Today the Cook County Board unanimously approved a record-setting $17 million dollar settlement to compensate Jackie Wilson for their prosecutors’ role in his torture and 36 years of wrongful incarceration. This is a capstone to the People’s Law Office (PLO) for more than 35 years of struggle against Chicago police torture and cover-up. Unfortunately, the Johnson administration continues to shirk its responsibility for this horrendous miscarraige of justice by continuing to fund private lawyers, who have already collected tens of millions of dollars, to deny the City of Chicago’s paramount responsibility for Jon Burge and the City’s pattern and practice of torture and cover-up in Jackie and numerous other police torture cases. The PLO and Loevy and Loevy have issued the following statement:


March 13, 2024

“As the Cook County courts recognized when granting a certificate of innocence, Jackie Wilson was wrongfully convicted of a senseless and horrific crime. During his 36 years of wrongful imprisonment, Jackie suffered unimaginable pain and trauma that few people could ever truly understand. With this settlement, Cook County acknowledges and limits the substantial risk that this litigation poses to taxpayers while also allowing Jackie to move forward with what remains of his life.

Now it is time for the City of Chicago to likewise appreciate the serious exposure it faces in this case and act consistently with the promises of Mayor Johnson and his predecessors who have long acknowledged the serious harm that Jon Burge and other Chicago police torturers have inflicted upon Jackie, other torture survivors, and Chicago’s communities of color.”


An Interview with Longtime PLO Attorney Michael Deutsch

To read the full interview on click here.

On Political Repression: A Hard Crackers Discussion with Michael Deutsch

John Garvey and Mike Morgan — March 6, 2024

Michael Deutsch is an experienced human rights attorney in the U.S., perhaps one of the most veteran and well-informed lawyers at that extremely difficult craft in this country.  Michael graciously allowed us at Hard Crackers to pick his brains and share some of his experiences with us. To give you some idea of Michael’s journey down that road, here are some of the important things he has done:

Michael Deutsch has been a lawyer with the People’s Law Office and a Guild member since 1970. From 1991-1996 he was the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Michael’s legal career has been devoted to the representation of political activists and political prisoners. He was one of the criminal defense lawyers for the rebelling Attica prisoners, a coordinator of the Attica Brothers Legal Defense, and one of the class counsel in the Attica civil suit which, after two decades of litigation, resulted in a 12 million dollar settlement.

 He was attorney for the five Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners imprisoned in the 1950’s who won an unconditional sentence commutation from President Carter in 1979, and represented Puerto Rican independentistas in Chicago, New York and Hartford who were charged with seditious conspiracy, the Wells Fargo expropriation, and subpoenaed before federal grand juries. He also helped to develop the “Prisoner of War” claim under international law for Puerto Rican prisoners.

Michael has defended Black Panthers, Black prisoners facing the death penalty, and was part of the legal team that challenged the first use of the high security “control units” for men at Marion Federal Prison and for women at Lexington Federal Prison.

More recently, Michael successfully defended Chicago Palestinian community activist Muhammad Salah charged with Terrorism and RICO as well as Palestinian community organizers targeted by the FBI and subpoenaed to a federal grand jury. 

Also more recently, Michael represented Rasmea Odeh, the deputy director of the Arab-American Action Network (AANN), a former Palestinian political prisoner and torture survivor, who had been charged with providing false information on her naturalization application, nine years after she had received her citizenship. She was stripped of her US citizenship and after months of litigation was deported to Jordan and now resides in Ramallah.

Michael Deutsch has written and lectured extensively on prisons, international human rights, and political repression.

People’s Law Office Sues Sheriff Tom Dart for Violating the First Amendment

March 6, 2024

Chicago, IL — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart illegally banned students Ethan Ostrow and Harley Pomper from Cook County Jail in retaliation for speaking out. Ostrow and Pomper are students at University of Chicago who facilitated creative writing workshops at the jail for two years. In May 2023, they published an Op-Ed arguing that Cook County Jail’s paper ban infringes on intellectual freedom.

After Ostrow and Pomper published the opinion piece, their security clearance was denied, preventing them from participating in the creative writing program the following school year. Sheriff Dart was the person ultimately responsible for the decision to have their clearance denied, according to the lawsuit.

This morning, Ostrow and Pomper sued Sheriff Dart for violating their First Amendment rights.

