flame of hope for them without being frivolous," she said. "It takes people who have a dedication to public service — no one is getting rich off these jobs.
"This work takes a toll … it changes people; they are constantly exposed to the very ugliest realities of our world. It takes people willing to take care of themselves and be vigilant in attending to their own emotional, spiritual and physical health."
Smith has worked in the state's attorney's office in a non-attorney capacity for 15 years. A licensed clinical social worker, she moved into her current position after working with the office's Sexual Crimes Division.
Smith, who is white, said that as the mother of two adopted black children she's aware of the disproportionate number of minorities she encounters in her job.
"While you certainly know that homicide is no respecter of persons, there are an overwhelming number of boys and men of color who are killed," she said. "It makes me reflect on how much I love my own kids and fear for them in this world. Every day I know that turning a right corner with the wrong person there or just driving home, something can happen. Life can be changed forever in the blink of an eye."
Despite the inherent emotional toll, and that her teenage daughter hates her job, Smith said she's content with her position and her life.
"I really believe that the pursuit of justice is a calling for me and I want to help people who are marginalized in any way and the people we serve are multiply marginalized," she said. "Being well-treated and cared for is an important part of people's journey toward dealing."
26 years - gone
In January 1982, Alton Logan was a 28-year-old South Side Chicago resident who, by his own admission, was living a street life with no goals.
But one thing is certain: Logan did not shoot to death a security officer at a McDonald's restaurant. And yet, he did serious time for the crime — 26 years of a life sentence.
Alton Logan posed at his Chicago home on Oct. 6. Logan was exonerated after spending 26 years in prison.
Photo by Natalie Battaglia.
Logan's story involves murder, corruption, racism, guilt, redemption and rebirth. It's one that Hollywood could turn into a script that commands A-list actors. But the essentials of his story are straightforward. Logan was convicted of a murder that another man confessed to shortly after it happened, yet the secret was kept for over a quarter century by people who could do nothing about it.
The defense attorneys of the actual killer, Andrew Wilson, kept a sealed affidavit of Wilson confessing to murdering a security guard. Attorney-client privilege prevented them from coming forward with the affidavit until Wilson's death. He admitted to the murder during a case where he was charged with murdering two police officers a month later.
None of this could save Logan from starting a prison stint that would claim a good part of his life.
"The first five years I was locked up, it was rough for me. I didn't accept that I was locked up for something I knowI didn't do," he said. "Those first five years I was acting a fool. Couldn't nobody tell me nothing, I didn't wanna listen to nobody or nothing."
Logan's defiance resulted in his time in prison becoming a bit harder.
"I was in segregation a lot," he said. "After some years it dawned on me: 'What am I doing? I'm not doing anything to help myself. I'm hurting myself.' That's when I really started 'doing'that unnecessary time."
By "doing" Logan meant obtaining his GED as well as two college vocational certificates in heating and air conditioning, and building maintenance. He also started on an uphill battle to convince people that he was an innocent man, spending time in the prison law library to find any legal recourse he could for his case.
"When you're in the type of environment I was in, everyone claims they're innocent," he said. "You can proclaim your innocence until you're blue in the face and nobody is going to believe you, so I started looking up things myself."
Logan was retried once and convicted again under the guidance of a public defender whom he said knew about the sealed affidavit but could not utilize it. Another retrial, under Assistant Public Defender Harold Winston and former Felony Trial Division Deputy Chief Erica L. Reddick, resulted in his freedom and exoneration in April 2008.
On what it was like to get out of prison after more than a quarter-century, he had a simple response: "lost."
"I had to relearn this city," he said. "I had to relearn the El line, the bus line."
Since 2008, Logan has been engaged in a civil damages lawsuit against the city of Chicago and former Chicago Police Department Cmdr. Jon Burge, claiming that the police department consciously suppressed evidence that would have proven Logan's innocence.
Logan said, despite Wilson's admission, the state's attorney's office did not run a proper investigation. Former Chicago police officer Thomas Bennett testified in 2000 that Burge bragged to him years earlier that he knew Logan didn't kill the security officer.
"I really want what I know I'll never get, which is an apology from the state's attorney at the time … Richard M. Daley," he said. "I want him to admit that everything they did was wrong from Day One. I know I'm not going to get that."
Now 58 years old, Logan is still working on constructing some semblance of a normal life despite a legal battle that will likely rage on for another three or four years. He's currently in school studying construction management. He said he ultimately wants to run a small business rehabilitating houses.
Because similar wrongful conviction cases have yielded a $1 million payout for each year of imprisonment, a successful civil settlement could make Logan a rich man. But the personal losses he experienced on the inside — the passing of his mother, grandmother and other family members, on top of all the years — can't be recaptured.
"No amount of money or apology could ever, ever make up for that time," he said.
Logan's case was a signature career moment for Winston, who handles post-convictions as attorney supervisor for the Legal Resources Division of the public defender's office. Winston appeared on a "60 Minutes"episode discussing Logan's case.
With more than 20 years as an assistant public defender for Cook County, he's now the office's foremost authority on post-conviction cases. He said the laws that left the affidavit sealed for so many years shouldn't even exist.
"(Logan's) mother died, his grandmother died, he could have been stabbed to death in prison. It's just not right," he said. "You don't want an innocent person staying in jail. First of all, it's not right, but it also means a guilty person is running free."
Logan said that if not for the efforts of a few Cook County assistant public defenders who believed in him, he might still be in prison.
"There is nothing, nothing that I wouldn't do for either Harold Winston or Erica Reddick. Period," he said.