August 29 date will end a 22 year wait for evidentiary hearing
Finally, after 22 years of waiting for a hearing, Roosevelt Myles will have his day in court.
After an hour-long hearing that added more frustration to decades of delays and red tape in a broken criminal justice system, Judge Carol Howard tentatively set August 29 for a three-day evidentiary hearing that Myles waited half his life to get.
The date might not have happened had it not been for Myles’ attorney, Sam Kennedy.
He spoke out as plans were being made to schedule another court hearing, that would have made the wrongfully convicted man wait more than two months for another appearance before Judge Howard after he appeared at a marathon Zoom hearing May 13.
But at the end of that hearing, Kennedy snagged a rare victory for his beleaguered client as a year-long legal battle to subpoena news outlets added more delays to Myles’ long-overdue post-conviction case.
“I’m relieved but I’m relieved for Roosevelt because he waited over 20 years for his day in court,” Kennedy told the Crusader.
The hour-long hearing involved a string of back-and-forth arguments between Assistant State’s Attorney Todd Dombrowski and the attorneys for Discovery Communications LLC, and Painless Productions in Los Angeles.
For more than a year, Dombrowski had been trying to subpoena aired and unaired material from the two companies. They produced a documentary that concluded that Myles was an innocent man who did not commit a murder in Chicago that he served 28 years in prison for before he was released in 2020.
The online documentary on “Reasonable Doubt,” which aired in 2020, included statements from Michael Hooker. He is Myles’ alibi, who did not testify at Myles’ trial in 1996, where he was convicted for attempted murder and robbery despite no DNA evidence, and the testimony of a main witness who later recanted her statements after saying Chicago police pressured her to lie.
In his attempts to subpoena Discovery and Painless Productions, Dombrowski wanted companies to turn over aired and unaired material that contains exculpatory evidence that may exonerate Myles as he attempts to overturn his conviction.
Attorneys for the companies refused to comply with Dombrowski’s subpoena and filed a motion to squash it, claiming the material is protected under the First Amendment right legally known as Reporter’s Privilege.
Dombrowski argued that Reporter’s Privilege doesn’t apply because Myles’ post-conviction case is neither a criminal nor civil matter. But in response to Judge Howard’s questions, Dombrowski failed to cite a case that show that the use of the Reporter’s Privilege defense can only be used in criminal and civil case.
During the hearing May 13, Steven Mandell, in addition to invoking the Reporter’s Privilege right argued before Judge Howard that Dombrowski hasn’t met the Illinois statute that requires attorneys and prosecutors to exhaust all options in obtaining sources material before subpoenaing a news outlet.
Mandell also argued that Dombrowski can interview Hooker and the other individuals who were included in the documentary as part of his case.
In response to that offer, Dombrowski said Hooker and the witnesses wouldn’t remember what they said during the aired and unaired recordings of their interview. Dombrowski also said the witnesses would have credibility issues and having the actual unaired material would address that concern.
These were the central arguments that led nowhere during the hearing, before Judge Howard came up with an unprecedented solution that drew concerns from both sides.
She proposed obtaining unaired material from “Reasonable Doubt” while Dombrowski interviewedwitnesses from the documentary. During depositions, Dombrowski would interview witnesses while Judge Howard checked their statements against the unaired material from “Reasonable Doubt.”
Dombrowski objected to that idea, saying under an Illinois statute the obligation to view obtained material is placed upon the state. “Nothing in there says that the court can review and make a determination as to whether or not this is exculpatory,” Dombrowski argued.
Mandell also objected to the idea. He said, “your honor I say this in the most respectful way … if you think about it, the Privilege is there to preserve the flow of information from sources to journalists.
“If they knew that information might wind up even in the judge’s hands right where maybe sources may have committed crimes or afraid or whatever, that would frustrate the flow of information. Reporters go to jail rather than give up their information.”
Judge Howard went ahead with her proposal anyway. She closed out the hearing by giving Dombrowski three weeks to exhaust options other than subpoena, to obtain the unaired material. She then asked Mandell to file a motion with arguments and cases explaining his opposition to her viewing the unaired material.
Both sides agreed to her requests. But as they were planning the next court hearing date, Mandell realized that Judge Howard wouldn’t have enough time to digest his filing that she would have justthree days before the next hearing on June 27.
They looked for a later date and when July 26 appeared as a possible date, Kennedy, Myles attorney who had been silent for most of the hearing, said this:
“Sorry judge, if I can just pipe in for just a moment. I just want to express my concern. This is getting continued months down the line. As I have stated to the court before, my client has been waiting for his day in court here for a very long time, over 20 years. And if we continue to push this back because Mr. Dombrowski hasn’t managed to get access to these materials yet, I just want to say we’re vehemently against it.”
When asked, Kennedy told Judge Howard that he and lead attorney Jennifer Bonjean are not interested in the unaired material because they believe they have enough exculpatory evidence for their case.
Judge Howard then scheduled August 29 for Myles third-stage evidentiary hearing where both sides plan to present witnesses during a three-day, in-person proceeding at the Leighton Criminal Courts building at 26th and California.
Myles has been waiting for this day since 2000, when an appeals court granted him an evidentiary hearing after he argued that he did not receive effective legal representation when he was convicted in 1996 of killing 16-year-old Shaharian “Tony” Brandon on the West Side.
The state’s main witness, 15-year-old Octavia Morris, during the three-day trial said Myles killed Brandon but years later she recanted, saying disgraced Chicago detective and five other officers pressured her into a false confession.
While incarcerated, Myles sought the hearing but a string of public defenders under Judge Dennis Porter racked up over 70 continuances.
In 2019, Judge Porter declined to give Myles an evidentiary hearing saying that his claims of ineffective counsel and other constitutional violations had no merit. A year later the appeals court reversed the ruling before Porter recused himself from the post-conviction case.
Judge William Raines, a former police officer from California took the case but was removed from the bench last December after a “hot mic” … live microphone … caught him making disparaging comments about Bonjean.
Myles’ case was then given to Judge Howard in January. At least eight court hearings have occurred under Howard as Myles continues to wait for his day in court.