“We, and everyone who works or lives in the jail, have a right to speak without fear of retaliation,” said Ethan Ostrow. “We engaged in public dialogue about a policy of great public concern, impacting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people. But this public debate breaks down when powerful people like Sheriff Dart retaliate against critics. Retaliation is an attempt to scare people into silence.”

“The First Amendment forbids government officials from punishing people for their speech,” said Attorney Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office. “Sheriff Dart had my clients banned from volunteering at the jail simply because he disagreed with their viewpoint. Sheriff Dart’s actions are a flagrant violation of the Constitution, raising serious concerns about whether he is respecting the Constitutional rights of the people he is incarcerating at Cook County Jail.”

“Sheriff Dart banned us because we spoke out,” said Harley Pomper. “But this retaliation pales in comparison to the extremely common, far more severe retaliation against people in jail. Right now, Sheriff Dart is responsible for jailing 4,681 Chicagoans. The health and wellbeing of the people incarcerated by Sheriff Dart is part of the health and wellbeing of our city. The people inside, and people who provide services, need to be able to demand livable conditions, medical care, and, yes, access to paper without fear of retaliation.”

The complaint is available here and the original op-ed written by Ostrow and Pomper is available here.

People’s Law Office is a civil rights law firm based in Chicago that has been defending their clients’ Constitutional rights and fighting against police violence, wrongful convictions, and governmental abuses of power since 1969. 

People’s Law Office Attorneys Join the Pursuit for Justice for the Family of Malcolm X

Yesterday, attorneys from the People’s Law Office joined attorney Ben Crump to introduce new witnesses and evidence to the alleged conspiracy case surrounding Malcolm X’s assassination.

Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965, at age 39 while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom. He was shot a total of 21 times by a group of men in front of his wife and daughters. The connection between his death and federal and New York government agencies, including the NYPD, FBI, and CIA has long been alleged. It has recently been revealed that these governmental agencies possessed crucial factual and exculpatory evidence about their knowledge and involvement that they fraudulently concealed from the family of Malcolm X and the men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes surrounding the assassination of Malcolm X.

The People’s Law Office is committed to the continuing pursuit of justice for the family of Malcolm X and the continuing efforts to uncover the full truth about the assassination and its cover-up.

Follow the links below to hear more about this case.

Press Conference Feb, 21, 2024

Malcolm X Assassination: Former Security Guards Reveal New Details Pointing to FBI, NYPD Conspiracy

Lawyers for Malcolm X family say new statements implicate NYPD, feds in assassination

People’s Law Office Files Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit in Minnesota on Behalf of Thomas Rhodes

On the one-year anniversary of his release from prison, Thomas Rhodes filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Minneapolis, Minnesota, seeking accountability and compensation for the nearly 25 years he spent wrongfully imprisoned for his wife’s tragic accidental death in 1996.

Rhodes, represented by the People’s Law Office in Chicago, and the Law Office of Tim Phillips in Minneapolis, has brought this suit alleging that the defendants fabricated evidence and conspired to have him wrongfully convicted of murder.

The defendants in this lawsuit include former Ramsey County, Minnesota Medical Examiner Michael McGee, who has faced scrutiny for his questionable conduct in several wrongful convictions.

Mr. Rhodes was convicted of first-degree and second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1998, based on fabricated evidence and testimony manufactured by the defendants in the case. He was released from prison nearly 25 years later, on January 13, 2023, through the legal assistance of the Great North Innocence Project.

The complaint alleges that the defendants conspired to falsely implicate Mr. Rhodes in his wife’s accidental drowning death at a lake in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota. It details how McGee and a Patrol Captain for the Hennepin County, Minnesota Sheriff fabricated unsupported conclusions in reports and gave false testimony stating the death was a premeditated homicide, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. Additionally, the complaint alleges that Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue also secretly met with McGee to help manufacture a case against Mr. Rhodes.

Ten separate forensic pathologists reviewed the medical evidence and disagreed with McGee’s finding that the death was a homicide, yet Mr. Rhodes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison based on the fabricated evidence. He steadfastly maintained his innocence while imprisoned until January 2023, when his convictions were finally vacated after an investigation by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office’s Conviction Review Unit determined the evidence was unreliable.

