Monday, January 23, 2012,
by Ted Pearson
Randolph Stone and Herschella Conyers, attorneys for Howard Morgan who is on trial in Cook County Criminal Court on charges of attempted murder of two policemen almost 7 years ago, were taken aback in court today when the prosecution announced that Officer William R. Walker, a prosecution witness, remembered only early this morning that he had turned the headlights of Morgan’s mini-van on after Morgan had been shot 28 times by the police he is accused of trying to kill. This is a key element in the trial. The police claim that they initially stopped Morgan in his minivan at 12:45 am on February 21, 2005 because they observed him driving the wrong way on a one way street with no headlights. The defense claims that Morgan violated no traffic laws and was driving with his lights on throughout.
Walker’s belated memory could be important for the prosecution because In very detailed and lengthy testimony Maurice Henderson, a now retired CPD forensic investigator, showed over a hundred photographs he took of the scene after Walker had left that show the headlights of Morgan’s mini-van are on.
Prosecutor Daniel Groth announced at the opening of today’s session, before the jury came in, that Walker had told them early this morning on the telephone that he suddenly remembered that he had turned on the parked van’s lights. Walker and his partner were the first to arrive on the scene at 19th and Lawndale after the hail of gunfire he heard a few blocks away had ceased. They immediately took one of the officers who had been wounded in the arm in the shooting, John Wrigley, to Stroger Hospital for treatment, but not before he stopped to turn on the lights of Morgan’s van, which was parked at the curb with the engine off. At that time he said Morgan was lying on his back beside the van, apparently unconscious. Walker would have had to step over Morgan’s body to reach into the driver’s side door and turn on the lights.
Walker had not testified at Morgan’s first trial, and said he only remembered turning on the van’s lights early this morning when he was talking with ASA Groth by telephone. He said he had kept no notes and filed no report and had only recalled this detail this morning, almost 7 years after the events.
Stone and Conyers objected to allowing Walker to testify to this late recollection, but Judge Clayton Crane said that if the defense offered evidence that the van’s lights were on throughout the incident he would allow Walker’s testimony regarding the lights in rebuttal. He said this would allow the defense a few days during the trial to investigate Walker’s claim.
Stone informed Judge Clayton that were Walker ultimately allowed to testify to this conveniently and very lately recalled memory, the defense would immediately move for a mistrial.
On the fateful day he almost died at the hands of the police Howard Morgan was going to the family home that he was remodeling in the Lawndale community. He has said he was stopped by Officers Wrigley and Timothy Finley for no apparent reason. Finley and Wrigley were white rookie policemen patrolling the all-Black community on Chicago’s West Side.
At his first trial in 2007 the jury acquitted Morgan of firing a weapon at all, but they deadlocked on the attempted murder charges. Two of the policemen were shot in the melee, but evidence showed that Morgan had fired no weapon at all. The prosecution in the case alleged that Morgan grabbed the officers’ guns and used them in addition to his own, which he carried on his way to and from his 13 year job as a policeman for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.
An eyewitness to the events, Charice Rush, had testified at the first trial that she observed the events while sitting in a car parked nearby. Rush testified that she saw the police pull Morgan from his car, throw him to the ground, take his gun from his belt, and shoot him many times. A hand-written statement she had signed after being interviewed by an Assistant State’s Attorney was basically consistent with her testimony at the trial.
Rush will testify again, according to Morgan’s defense. Prior to the first trial she said she had been threatened by police who visited her at home and warned her not to testify. She had been afraid and had left town, but investigators working for attorneys representing Morgan found her and encouraged her to come forward at the trial.
Morgan was a Chicago policeman himself for eight years before taking the job with the BNSF. His father in law is Bishop of the Church of the Living God on the South Side. Morgan was a Deacon of the church and his wife’s sister is Pastor. They have deep roots in their community, which is outraged by the way they have been persecuted by the system.
Morgan’s defense team is widely recognized. Randolph N Stone is Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He directs the Criminal & Juvenile Justice Project of the Mandel Legal Clinic at the UC Law School, offering law and social work students the supervised opportunity to provide quality representation to children and adults. He was the Director of the Clinic from 1991 to 2001 and previously served as the Public Defender of Cook County.
He has also served as deputy director for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, partner in the Chicago firm of Stone & Clark, attorney with the Criminal Defense Consortium of Cook County, and as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow for the Neighborhood Legal Service Program in Washington, D.C.
Stone is a past chair of the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section, and serves on several boards and committees including the Sentencing Project, Inc., the Federal Defender Program, and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition to clinical legal education, his teaching and writing interests have included criminal law, juvenile justice, the legal profession, indigent defense, race and criminal justice, evidence, and trial advocacy.
Herschella G. Conyers is also Professor of Clinical Law at the UC Law School. Prior to joining the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic in the fall of 1993, Herschella G. Conyers served as an assistant public defender, a supervisor, and a deputy chief in the office of the Cook County public defender.
Supporters of civil rights, along with friends and family of the Morgans, are encouraged to attend the trial and show their support for justice. Trial proceedings start every day at 10:30 am and continue throughout the day in Courtroom 600 of the Criminal Courts Building, 2600 S. California Ave. in Chicago. Supporters of civil rights view the trial as a racist cover-up of a an attempted murder by police motivated by fear and panic.
People may also contribute to the Howard Morgan Defense Fund c/o Church of God, 1738 W. Marquette Rd, Chicago 60636.