Wrongfully convicted man denied hearing after waiting for nearly two decades
By Erick Johnson
The moment had finally come for Roosevelt Myles.
After waiting 18 years for a hearing granted by an appeals court, he appeared before Judge Dennis Porter on February 13 hoping that his 28 years in jail would soon be over. With gray hair and aging frame, Myles in chains and handcuffs stared at Porter as he learned his fate in just five seconds.
“Your petition for post-conviction is denied,” Porter told the weary-looking Myles.
Moments later, Myles was back on the road to the Illinois River Correction Center to finish serving out his 60-year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
His 18-year wait for an evidentiary hearing that an appeals court granted him in 2000 ended in vain. But Myles’ attorney believes Porter may be in hot water with an appeals court.
The decision stunned Myles, his attorney and his relatives and friends who for the past four months traveled three hours from downstate Illinois to hear a decision that Porter had delayed three times. On Wednesday, February 13, Porter announced his decision without giving an explanation that he made in a 27-page ruling later obtained by the Chicago Crusader. In his ruling, Porter agreed with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, saying Myles’ appeal for a hearing is “frivolous and patently without merit.”
Throughout Myles’ appeals, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has declined to comment on the case. Her office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which investigates cases where officers are accused of coercing witnesses, dropped Myles’ case after his attorneys filed a post-conviction appeal for an evidentiary hearing.
Porter’s decision is the latest blow to Myles, who has fought for his freedom since 1992 when he was arrested for the murder of 16-year-old Shaharian “Tony” Brandon on Chicago’s West Side.
In 1996, Myles was convicted of first degree murder with the help of Octavius Morris, a 15-year-girl who signed two sworn affidavits saying retired disgraced Chicago detective Anthony Wojcik pressured her into confessing that Myles committed the crime in the 4800 block of West Washington.
There was no DNA or physical evidence that linked Myles to the crime and his public defender failed to put his key alibi on the witness stand. Myles was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
In 2000, he was granted an evidentiary hearing by the Ninth District Illinois Appellate Court. He never got it. A string of public defenders racked up 70 delays as Myles languished behind bars. Somehow, he was able to retain the Bonjean Law Group in New York, whose namesake lead attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, pushed for the evidentiary hearing that her client was granted in 2000 but never received.
She left the Cook County Leighton Criminal Courts building Wednesday disappointed, but not surprised by a judge who at one point made dismissive and condescending comments as she argued for her client.
“Today, Judge Porter had the chance to put an end to an egregious miscarriage of justice that happened on his watch,” said Bonjean in a statement. “Instead he perpetuated the injustice by refusing to even listen to evidence of Roosevelt’s innocence. He contorted the law and facts to deny Roosevelt the relief that he is entitled to. It’s a sad day for justice. But we will continue to fight, and I am confident Judge Porter’s disgraceful ruling will be reversed.”
It’s a case that has dramatically exposed the cracks in Cook County’s broken justice system, where many Blacks have been prosecuted or locked up based on the coerced confessions brought about by officers, many of whom left the force in the wake of a City Inspector General report and the Laquan McDonald case.
Tanya Crowder, Myles’ girlfriend of six years, “Why did it take four months to say nothing? He promised and procrastinated. If Roosevelt had not appeared in court, he would have made another continuation. I’m glad that he finally made a decision because we know what to do next.”
After the ruling, Bonjean told the Crusader that she will take the case back to the Illinois Appellate Court, where she will argue that her client deserves the granted evidentiary hearing that Porter denied him.
According to Porter’s 27-page order, Porter dismissed all four claims that Myles’ attorneys argued to obtain an evidentiary hearing.
On Myles’ claim of actual innocence, Porter ruled that his attorneys failed to present any new evidence or material that would “change the result of the trial.” And contrary to Myles’ claims that a Brady violation occurred, Porter said Detective Wojcik’s “alleged misdeeds have no relevance to establishing a pattern and practice of forcing a witness to testify falsely in the case.”
Porter also dismissed Myles’ claims that he received ineffective counsel after his attorney failed to put his alibi and the mother of Morris on the witness stand. In citing the case Strickland v. Washington, Porter ruled that “Effective assistance of counsel means competent, not perfect, representation,” Porter concluded.
But Myles’ attorneys believe Porter violated the order of an appeals court by making a decision on Myles’ post-conviction case without examining the facts in an evidentiary hearing. She told the Crusader at the Cook County Leighton Criminal Courts building that she will immediately file an appeal.
“He engaged in premature fact-finding,” Bonjean said. “He’s not allowed to do that at this juncture. He’s allowed to do that only after he hears the evidence from the witness stand. We were not allowed to present our evidence the way an evidentiary hearing allows it.”
Bonjean’s argument seems to echo that of the three-member judicial panel of the Illinois Appellate Court in 2000. In granting Myles an evidentiary hearing, the judges concluded that Myles’ arguments are “specific factual allegations which we must take as true” and that Myles “has satisfied the requirements of the statute.”
The court also said, “After plenary review of this matter, we conclude that petitioner has presented the gist of meritorious claim of a constitutional violation and that he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing. Thus, the post-conviction petition should not have been summarily dismissed as frivolous or patently without merit.”