“Thomas Rhodes is an innocent man who lost nearly 25 years of his life due to these defendants conspiring to falsely implicate him for the accidental death of his wife,” said attorney Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office in Chicago. “Over two decades in prison caused unfathomable harm and injustice. With this lawsuit, we intend to bring the defendants’ egregious misconduct to light and seek the measure of justice still owed to Mr. Rhodes.”

Mr. Rhodes has spent the past year adjusting to life outside of prison, stating, “I have gained my freedom. I now look forward to justice.”

The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Mr. Rhodes is represented by People’s Law Office attorneys Brad Thomson, Ben Elson and Flint Taylor, with the assistance of People’s Law Office Fellow Tayleece Paul, and attorney Tim Phillips of the Law Office of Tim Phillips in Minneapolis.

A copy of the complaint is available here: Rhodes Complaint


Ronnie Carrasquillo, a longtime client of PLO, was recently released after serving 47 years in prison. 65 year old Ronnie emerged from prison having been an inspirational mentor and peace-maker to so many both inside and outside the prison walls since his incarceration when he was 18 years of age. Over the years he had garnered wide-spread support, from his family, religious and Puerto Rican communities, elected and appointed officials and even the former prosecutor in his underlying case. An instructor in the prison described Ronnie, his student, as sincere and honest with an excellent attitude, having helped turn many other people’s lives around. The courtroom was packed with his supporters when Judge Maldonado, having been ordered by the appellate court to conduct a new sentencing hearing, declared his time had been served and he was rehabilitated. All who know Ronnie are eager to see the positive contributions Ronnie will continue to make in his community.

In 1976, 18 year old Ronnie was living in Humboldt Park, a community saturated with racially based violence. His mother had died three years before and he and his brother were left largely to fend for themselves amidst the chaos of their lives. He himself had been shot and the victim of multiple crimes. One night after drinking at a party, a fight broke out between Puerto Rican and white gangs in the street below and as the party-goers streamed out, Ronnie was handed a gun and he fired it several times attempting to fire over the crowd to disperse the fight. Shots ended up high up in the first and second floors of an abandoned building but one shot struck an off duty police officer, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, who was in the midst of the crowd trying to break-up the melee, killing him. As the prosecutor attested Ronnie always took responsibility for firing the gun, was saddened and expressed his remorse from the beginning. Despite his lack of a criminal record, Judge Frank Wilson sentenced Ronnie to 200-600 years in prison.

Approximately 31 years ago PLO partner Michael Deutsch received a call from Ronnie Carrasquillo’s brother and later learned that Ronnie had been involved with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, a community organization that the office had long supported in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Thus began Michael’s and the PLO’s decades long commitment and support of Ronnie. Ronnie’s story was compelling as was the involvement of Judge Wilson who was implicated in a  judicial corruption scandal in which he was was accused of taking a bribe to acquit a mob hit man several months before giving the draconian sentence to 18-year-old Ronnie. Judge Wilson later killed himself as an indictment of him appeared imminent.   

Michael enlisted his PLO partner John Stainthorp who was also dealing with an appeal of a man wrongly sentenced by a corrupt judge. Thus began Michael’s lead advocacy through multiple criminal appeals, successive post conviction hearings, chancery proceedings and multiple parole hearings. Over the course of the next 30 years Michael zealously represented Ronnie. Michael repeatedly represented Ronnie in parole hearings only to see the hearing room packed with police officers, intimidating parole board members and leading a former chair of the board to conclude that Ronnie would never be granted parole. At times when he deemed it advantageous to Ronnie’s case he recruited, encouraged and supported other attorneys to take up aspects of the fight to free Ronnie. Ronnie’s case became one of the examples of a deteriorating parole board that now is in disarray and stacked against those who believe in rehabilitation and second chances.

After a successful appeal, that instead of concluding the outrageous sentence received was the result of a corrupt judge, found that the requisite cause and prejudice was established and granted leave to file a successive post conviction petition on behalf of Ronnie. The appellate court found prejudice in that Ronnie, without any prior criminal record who was 18 at the time of the  crime, had already served a de facto life sentence and despite his excellent prison record and strong family and community support had been turned down for parole 30 times in almost as many years. Former PLO associate Shubra Ohri and Michael tried a postconviction hearing in front of Judge Maldonado and then successfully appealed the judge’s denial of relief. PLO partner Brad Thomson, a law student at the time, conducted legal investigation into aspects of the case and testified at the hearing.

