Two controversies emerged during the last presidential election. One was the claim that the media cannot be trusted. The other was the claim that the system, including the media, was rigged.
One side in the election howled that such claims were crazy. The other insisted they were true.
Whatever side one was on, recent polls indicate that the public clearly does not trust the media.
Americans' trust and confidence in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly" has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.
Chicago is a place where these claims can be hashed out in the civil courts. One such test has just begun, initiated by an article from the Chicago Tribune, Report: Police Coerced Teens, about four men suing Chicago Police detectives for their supposed wrongful conviction for a 1994 rape and murder, the “Englewood Four” case.
In the article, Tribune journalist Steve Mills reports claims by lawyers representing the Four that an as-yet unreleased FBI report contains a new “bombshell” that points to the guilt of prosecutors and detectives in framing the four Englewood youths for the rape and murder of Nina Glover:
“Now, their [the Englewood Four’s] lawyers say in court papers, they have new evidence of wrongdoing: an FBI report that quotes a former Cook County Prosecutor admitting that the four were fed information by Chicago police and coerced into making false confession that DNA evidence ultimately undermined.
The four men, then youths, confessed to the crime, their confessions the most important evidence in their convictions. But advanced DNA tests performed years later on a semen sample taken from Glover identified DNA belonging to another man with a long, violent criminal history. Based on this DNA test alone, the conviction was tossed, and the four men went free, trumpeted as victims of a complex conspiracy by police and prosecutors to frame them.
But prosecutors argued that the DNA sample was not proof that the four youths were innocent. They pointed out that Glover was a prostitute who often traded sex for drugs.
Throughout the long ordeal of the “Englewood Four,” prosecutors, the detectives, and even city attorneys have backed the officers, insisting that the confessions of the youths were solid. They claimed the offenders made statements only the perpetrators would know.
Even when Alvarez announced that she was not going to retry the case due to a lack of evidence, she still refused to say they were innocent.
The decision by State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to dismiss the charges against the four followed an "exhaustive review of all the information and the evidence" in the case, she said in a statement. Prosecutors did not have enough evidence to meet their burden of proof, she said.
While extending sympathies to the Glover family, Alvarez did not say she believed that the four men were innocent of Glover's murder.
Despite the release of the men and the decision by prosecutors not to retry them, detectives and prosecutors are going to trial in the civil lawsuit against them, a sign that they are still fighting to justify their investigation of the case, and, likely, the confessions they obtained.
But there is more to the case. The “Englewood Four” civil trial comes in the wake of several other wrongful conviction cases that have recently imploded under renewed legal scrutiny, cases that have fully vindicated police officers and revealed a vast body of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement.
So the “Englewood Four” case is headed back to court. Were the four youths set up? Does the DNA truly exonerate them? Or were the detectives and prosecutors right all along?
The trial should answer these questions, and, in doing so, may help to settle the larger question about media corruption and the rigged system many Americans perceive.
Here is the reason why. Wrongful conviction cases that have been turned upside down revealed a dangerous connection between attorneys and activists in the movement with Chicago’s media machine. The corruption in the movement reveals a collection of journalists all too willing to ignore crucial evidence in a wrongful conviction claim.
One of the most prolific journalists in the midst of this scandal is the same one who wrote the article about the “bombshell” FBI report for the Tribune, Steve Mills. In the last decade, as the pattern of misconduct against the wrongful conviction movement has unfolded in the courts and the media, Mills’ reporting has been intimately tied to it, so much so that Mills’ announcement of “bombshell” evidence shortly before a trial is supposed to begin must be met with great suspicion.
The simple fact that the detectives and prosecutors are looking forward to the January 17 civil trial date is, in and of itself, compelling.
One would think that, if their case against the four youths were a fraud, the last thing the detectives and prosecutors would want would be a trial where that evidence could emerge and possibly lead to criminal charges against them. Rather, they would want to settle the case.
On its face, the claim that several detectives and prosecutors would conspire to frame four youths for such a vicious crime, while knowingly ignoring the real perpetrator, is an incredible scenario. Even if all the detectives and prosecutors were evil enough to form such a plot, how did they pull it off? How did they all get together and create such a narrative and stick to it? And why? Why would they do it?
And then there is Mills’ troubling history of announcing “bombshell” wrongful conviction evidence in previous cases that spurred the released of other convicted killers.
Let’s go back to February 4, 1999.
That was the day that Steve Mills announced in a Tribune article another instance of “bombshell” evidence brought forth by wrongful conviction advocates in a key case. It was a story about a “confession” to a double murder obtained by Northwestern University investigators from a man named Alstory Simon. This “confession” from Simon would become the basis for the most influential wrongful conviction case in the state’s history, and Mills was the key journalist covering it. With the confession and the media frenzy over it, the man originally convicted of the murders, Anthony Porter, was released from prison.
In his February 4, 1999 article Mills gushed:
In a stunning development in a controversial Death Row case, a Milwaukee laborer [Alstory Simon] made a videotaped statement Wednesday implicating himself in the 1982 murders of a South Side couple and appearing to clear condemned prisoner Anthony Porter.
In many ways, the Simon confession was the climax of Mills’ career, and there are persistent rumors that the Tribune desperately hoped they would obtain a Pulitzer Prize for Mills’ coverage.
Fast forward to 2014. The narrative about the Porter case imploded under renewed scrutiny by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who called the confession “coercive.” Alvarez released Simon from prison. A judge then bolstered in a ruling the exoneration of Porter was a ruse and that Simon was innocent of the murders.
