Missing for 110 days, court file of Roosevelt Myles turns up after Crusader inquiry

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Roosevelt Myles

By Erick Johnson

The case number is 93 CR 0100301. The file folder for Roosevelt Myles was missing at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse. It contained witness statements, depositions and all kinds of court documents.

The search for the folder intensified, months after Myles won an appeal last May for an evidentiary hearing as the next step to overturn a murder conviction that kept him in jail for 28 years.

After decades of maintaining his innocence, 70 continuances by numerous public defenders and other delays, Myles is still waiting for his day in court.

His latest appeal kicked off with several court hearings that went nowhere as Myles’ missing folder took center stage before Judge William Raines.

Nearly four months went by without a trace of the Myles folder. Where could it be? Clerks searched high and low in desks, offices, even a warehouse. At one point, Judge Raines said he would personally look for the file but never mentioned the results of his search in the last hearing.

After four hearings and 110 days, the Crusader emailed Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office about the situation. One day later the Myles folder was found. As it turned out, the folder was in Judge Raines’ courtroom.

It was the latest fumble in a post-conviction case that has dragged on for decades in the Cook County Criminal Courts.

For 21 years, Myles has been waiting, just for a hearing as the first step in having his 1996 first degree murder conviction overturned after he was accused of shooting 16-year-old Tony Brandon in 1992.

Cops said Myles did it, but a main witness said he did not and alleged she was forced to give a false confession. Since then, an Illinois appeals court granted Myles two evidentiary hearings over a 20-year period, but he has had none.

The first one was denied by Judge Dennis Porter. The second one came last May after an Illinois appeals court sent the case back to Judge Porter after it concluded that Myles’ post-conviction claims of ineffective counsel and constitutional violations had enough merit for an evidentiary hearing.

After the appeals court decision, Judge Porter last October recused himself from Myles’ post-conviction case, which fell into the hands of Judge Raines, who raised concerns about Myles’ missing folder during his hearing on October 29.

At the second hearing on December 2, Judge Raines said he was still without Myles’ folder and that his assistants were searching for it.

At the hearing on January 11, Myles’ attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, offered to have her paralegals look for the file.

Seeking to move forward in the discovery phase, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Todd Dombrowski said he wanted to subpoena Myles’ public defender’s post-conviction file for information regarding any possible interview of a Michael Hooker, who is a defense witness and Myles’ alleged alibi.

Bonjean expressed concerns that Myles’ public defender’s file may contain protected privileged material relating to her client. Dombrowski also thanked Judge Raines for having documents from Myles’ appellate record files scanned, so he can at least build a defense that will be used during the evidentiary hearing.

During the January 11 proceedings, Judge Raines said he was still without Myles’ old original file, which contained witness statements and documents that date back to 1992. He said all he had was a mini file that included the appellate court order. Judge Raines said that at the previous hearing on December 2, he went to a court clerk, who said she could not find Myles’ original file.

“All I have is this [holds up two thin file folders], which is a mini file, and all I have is basically the order from the appellate court,” Judge Raines said. “I don’t have the full file and I apologize for that and the clerk has put in a request for it. It’s been in since the last court date that we’ve been searching for this file. So, I apologize that it’s taking so long to do that.”

Judge Raines later said at the January 11 proceedings, “I’m going to walk back up to the [clerk’s office] when I adjourn court today and maybe I’ll go in the file room and look myself. But the clerk went back to look, and she couldn’t find it. It may have been pulled because it was supposed to come down to me. But the reality is on the last court date that file was not located. So, we’re going to make this a priority because I think we need it.”

But at the next hearing on February 8, Judge Raines did not mention the results of his personal search for Myles’ folder that he promised in January. He only mentioned that his “clerk has been diligently trying to find it in some warehouse, so I don’t have the benefit of that file either.”

That is when Bonjean responded, “Ok, so Judge, with your permission maybe I will put my staff also on it, maybe with all of our heads together we can try to track it down. I don’t know if we’ll have any better luck, but I got to try something.”

Judge Raines never responded to Bonjean’s offer. Instead, he asked, “One last question before we pick a date, is your client still in the Illinois Department of Corrections?”

That was the third time Judge Raines asked the question in three separate hearings. On all occasions, Bonjean told him no and that her client was not in police custody.

Myles was released from prison in July after shaving two years off his sentence following 28 years behind bars. Myles did not attend the hearings on Zoom because he was employed at the time in downstate Peoria.

During the February 8 proceedings, Dombrowski noted that he copied Bonjean on an email indicating that he officially requested to subpoena Myles’ post-conviction file from the Public Defender’s Office Legal Resource Division for discovery purposes. Bonjean said she would like to first review the file out of concern that some of the documents might contain privileged material and if so, she might squash Dombrowski’s subpoena.

Judge Raines responded, “But there’s always that opportunity from me to review any subpoenaed documents and camera. I can make a judicial determination what I think is privileged and not privileged.”

At the end of the February 8 hearing, Judge Raines proceeded to set up the next hearing date, which is March 10. But Myles’ folder was still missing after Judge Raines said he and his clerk have searched for it since he received the case last October.

A week later, the Crusader on February 15, emailed Mary Wisniewski, Director of Communications for the Office of Chief Judge Timothy Evans. The next day, Wisniewski emailed the Crusader saying Myles’ folder had been found.

When asked where Myles’ folder was found, Wisniewski referred the question to Pat Hanlon, who said the file was in Judge Raines’ courtroom #303. Hanlon also said in “January 2020, the Roosevelt Myles’ file was in our Appeals Department and then given to the then-Associate Clerk of Criminal/Juvenile Bureau.”

Appointed to the bench in 2014, Judge Raines won retention last November.  A former police officer and investigator for the Oakland Police Department and an assistant Cook County prosecutor, he was endorsed by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7. Some of his relatives served in law enforcement, including his nephew Michael Raines, a former Cook County correctional officer who was fatally shot by a criminal in 2015.

There are concerns whether Judge Raines’ background and law enforcement ties will affect his ability to give Myles a fair opportunity to overturn his conviction in a case that alleges police misconduct.

With a weak defense by public defenders, Myles in 1996 was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted robbery in a trial that lasted just three days.

The prosecutor’s main witness, 15-year-old Octavia Morris, later signed an affidavit, saying she was forced to confess while under pressure from several Chicago police officers who visited her mother’s house on the West Side.

Myles was on his way to the store the night of Brandon’s murder when he was arrested and questioned by police.

One of those officers included retired Chicago detective Anthony Wojcik, who has been accused on numerous occasions of intimidating and forcing suspects to falsely confess to crimes they say they did not commit. Myles claims he was one of them, but said that he never caved in and didn’t admit to killing Brandon.

Wojcik was also among 10 officers implicated in an Inspector General’s report alleging police misconduct in the Laquan McDonald case. Wojcik resigned in 2016 after the report concluded that he “personally recreated” police accounts of McDonald’s brutal shooting before disposing of original notes.

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