In 2020, Michael procured a forensic evaluation from  a forensic clinical psychologist who provided an expert report regarding the still developing brain of an 18 year old emerging adult, concluding that many of the factors recognized by the US Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama were applicable to Ronnie and the likelihood of his rehabilitation based on his stellar prison record. At the same time, Michael enlisted PLO partner Jani Hoft along with Attorney Melinda Power to assist with a concurrent attack in Chancery Court of Cook County of the unconstitutionality of Ronnie’s repeated mistreatment by the parole board. Michael, Jani and Melinda also conducted another postconviction hearing in front of Judge Maldonado only to have the judge again deny Ronnie any relief concluding that despite the evidence to the contrary that Ronnie had the continued opportunity for parole.            

In the meantime, Illinois Prison Project attorney Jennifer Soble had taken up efforts to secure parole as well as clemency for Ronnie, tirelessly fighting on his behalf. Former PLO partner Chick Hoffman, semi-retired senior attorney with the Office of the State Appellate Defender took up Ronnie’s appeal, successively arguing the case and ultimately resulting in a reversal of Judge Maldonado’s denial of Ronnie’s postconviction petition, finally vacating the 200-600 year sentence and ordering a new sentencing hearing be conducted.  Ronnie’s case again came before Judge Maldonado and despite vicious and unfounded vitriol against Ronnie on social media by the Chicago Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Office of the State’s Attorney raised no objection and Judge Maldonado sentenced Ronnie to time served and released him to his supportive family and community. Michael, Chick and Jennifer Soble were there to  finally see Ronnie set free. All of us at the PLO celebrate this long awaited result and wish Ronnie and his family the very best for the future.

Wrongful Conviction Complaint Filed Today on Behalf of Danny Wilber

Today, lawyers from the People’s Law Office in Chicago filed a five-count civil rights complaint on behalf of Danny Wilber, a Black and Indigenous man who was wrongfully convicted of a murder that he did not commit. The complaint names nine individual former Milwaukee police officers and the City of Milwaukee, alleging that the officers, individually and together, framed Mr. Wilber by manufacturing evidence that falsely implicated him in the crime, by suppressing evidence that exonerated him, and by ignoring evidence that pointed to alternative suspects, in violation of Mr. Wilber’s constitutional rights. These officers framed Mr. Wilber, the complaint further alleges, despite the fact that the medical and physical evidence established that it was impossible for him to have committed the crime.

The complaint also alleges that the City of Milwaukee, through its Police Department, had in place certain policies, practices and customs that also caused the violation of his constitutional rights. These policies and practices include “pursuing wrongful convictions through reliance on materially flawed investigations and coerced and fabricated evidence including witness statements; failing to produce to criminal defendants exculpatory material including handwritten notes of interviews and other investigative activities; failing to properly investigate or seeking to discredit alternative suspects; failing to adequately train, supervise, monitor, and discipline Milwaukee police officers; and maintaining the police code of silence.”

Mr. Wilber spent almost 18 years locked up in prison, until his case was dismissed in 2022, and as a result he suffered extreme and long-lasting damage. As the complaint alleges, he “sustained injuries and damages, including loss of his freedom for almost eighteen years, loss of his youth, personal injuries, pain and suffering, severe mental anguish, emotional distress, inadequate medical care, humiliation, indignities, embarrassment, degradation, permanent loss of natural psychological development, and restrictions on all forms of personal freedom including but not limited to diet, sleep, personal contact, educational opportunity, vocational opportunity, athletic opportunity, personal fulfillment, sexual activity, family relations, reading, television, movies, travel, enjoyment, and freedom of speech and expression.”

According to Mr. Wilber: I firmly believe that what the MPD did to me was deliberate, systematic, and meticulously orchestrated to frame and wrongfully convict an obviously innocent man. I hope that this case will bring some measure of law enforcement accountability when it comes to the MPD’s bringing of false charges and obtaining wrongful convictions of Black and Indigenous people in Milwaukee.

Wilber attorneys Flint Taylor and Ben Elson of the People’s Law Office addressed the alleged policy and practices of the City and its Police Department, calling them “longstanding and flagrantly unconstitutional” and “urging the Mayor, the City Council and the MPD to remedy this systemic police misconduct that caused Mr. Wilber such needless pain and suffering.”