Why couldn’t Mills see the blatant abuses in the case that virtually everyone else saw after they reviewed it? Turns out Mills’ announcement about “bombshell” evidence in the Porter case was anything but—unless you count the delay-action explosion of media irresponsibility in reporting that blew up in Mills’ own face.
Mills’ failure to recognize the troubling circumstances of the Simon confession is one thing. Then there is the fact that even after being confronted with the evidence time and again, he remained silent about it, even as Simon wasted away in prison.
But the Porter case is only the tip of the iceberg. Mills in his articles has habitually ignored in his articles central evidence that other wrongful conviction cases stink.
After Alstory Simon was released from prison, his lawyers filed a lawsuit in which they allege a pattern of coercive behavior by David Protess at Northwestern University, spanning decades and five separate murder cases.
Match these allegations by Simon’s attorneys with Mills’ coverage of Protess, the wrongful conviction movement, and police misconduct, and an even more chilling picture emerges. Mills covers little, if any of the facts of such misconduct within the movement. He appears sometimes as little more than a shill for the movement, willing to say almost anything to push a case against the police, or ignore any piece of evidence against the movement.
For example, in the Madison Hobley case, a 1987 arson that killed seven people, Mills ignored in many of his articles a central fact that implicated Hobley; Hobley made arson threats against his wife and child weeks before he actually set the fire that murdered them and five other people.
Mills’ in his articles refuses to cite other crucial evidence of another kind; wrongdoing within the wrongful conviction movement: Lawyers for Stanley Wrice, convicted of a vicious gang rape and burning of a woman in 1982, claimed he was tortured into confessing to the crimes. A judge ruled in a certificate of innocence proceeding that he believed Wrice was guilty. The judge also said he didn’t believe the witnesses brought forth by wrongful conviction attorneys to bolster Wrice’s innocence claims, calling their retractions, which emerged after interviews with wrongful conviction investigators, “suspicious.” Did Mills include this in his reporting on this case? No.
Similarly, in another wrongful conviction case, Willie Johnson came forward at the behest of the wrongful conviction community and claimed he lied in a trial that convicted two gang members for wounding him and killing two other men during a shooting. Not only did the judge not believe his retractions, which could have set these killers free, but the prosecutor charged Johnson with perjury. Despite handwringing from a collection of Chicago’s political and legal elite, Johnson pled guilty and was sentenced to four years. Did Steve Mills report any of this?
Mills’ favorite rhetorical trope in his articles alleging police misconduct is to cite a history of “dubious confessions.” So it’s no surprise that he foists this claim against former detective Kenny Boudreou, who worked on the “Englewood Four” case. Boudreau, Mills says, has
“…a history of obtaining dubious confessions was detailed in the 2001 Tribune series Cops and Confessions.”
The only surprise is who it was that wrote these articles that Mills cites as detailing Boudreau’s alleged history of “dubious confessions.” You guessed it. Steve Mills. Incredibly, the Trib journalist references his own articles as the foundation for his latest attack on Boudreau’s credibility.
But who exactly has the history of dubious credibility here? How about a journalist who cites his own questionably researched work as if it came from a burning bush?
And what about the history of other dubious claims by Mills and his rag, claims that bolstered other so-called “wrongful convictions” in cases like those against the likes of Porter, Hobley, Wrice, and Johnson?
Among police officers and prosecutors, former detective Boudreau, whose police work Mills maligns, is a legend, a man renowned for his willingness to build solid cases against the worst, most violent criminals in the city, cases against the kind of criminals in this most recent case that has drawn Mills’ attention, criminals who would gang rape a woman, murder her, then leave her body in a dumpster.
So just how significant is the “bombshell” FBI report concerning the “Englewood Four” case? Will it reveal the corruption against the police and prosecutors that the wrongful conviction attorneys, and Steve Mills, so covet, or will it point to yet another sign of a false exoneration and media complicity?
In Mills’ article, it is only the lawyers for the “Englewood Four” who are claiming that the FBI report contains “bombshell” admissions. But, at the same time, Mills admits the FBI never built a case against the detectives or the prosecutors.
Still, the case was troubling enough that federal authorities began a civil rights investigation in 2011 into the allegations of misconduct by police and prosecutors. But no charges ever resulted and the investigation has since been closed.
Well, one again wonders, if the as-yet unreleased FBI report constitutes evidence pointing to the culpability of cops and prosecutors, why did the FBI close the investigation?
Given Mills’ long history of relentlessly bolstering wrongful conviction claims at the expense of the evidence and fairness, another dark motive lurks in his latest article.
Wrongful conviction cases often don’t do well in court. Under the rules of evidence, these cases often implode. Because of this, the wrongful conviction movement is built upon a close allegiance with sympathetic journalists, journalists like Steve Mills, whose media pressure has been pointed to as a central factor in the suspicious exoneration of one inmate after another. But it’s not just the media pressure to release the inmates. This pressure also compels municipalities to settle cases rather than deal with the onslaught of negative press from journalists like Mills.
It’s an allegiance between the wrongful conviction movement and the media that has been wildly successful. Many times the police have desperately wanted the civil cases against them to go to trial, only to have the city attorneys capitulate under the barrage of negative press and settle.
Is this what Mills is up to in the “Englewood Four” case? Is it just a coincidence that Mills writes a story about some supposed “bombshell” evidence just before the trial begins or is Mills announcing a “bombshell” report to manipulate a settlement?
This is yet another reason why the case should go to trial. The “Englewood Four” civil trial is crucial not only to iron out who killed Nina Glover, whose tragic life was mired in drug addiction and prostitution, and whose body was tossed into a dumpster like so much trash, but also to resolve the controversy about the media and the system being rigged.
And where better to sort it out than in the stories about “bombshell” evidence from a prolific journalist in the most Crooked City?