24 years later, Octavius Morris signs second affidavit saying cop forced her to lie convict Roosevelt Myles, who has been in prison for nearly 27 years
By Erick Johnson
Two sworn affidavits. One eyewitness. One fatal shooting and one false conviction. It’s a story that, for decades, has failed to add up. But the case of Roosevelt Myles, a wrongfully-convicted man, has taken a new turn.
More than two decades ago, Octavius Morris put Myles behind bars for life for a crime he didn’t commit. But after all these years, Myles may be a free man because Morris who was the state’s key witness, signed not one, but two affidavits saying that she was forced to lie to help them convict Myles of murder and put him behind bars for life.
She signed one as a scared teenager who struggled to heal after her friend was fatally shot on her mother’s porch. Two weeks ago, Morris signed another—the second affidavit—as a mature adult who wanted to clear her conscience, do what’s right and finally put that tragic night behind her.
She was just a 15-year-old teenager when tragedy struck on November 16, 1992. In the early hours of a chilly Chicago morning, Morris was with her teenage boyfriend, 16-year-old Shaharian “Tony” Brandon. The two were in front of her house in the 4800 block of West Washington on the West Side when a man approached them and tried to rob them. Brandon was shot twice in the torso and taken to a nearby hospital where he died.
It was a shooting that not only scarred Morris, but it would change her life forever as well as that of Myles, now a 52-year-old Chicago man, who has spent half his life in prison for a crime that he never committed.
Over two decades ago, Morris made a mistake that haunted her for a long time. She was the only eyewitness to the shooting. To get several police officers to stop visiting her mother’s house, she told them that Myles was the shooter who killed her boyfriend. But on January 24, 1994, Morris signed an affidavit saying that Anthony Wojcik,a police officer with a notorious history of coercing confessions out of suspects, forced her to lie to put Myles—nicknamed“Blue”— behind bars.
Despite the sworn confession, Morris still served as the state’s key witness during Myles’ criminal trial. On January 10, 1996,prosecutors had Myles convicted of first-degree murder on the false testimony of their key witness and a case that had no credible witnesses, physical evidence, fingerprints or DNA that linked Myles to the crime.
For 26 years, Myles remained behind bars at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, IL, where he is serving a 60-year sentence. During his long incarceration, Myles has dodged Death Row, but a string of five public defenders, who racked up more than 70 delays as he appealed his case, has made his life a living hell. This year, the Bonjean Law Group, a New York law firm that has helped exonerate many wrongfully-convicted individuals, took his case.
Their first order of business was to find Morris—the state’s key witness whose testimony was the strongest evidence prosecutors had against Myles. They called her many times. No answer. They hired a detective who went to Morris’ house and called her when they saw her, but she would not come to the door. Still, no success. When Myles’ attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, received a surprise call from Morris last June, their fight to free a man who had waited so long for freedom began to gain momentum.
On September 26, 2018, Morris, now 41, signed a second affidavit that said Myles did not kill Brandon, helping his attorneys take a big step in the battle to get their client exonerated. The second affidavit was taken by Ashley Cohen, one of Myles’ attorneys from the Bonjean Law Group.
Detailed and heartfelt, the second affidavit may put more pressure on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to vacate the conviction after filing motions to dismiss Myles’ appeal, claiming it has no merit. Both sides will meet before Judge Dennis Porter on November 7 at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.
The latest affidavit is likely to take center stage in courtroom 400, where Judge Porter has presided over the case since it began in 1992. Myles’ lawyers hope that this time, Judge Porter will see an affidavit from a different view and a changed woman who wants to right a wrong after so many years of guilt.
In the new affidavit, Morris talks about Wojcik, a retired 29-year Chicago police officer who was among five officers accused of lying to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.In the new affidavit, Morris talks about Wojcik, a retired 29-year Chicago police officer who was among five officers accused of lying to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.Before he left the force, Wojcik had 41 citizen complaints and was named in two police misconduct settlement suits totaling more than $5 million. He worked under disgraced retired Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara, who, last June in a federal civil trial, invoked his Fifth Amendment right more than 200 times when he was asked whether he coerced witnesses into making identifications, falsified police reports or pinned bogus charges on suspects.
Morris said she had been scared to come forward and did not want to be involved in the case because of the way she had been treated by police and prosecutors.She called Bonjean on June 29 and told her that the statement she would give would be true, not because of any threats or promises.
Morris said she told Wojcik that she did not get a “good look at the shooter.” According to her new affidavit, Morris said that Blue is “not the person I saw.… I would have recognized Blue if he was the person who shot my friend.”
Morris then says in the affidavit, “After I told police that Blue didn’t do it and that I didn’t know who the shooter was, Chicago police detectives continued to come by my mother’s house to question me. I remember a detective named “Tony” [Wojcik] who aggressively kept insisting to me that Blue was the person who shot my friend. No matter how many times I told him Blue was not the person I saw, he insisted that it was Blue.
“Tony, the detective, kept coming to my mother’s house and harassing me. I told him that I was tired of him pressuring me to say the shooter was Blue and that he was going to force me to say things that weren’t true if he didn’t stop pressuring me. I came to believe that Tony was not going to leave me alone until I implicated Blue. I was young and scared and traumatized, so I eventually went along with what Tony wanted me to do. Even after that, I tried to tell people that Blue was not the person, but no one would listen. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how Blue is in prison for a crime he did not do. The police and the prosecutors were not interested in finding out the truth about who killed my friend. This event has nearly ruined my life.”
In her new affidavit, Morris says a state witness, Debra Lenoir, known as “Mellow Yellow,” was a drug addict who was not at the crime scene when the shooting happened.
In court documents, Debra and Oliver Lenoir claim they saw Myles at the nearby Dragon Motorcycle Den and that he left the facility between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. and didn’t return. Later, they told police that they saw Myles near a liquor store at the time of the shooting. Myles’ attorney says their identical handwritten statements were actually written by Wojcik. And according to Myles’ attorneys, Debra and Oliver’s statements were never disclosed to any other officer but Wojcik.
Three of the state’s eyewitnesses—Debra, Sandra Burch and Ronnie Bracey—who were allegedly forced to say Myles killed Brandon, are all dead. With Morris’ latest affidavit, Myless’ attorneys hope they will have the advantage in their case.
The first affidavit Morris signed on January 24, 1994 was taken by an investigator from the Cook County Public Defender’s office. It is not as detailed as the second one. That one details the frightening moments after the shooting and Brandon’s death, but Morris does say that a light-skinned man—not Myles—killed her friend.
Bonjean told the Crusader that both affidavits have weight and show a consistency in Morris’ allegation that she was pressured by Wojick to falsely confess that Myles was the shooter. But Bonjean said the second affidavit was necessary because the first does not have as much detail in pressuring Morris to lie about what she saw.
“Everything she consistently tried to tell the police over and over again is now there. She lays the situation out formally, and unless she spells it out specifically, it won’t have the impact in court.”
Bonjean believes that Morris was traumatized by seeing her friend murdered and the alleged act of Wojcik and other officers pressuring her to say something that wasn’t true. She said it was too much for a teenager to handle after a tragedy.
“She was just a teenage girl who had been through a lot. How many times do these people have to tell the truth and not be harassed?” Bonjean concluded.