The Racist History of Chicago’s FOP

The FOP has, without exception, vociferously opposed every proposed police reform and effort to obtain police transparency.

“The FOP is the sworn enemy of Black people,” former Congressman Bobby Rush said while defending Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx from the racist attack of the Fraternal Order of Police in 2019. “The FOP has always taken the position that Black people can be shot down in the street by members of the Chicago Police Department, and suffer no consequences.”

The FOP’s history is a powerful testament to the chilling truth of Rush’s statement. Here is a thumbnail review of that history.

On Dec. 4, 1969, Fred Hampton, the charismatic chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, was slain in his bed by Chicago police in what has been documented and widely accepted as a politically motivated assassination. But the fledgling FOP nonetheless staunchly defended the police raiders.

In 1990, when the City Council passed a resolution that declared Dec. 4 “Fred Hampton Day,” the FOP launched a campaign to repeal the resolution, publicly belittled the Black Panther Party and slandered Hampton, who was a martyr to many Chicagoans. In 2006, after the City Council unanimously voted to rename the block where Hampton was murdered as “Chairman Fred Hampton Way,” the FOP sought its rescission and voiced its “outrage” and “disbelief.”

Defending torture

In the early 1990s, the FOP began its decades-long campaign to defend Jon Burge, the notorious police torturer, and his “midnight crew.” When the evidence of their systemic and racist police torture compelled the city to seek Burge’s firing, the FOP financed the officers’ defense, and mounted a vicious attack on Burge’s victims and their lawyers, who had brought much of the damning evidence to light. The FOP also organized a fundraiser where Burge was lionized by thousands of cops and prosecutors.

After Burge was fired in 1993, the FOP called the decision a “travesty of justice,” and announced that it intended to enter a float honoring Burge in the annual South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Public outrage and cries of racism forced the FOP to withdraw the float.

In 2008, after Burge was indicted for lying under oath about torture, the FOP Board adopted a resolution to pay for Burge’s defense. The FOP president asserted that Burge, despite being accused in more than 100 documented cases of torture, had been unfairly tarnished as the “poster child of alleged police torture in this city” and vowed that the FOP “will stand with the police officer every time.”

In 2010, Burge was convicted of three felonies and sentenced to federal prison. Nonetheless, the police pension board, in a split vote, ruled that he could continue to receive his pension, and the FOP successfully defended the ruling on appeal. When Burge died in 2018, former FOP President Dean Angelo declared that Burge did not get “a fair shake” and had an “honorable” and “very effective career.” 

In 2009, the FOP held a reunion during which it attempted to rewrite history about the wanton police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The FOP declared that “the time has come that the Chicago Police be honored and recognized for their contributions to maintaining law and order — and for taking a stand against anarchy.”

The FOP has also, without exception, vociferously opposed every proposed police reform and effort to obtain police transparency.

The FOP championed the cause and financed the defense of Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times and was later convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.

After protestors asked Chicago cops to take a knee in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, current FOP President John Catanzara declared, “If you kneel . . . you will be thrown out of the [FOP] Lodge.” He has also defended the white supremacists who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6th and recently invited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to visit Chicago.  Tellingly, the recently chosen 27-member FOP Advisory Board is lily white.

After Cantanzara publicly defended a crew of CPD officers who invaded Rush’s Chicago office in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, Rush likened Chicago’s FOP to the KKK, saying they were “like kissing, hugging and law-breaking cousins. The number one cause that prevents police accountability, that promotes police corruption, that protects police lawlessness,” is the FOP, he said. “They’re the organized guardians of continuous police lawlessness, of police murder and police brutality.”The Chicago FOP, Rush continued, “is the most rabid, racist body of criminal lawlessness by police in the land. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ku Klux Klan then and the Ku Klux Klan now.”

We’re hearing a lot about the FOP these days. As concerned Chicagoans, it is an important time for all of us to reflect on this racist history. 

Flint Taylor is a founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He was one of the lead lawyers in the landmark Fred Hampton and Mark Clark civil rights case and has represented numerous police torture survivors during the past 35 years. 

This op-ed originally was published on March 27th, 2023 in the Chicago Sun-Times

County Prosecutors Criminally Charged in Burge Torture Cover-up

Until now, no Cook County prosecutor has ever faced charges for prosecutorial misconduct in a wrongful conviction case

Misconduct caused Burge torture survivor Jackie Wilson to be wrongfully imprisoned 36 years

CHICAGO – A four-decade saga of police rampage, torture, cover-up and perjury reached a new chapter today when two former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys were criminally charged for crimes arising out of Jackie Wilson’s 36-year wrongful conviction. 

