Wrongfully-convicted man may lose a hearing he waited 18 years for

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Next week, a Cook County judge will decide whether to take away a court hearing that an appeals court granted Roosevelt Myles who waited 18 years for the hearing, but never got it

By Erick Johnson

In Courtroom 400 at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building, sits Judge Dennis Porter, who, for decades, has presided over numerous cases. But in 2015, Porter drew outrage after a ruling that allowed a Chicago officer to escape prosecution for killing a young Black woman after shooting into a crowd of people in 2012.

Since 1992, Porter has had in his hands another case involving a Chicago police officer who was never charged or prosecuted for allegedly forcing a confession that left an innocent man behind bars for 27 years.

During these years, Roosevelt Myles, 54, has lost his mother, father and scores of relatives as he waited to get a hearing that an Illinois appeals court granted him 18 years ago.

However, on December 17, the same judge who let a Chicago police officer walk free after killing a Rekya Boyd in 2012, will in minutes, announce whether Myles will get a hearing that he waited so long to get.

Roosevelt Myles

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office sought to dismiss Myles’ appeal. If Porter on December 17 agrees with prosecutors that Myles’ appeal is without merit, Myles’ 18-year wait for a hearing that the state granted him back in 2000 would be in vain, and he will stay behind bars.

It’s a case that has put Cook County’s notorious criminal justice system and the Chicago Police department in the spotlight. In the middle of it is Myles, who has lived half of his life behind bars.

For 18 years, Myles has waited for his day in court, hoping to tell his story of how a Chicago police officer with a history of complaints and lawsuits forced people to confess to lock up a man who has been in jail for 27 years for a crime he never committed.

Porter presided over that case. He watched as prosecutors won a first-degree murder conviction with the help of a scared teenager who lied before the court while Myles’ public defenders did nothing to help him, despite sworn statements and evidence of forced confessions.

Now, Myles’ fate is once again in the hands of the same judge, who allowed a string of public defenders to rack up more than 70 delays as Myles waited for a hearing that was granted by an Illinois Appellate Court back in 2000.

At a hearing on November 7, Myles’ attorneys argued that their client was given that right 18 years ago, and that a jury that convicted him back then never heard or saw evidence that would have proven Myles’ innocence.

Myles’ story began in the early morning on November 16, 1992 in Chicago. He was at a friend’s house when a shooting occurred in the 4800 block of West Washington on the West Side. A man approached 15-year-old Octavius Morris and Shaharain “Tony” Brandon and said, “This is a stick-up,” according to a police report and court documents. Brandon was shot twice in the torso and taken to a nearby hospital where he died.

Several blocks away, Myles heard the gunshots that killed Brandon as he left the apartment of his friend, Ronnie Bracey. On his way to buy cigarettes from a corner store, police stopped him and took him to the police car where Morris was waiting. Morris said Myles didn’t shoot her boyfriend and police released him.

More officers interviewed Sandra Burch, another eyewitness, as Brandon was at the hospital dying. Morris and Burch repeated that Myles was not the shooter. While Morris said there were two assailants, Burch said there was one. Their stories would gradually become similar and both would say Myles was the killer after several interviews by police.

Myles had sworn statements from alibis and there was no DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

With poor to no legal representation, Myles was convicted of the first-degree murder of Brandon in 1996.

Two years earlier, Morris signed a sworn affidavit saying Chicago Police Detective Anthony Wojcik visited her mother’s house several times before she changed her confession to say Myles killed her friend.

Earlier this year, Morris signed another sworn affidavit that was more detailed about Wojcik’s alleged actions, but consistent with her first affidavit.

Last month, the Crusader reported that the defunct Independent Police Review Agency never investigated five of Myles’ complaints into Wojcik and several officers from the Area 5 district, and never got back to him.

After several failed appeals, in 2000, Myles appealed his case to the Illinois Appellate Court of the First Judicial District, saying he made a “substantial showing that he was deprived of his constitutional rights.”

Among Myles’ arguments was that he was at the house of his friend, Ronnie Bracy, at the time of the shooting, and that he had alibis to prove it. Myles also argued that he received ineffective counsel during his trial.

In a five-page ruling, the appeals court granted Myles an evidentiary hearing. State prosecutors, at the time, said that Myles’ appeals were “frivolous and without merit,” but a panel of three 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.”

In granting his evidentiary hearing, the court 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.”

In its ruling, the appeals court also concluded that Myles’ appeals do not require that the “court engage in any fact finding or credibility determinations,” but rather give Myles his constitutional right for a hearing.

An JUDICIAL PANEL Order from the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Myles should be granted an evidentiary hearing because his appeal has satisfied the statute for his post-conviction case.That was in 2000. Myles never got his hearing.

With little funds and behind bars, he was unable to retain an attorney until 2017 when the Bonjean Law Group in New York City agreed to take his case from the Cook County Public Defender’s office, which the law firm said did nothing on Myles’ case.

During his incarceration at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, IL, both of his parents died in 2016 while Myles waited for his hearing.  He has lost a brother, uncles, aunts and cousins who all supported him during his pursuit for justice.

In court on November 7, Myles’ attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, made similar arguments to that of the appeals court, saying her client has been granted a hearing, but never received that constitutional right.

She made her arguments after Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Todd Dombroski, in a 25-minute argument said Myles’ appeal has no merit and should be dismissed. He also made the same arguments—about determining credibility—that the state struck down in its ruling in 2000.

“An Evidentiary Hearing is not just justified; it is absolutely demanded,” Bonjean said before Judge Porter.

“Myles could be the guiltiest man on the planet and it’s still a constitutional violation because no one should wait for 18 years to get a remedy that the state has provided to them, and yet, we are here today, and we are asking for that Evidentiary Hearing that should have happened 17 years ago.”

Bonjean said that the jury that convicted Myles “never heard any substantive evidence or alibi evidence that would prove that Myles shot and killed Brandon.”

Several times during Bonjean’s argument, Porter interrupted her, appearing dismissive and condescending at times. When Bonjean mentioned the Latin word “e.g.,” which means “for example,” as she was referencing several exhibits, Porter told her the exact definition of it. When she said, “I don’t think I ever knew that,” Porter said “Four years of Latin. Go ahead.”

This is the same judge who drew criticism from Black leaders and even legal experts in 2015 when he acquitted off-duty Chicago Police Detective Dante Servin.

During a bench trial, Porter ruled that Servin should have been charged with first-degree murder instead of involuntary manslaughter. Servin claimed to have seen a gun pointed at him the night he fired into a crowd near Douglas Park, killing 22-year-old Rekia Boyd and injuring her friend, Antonio Cross. No gun was found at the scene, and Servin, who resigned from the force before his disciplinary action, collects a pension on his $97,044 annual salary.

Porter is up for retention at the polls next year before his judicial term on the bench ends in June.

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