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Why did prosecutor take 48 days to issue subpoenas in long-delayed Roosevelt Myles’ case?

Roosevelt Myles

Months after a heated hearing, the wait began for Assistant State’s Attorney Todd Dombrowski to subpoena two media organizations in the post-conviction case of Roosevelt Myles.

Last June, at a hearing before Judge William Raines, Dombrowski said he would subpoena Buzzfeed and the Discovery Channel. The news outlets published stories that included an alibi who said Myles was at a different place during a murder on Chicago’s West Side in 1992. Dombrowski wanted both published and unpublished statements Michael Hooker, the alibi, made to prepare for the state’s case in Myles’ long-delayed evidentiary hearing.

Forty-eight days would go by before the next hearing in late July when Myles’ attorney would learn that the subpoenas were still in Dombrowski’s office and had not gone out.

When they were finally sent out, Myles’ attorney learned that they were never served to the media organizations. A total of 98 days had gone by since Dombrowski’s initial promise to send out subpoenas that would likely be rejected by media outlets asserting their first amendment privilege as members of the press.

All this unfolded in the last several months before Judge William Raines. Today, the execution of the subpoenas has taken center stage in the discovery phase in the post-conviction case of Myles, who has been waiting 21 years just for a hearing, after an Illinois Appeals Court granted him one in 2000.

With little evidence and false testimony of the main witness, Myles was convicted for murdering teenager Shaharian Brandon in 1992.

Myles had to petition the State Appeals Court again in 2019 after Judge Dennis Porter dismissed his post-conviction case, saying Myles’ claims of ineffective counsel had no merit.

Last year, the Appeals Court disagreed and sent the case back to Judge Porter, who then recused himself from the case as Myles’ attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, sought to request another judge for her client.

Judge Porter was then replaced in October 2020 when Judge Raines took the post-conviction case that has long experienced delays caused by a string of public defenders who amassed over 70 continuances under Judge Porter.

It has now been a year since Judge Raines began presiding over discovery hearings in Myles’ case, which is the first step in getting his conviction overturned.

On top of the many delays in Myles’ case, the pandemic has added more headaches, as a backlog of cases pile up at the Cook County Criminal Courts building, where Myles’ hearings are still conducted on Zoom with Judge Raines. With the holiday season fast approaching, the discovery hearings may drag on into 2022.

But today, the question remains, why did it take Dombrowski 48 days to issue a subpoena in a case that continues to drag on in its discovery phase.

Dombrowski wanted the published and unpublished statements of Michael Hooker, an alibi who on Discovery Channel’s investigative series “Reasonable Doubt,” said he saw Myles exit an apartment building several blocks from where Brandon was murdered on November 16, 1992. Hooker never testified during the trial in 1996 that found Myles guilty of murder. He spent 28 years in jail before he was released in July, 2020.

During a heated discovery hearing on March 10, Bonjean objected to Dombrowski’s demanding her to subpoena Buzzfeed and Discovery’s “Reasonable Doubt.”

Bonjean strongly objected and argued that Dombrowski should subpoena the news outlets, because the state was seeking the material, not her. She also argued that the subpoenas may not prove successful, because news organizations claim journalistic First Amendment privilege in not releasing news materials to courts.

Dombrowski argued that it was Bonjean’s responsibility to subpoena the outlets because Hooker may be a potential witness in court. He then expressed his concerns that Bonjean had not submitted a witness list for her case.

When Judge Raines eventually ordered her and Dombrowski to subpoena the news outlets for the information, Bonjean strongly objected and told Judge Raines, “You’ll have to hold me in contempt.”

By the next hearing on April 27, things had calmed down. Bonjean told Judge Raines that she gave Dombrowski a critical press statement that was sent out to the media. Apparently, that was enough to satisfy Judge Raines, who thanked Bonjean and told her that he appreciated her effort.

Dombrowski said that he would place an order with the court to issue a subpoena for aired and unaired statements Hooker made to Discovery’s “Reasonable Doubt,” which in 2020 concluded that Myles could not have killed Brandon and that the murder was a planned hit by someone else. After receiving Hooker’s statement, Dombrowski said he will attach a note to the subpoena saying Bonjean “doesn’t have anything like that in her possession.”

At the next hearing on June 8, Dombrowski said he had notified Bonjean that he placed an order with the court to grant him the power for a subpoena to obtain Hooker’s aired and unaired statements on “Reasonable Doubt,” and possibly any subsidiaries or parent companies of the network that may have the material as well. It is a limited subpoena.

Bonjean acknowledged that she received a copy of Dombrowski’s order that morning.

Forty-eight days later at the July 26 hearing, Dombrowski made statements that suggested the subpoenas had not yet been sent out. He said, “I can let the court know that I’m moving on with the issuance of the media subpoenas. They’re now in the hands of my paralegal who is sending them out to the right individuals.”

He asked that the next hearing be September 1 “because of the time it takes for service of interstate subpoenas and their resolution.” Judge Raines said that was a bad week and scheduled the next hearing to September 14, giving Dombrowski two additional weeks to issue the subpoenas.

Surprised by Dombrowski’s response, Bonjean said, she thought the subpoenas were going to be issued on the last court date. By the next hearing on September 14, Dombrowski said the subpoenas were finally sent out, but law enforcement officials outside of Illinois were unable to serve them to the news outlets.

Dombrowski, who appeared in court sick and casually dressed, said “as to the status of the subpoenas, we were finally able to get in touch with the proper law enforcement agencies who would be able to serve those subpoenas. They however need some additional documentation from the court.

“It is three documents. One is actually a short affidavit from me that says ‘yes’ this is important. The second is a specialized order from your honor that says ‘yes’ this is the material important enough, please help us. The third is actually a certification form that needs to be signed by your clerk, which says ‘yes’ this is a fact. Once we get that paperwork judge, we can actually give that to the third-party agencies. And they can go ahead and properly serve the corporations or businesses.”

In response, Bonjean said, “As far as I know these are just subpoenas that are being issued to third-party agencies and we’ve now come back to court now multiple months just to get a subpoena out that hasn’t been even returned. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Bonjean then said she “would really like to get this subpoena issue resolved and it would be helpful if Mr. Dombrowski gave me some advanced notice of what he is trying to get accomplished because I don’t know what he is talking about frankly.”

During the hearing, Dombrowski did not give a date of when he issued the subpoenas or when the court approved his order to send them out.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans have not responded to emails from the Crusader regarding this story. Due to ongoing technical problems, the Crusader was unable to access the Cook County Clerk’s website as the site was experiencing technical problems on Monday, October 11.

As Bonjean raised her concerns, Judge Raines said nothing but deferred to Dombrowski when Bonjean asked about the next hearing date. It was scheduled for October 18, about 30 days later.

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