After being tortured into a false confession by Jon Burge and his cohorts, Jackie Wilson endured a 38-year quest for justice.  Wilson’s third trial concluded on October 1, 2020 during the examination of Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko.  The special prosecutor in Wilson’s retrial abruptly dropped all charges against him when it was revealed that a then-CCSAO prosecutor, Trutenko, testified falsely on the stand and concealed a witness named William Coleman. Coleman is a reputed international con man who repeatedly perjured himself decades ago to secure Wilson’s conviction.  Trutenko was immediately fired by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.  He has since abandoned his law license.  Horvat was caught trying to hide exculpatory evidence from Wilson and the Court at the retrial.  After Wilson filed a lawsuit naming him as a Defendant, Horvat separated from the Office

After the dismissal, Wilson’s legal team sought accountability for the egregious misconduct that led to his wrongful conviction.  On October 19, 2020, Wilson filed a motion for sanctions for misconduct that occurred leading up to and during Wilson’s third retrial.  On February 22, 2021, Wilson moved for the appointment of a special prosecutor.  On June 10, 2021, Cook County Criminal Court Judge Alfredo Maldonado granted Wilson’s and ordered that a special prosecutor investigate alleged criminal conduct by Trutenko, Horvat, and Coleman, citing the “sordid history of the investigation and criminal prosecutions in this case serve as a shameful chapter in Chicago’s history….”  The Court ruled that:

The record in this case absolutely calls into question the reasons behind the CCSAO’s decisions and conduct regarding Trutenko. At best, the CCSAO acted in a misguided and inept manner as to Trutenko and the ethical crisis created by his misconduct and trial testimony. However, at worst, the actions of the CCSAO, as to Trutenko, could have been motivated by unethical and, perhaps, illegal reasons to cover up misconduct. Accordingly, sufficient reason exists to warrant an independent investigation into Trutenko’s misconduct and into the actions of the CCSAO, as an institution, related to the substance of Trutenko’s trial testimony and his alleged perjury.

With this historic backdrop, Wilson’s legal team provides a short statement on the issuance of charges:

“This indictment of one of the main Cook county prosecutorial conspirators in the Chicago police torture scandal and perpetrators of the wrongful conviction of Jackie Wilson underscores the fact  that the Cook County Board, its President Toni Preckwinkle, and Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx , should immediately stop funding the multi-million dollar defense of these prosecutors in the Wilson civil rights case and award appropriate compensation to Wilson for his 36 years of wrongful incarceration.”

– Flint Taylor, Partner at People’s Law Office

“Today is another important chapter in Jackie Wilson’s quest for justice.  Since his exoneration, our team has sought accountability for the egregious police and prosecutorial misconduct that stole 38 years from Jackie’s life.  The Special Prosecutor’s investigation and decision to criminally prosecute Nicholas Trutenko and Andrew Horvat serves as a historic moment for Jackie Wilson and other wrongfully convicted individuals around the nation.  The criminal charges against Trutenko and Horvat send a clear message to prosecutors: your misconduct will someday unravel, and when that happens, the wrongfully convicted will seek to hold you accountable to the fullest measure of the law.”

– Elliot Slosar, Partner at Loevy & Loevy

Time-line of Jackie Wilson’s fight for justice

1966-68 – After washing out of college, Jon Burge served two tours of duty in Vietnam where he worked as an interrogator of Vietnamese prisoners and learned torture techniques that would later become infamous in Chicago.

1972-91 – Burge “either directly participated in or implicitly approved the torture” of at least 118 people in police custody, according the The Guardian. [keep link]

February 9, 1982 – Chicago Police Officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien robbed and murdered.
“[M]ayor Jane Bryne and her police superintendent, Richard Brzeczek, mandated what would become the most massive manhunt in the City’s history. Brzeczek designated lieutenant Jon Burge, who headed up the Violent Crimes Unit at Area 2, to direct the search for the killers…. Under Burge’s command, incensed CPD officers kicked in doors, ransacked homes, beat up numerous residents, and, once suspects were in custody, tortured those Black men they suspected of either being involved in or having knowledge of the crime….  Upward of two hundred complaints were filed with the CPD by abused persons…” Flint Taylor, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago

February 14, 1982 – Jackie Wilson tortured by Area Two detectives Thomas McKenna and Patrick O’Hara, at the direction and with the participation of Jon Burge. Wilson’s torture occurred with the knowledge and participation of former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, Lawrence Hyman, and Cook County Court Reporter, Michael Hartnett.

