Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Illinois's Death Row, Part Nine

Aaron Patterson is another member of the "Death Row 10". He was tortured by Chicago police and brought up on trumped up charges originally in 1986, when he was framed for the double homicide of an elderly couple.

During a 25-hour police interrogation, Aaron was bound, beaten and suffocated by Chicago cops at Area 2 Headquarters. The officers repeatedly pulled a plastic hood over Aaron’s head, threatening to suffocate him. When suffocation didn’t yield a confession from Aaron, Lt. Jon Burge entered the room and threatened him with a gun. He then confessed to the April 1986 stabbing of an elderly couple in Chicago but Patterson never signed the confession and during his interrogation scrawled, "I lie about murders, police threaten me with violence," into a bench with a paper clip.

Aaron was convicted and sentenced to death even though no physical evidence linked him to the crime. In fact, fingerprints from the crime scene did not match Aaron’s. The evidence conveniently disappeared from police and prosecutors’ files. In addition to the police-written confession, the state used a statement from a 16-year-old girl, Marva Hall. She has since recanted and stated that the prosecutor threatened her with jail and coached her statement.

For years, the courts rejected Aaron’s appeals. Finally, in 2003, after Gov. Ryan of Illinois acknowledged the torturing tactics of the Chicago Police Department under the leadership of Lt. Jon Burge and tenure of then prosecutor and now Mayor Richard M. Daley, Patterson and three other prisoners were released, a moratorium was placed on the death penalty and restitution was deemed to be paid.

Stanley Howard - another member of the "Death Row 10" - at age 23, was convicted of the murder of Oliver Ridgell in 1987, and later sentenced to death on the basis of a confession extracted under torture by Chicago's Area 2 detectives. Howard lived in a cell no bigger than a bathroom for 16 years.

Ridgell was shot while sitting in his car with Tecora Mullen, who was unharmed. She identified Howard as the shooter who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, as Howard had just been arrested on an unrelated warrant, and came close enough fit the description of the shooter provided by Tecora Mullen, .

At trial, one of the main pieces of evidence against Howard was his statement to the police. Howard, however, always maintained that his confession was obtained by police torture. In his statement, Howard said he was having dinner with his girlfriend, then went to the house of a friend, Byron Hopkins, to “pick up a gun” so he could “try to get me some money.” (State v. Howard, 588 N.E.2d 1044 (Ill. 1991)). In his statement, Howard also admitted that he ran to his girlfriend’s house after shooting Ridgell, which was a short distance from the crime scene.

The defense team sought to discredit Howard’s confession at trial, pointing out all the contradictions in his statement. Howard’s girlfriend, Terry Jones, testified that she was living in a distant part of the city at the time of the crime, and Byron Hopkins presented a stipulation at trial that he did not own a 9-milimeter gun of the type that was used in the crime. The other evidence used against Howard was the testimony of Mullen, who had identified Howard in a lineup conducted in November 1984. However, Mullen admitted that it was dark and raining outside at the time of the shooting. In addition, Mullen's husband was originally a suspect in the murder (Id.), an alternative theory of the crime that the defense counsel was not allowed to present to the jury according to the Illinois Supreme Court (Id.).

Howard was pardoned by Governor Ryan, and subsequently removed from death row but remains incarcerated for an unrelated offense. (Chicago Tribune, January 10, 2003)

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