Charged with murder and robbery at age 22, Wilson would not be freed until he was 58 years old.

February 1982 – Dr. Jack Raba, director of medical services at Cook Jail, observes obvious signs of torture on the body of Andrew Wilson, Jackie’s brother, and writes an explicit letter about it to then-Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, who in turn shared the letter with Major Jane Bryne, the Office of Professional Standards, and then-Cook County State’s Attorney and future Mayor Richard M. Daley

1983 – Jackie Wilson found guilty as police and prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence, including evidence relating to an eyewitness to the murders, and perjured themselves.

1987 – Wilson’s first wrongful conviction reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court and remanded for a new trial

~1988 – Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko and jailhouse informant William David Coleman fabricated a false story that falsely implicates Wilson in the crimes against Fahey and O’Brien.

1989 – Wilson’s retrial, during which prosecutors introduce Wilson’s false tortured statement, the Trutenko/Colman fabricated evidence, and false testimony coerced out of DeWayne Hardin. William Kunkle helps Trutenko and Coleman suppress the fact that Coleman’s story was false, manufactured, and purchased by County and City monies. Wilson found guilty.

May 2015 – The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) returned Wilson’s case to the Cook County Criminal Court for a hearing on the issue of whether Plaintiff’s confession was tortured from him.

January 2017 to June 2018 – Wilson’s case was referred to court for further review after Illinois’ Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) found there was sufficient evidence that he was tortured. After eighteen months of litigation and a four-day evidentiary hearing, Circuit Court Judge William H. Hooks issued a 119-page opinion that found that Wilson’s false confession should be suppressed and ordered a new trial. In doing so, Judge Hooks opined:

“There is more than enough to surmise what happened in the investigation and interrogation of Jackie Wilson was not good – instead, very bad and ugly.  The conduct of those involved in this most serious of investigations, which involved attempting to discover and ethically prosecute the murderer or murderers of two Chicago police officers required more.  Much more was required of the Chicago Police Department, the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney, our courts, the private and public defense bar, and indeed, our federal government…The abhorrence of basic rights of suspects by Mr. Burge and his underlings has been costly to the taxpayers, the wrongfully convicted, and worst of all, the dozens of victims and their families who have suffered untold grief – in many cases, a 30-plus year horror story.”

June 2018 – After 36 years in maximum security jails and prisons, Wilson is finally freed on a recognizance  bond.

September 2020 – The Cook County Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) subjected Wilson to yet another retrial, with its primary evidence being the false, manufactured and fabricated 1989 testimony of William Coleman. During the third trial, Andrew Horvat joined and participated in Trutenko’s continuing effort to withhold critical and material exculpatory evidence that would have unraveled Trutenko’s continuing illicit relationship with jailhouse informant Coleman. Horvat and Trutenko not only withheld this exculpatory and impeachment evidence from Wilson and the OSP, but he also actively concealed this evidence from the OSP and urged OSP to not inquire into it.

After a two-week bench trial before Judge Hooks, the OSP dismissed all pending charges against Plaintiff with prejudice.  In doing so, OSP informed the Court that Trutenko suppressed the fact that he had a continuing relationship with Coleman and committed perjury on the witness stand.

October 1, 2020 – The special prosecutor in Wilson’s retrial abruptly dropped all charges against him when it was revealed that a then-CCSAO prosecutor, Trutenko, concealed a witness named William Coleman. Coleman is a reputed international con man who repeatedly perjured himself decades ago to secure Wilson’s conviction.

December 18, 2020 – Jackie Wilson’s petition for a Certificate of Innocence is granted by Judge William H. Hooks, whereby the State of Illinois officially recognizes him to be an innocent man. Hooks commented,

“[T]he Cook County justice system itself has been tortured. Jackie Wilson has also been physically tortured by a brutal electrical box torture ritual and has already wrongfully served a sentence that has taken roughly 70 percent of his life.  Jackie Wilson will never be able to recoup the value of his life lost to the living hell he experienced at the hands of his government.  While Jackie Wilson extraordinarily deserves and has earned this Certificate of Innocence, others deserve to pay for that they have so unjustly caused both directly and indirectly.”

June 10, 2021 – Cook County Criminal Court Judge Alfredo Maldonado ordered that a special prosecutor investigate alleged criminal conduct by Trutenko, Horvat, and Coleman, citing the “sordid history of the investigation and criminal prosecutions in this case serve as a shameful chapter in Chicago’s history….”

“Because of the actions of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office before, during and after Trutenko’s testimony, a sufficient basis exists to investigate whether any persons, including but not limited to current or former members of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, engaged in criminal conduct….”

“The record in this case absolutely calls into question the reasons behind the CCSAO’s decisions and conduct regarding Trutenko. At best, the CCSAO acted in a misguided and inept manner as to Trutenko and the ethical crisis created by his misconduct and trial testimony. However, at worst, the actions of the CCSAO, as to Trutenko, could have been motivated by unethical and, perhaps, illegal reasons to cover up misconduct. Accordingly, sufficient reason exists to warrant an independent investigation into Trutenko’s misconduct and into the actions of the CCSAO, as an institution, related to the substance of Trutenko’s trial testimony and his alleged perjury.”

This is the first-ever appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute members of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for misconduct in a wrongful conviction case. This is also the first referral for an investigation of Cook County State’s Attorneys for criminal misconduct in their duties as prosecutors since the federal ‘Operation Graylord’ prosecution in the 1980s.

Free Bernina Hanukkah Action

On December 19, 2022, over 30 people joined a Hanukkah celebration at Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s home in Chicago to demand that he sign the executive clemency petition for Bernina Mata. The #FreeBernina Team and Love & Protect organized the action on the second night of Hanukkah, a celebration of a struggle for liberation, to urge Governor Pritzker to liberate Bernina, other criminalized survivors and all who are suffering under the violence of incarceration.  The action was co-sponsored by American Friends Service Committee Chicago’s Peacebuilding Program, Tzedek Chicago, Chicago Light Brigade (shoutout @kellyhayeswrites), MAMAs, and the Transformative Justice Law Project.

Free Bernina Light Installation December 19, 2022

People sang Hanukkah songs, heard powerful testimonies, and honored the Hanukkah tradition by creating a “Free Bernina” light installation.  The crowd learned about the holiday from Tzedek Rabbi Brant Rosen and were led in song by cantor Adam Gottlieb and #Free Bernina Team member Debbie Southorn. April Ward of MAMAs shared a moving testimonial about the prison conditions her son, Mickiael Ward, is forced to endure in an IDOC prison and a moving tribute by Kelly Hayes of Lifted Voices. Joey Mogul, co-counsel for Bernina with Rachel White-Doman of the Illinois Prison Project, also described the State’s racist and homophobic prosecution of Bernina. To read more about the action, check out the article in Windy City Times.

In 1998, at 28 years old, Bernina stabbed and killed John Draheim in her home after he attempted to sexually assault her. The State charged Bernina with capital murder, despite significant mitigating circumstances including her extensive history of sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father and father and her belief that she was about to be raped.

To secure the death penalty, the State seized on Bernina’s racial and sexual identity to argue that she intentionally killed him. The State claimed Draheim was making an unwanted sexual pass at her, and that caused Bernina as a “hard core lesbian” him to kill him. A prosecutor argued “a normal heterosexual woman would not be offended by such conduct as to murder.” During Bernina’s trial, the State paraded 10 witnesses before the jury who testified she was gay, presented 3 books from her bookcase with gay titles and referenced her lesbian sexual identity on 17 occasion to prejudice a Boone County jury to motivate them to convict and kill her. She was sentenced to die in 1999.

In 2003, her death sentence was commuted to life as part of a successful clemency campaign. She is currently serving a life sentence. If prosecutors had not sought the death penalty, she would likely be free today. Her only chance to be free from prison is for Governor Pritzker to commute her life sentence.

The #FreeBernina Team is asking Governor Pritzker to grant her clemency petition and commute her sentence so she can come home in 2023. Please support her clemency petition by emailing Governor Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton here.

Joey and Kris Clutter, a paralegal at the People’s Law Office, are proud members of the #Free Bernina team.

Photos thanks @kellyhayeswrites!