The [Tuesday] Papers
After burying days of harrowing testimony from witnesses describing torture at the hands of Jon Burge, the Sun-Times suddenly found the ham-handed testimony of retired police sergeant and current Cook County State's Attorney's Office investigator (isn't that interesting) Michael McDermott worthy of the front page today, perhaps because it had nothing else to go with. I guess they ran out of Blackhawks stories.
The appearance of McDermott on the stand Monday was a highlight of the trial insomuch as he used to work for Burge and was compelled by prosecutors to testify under a grant of immunity. On the other hand, his apparent dissembling only seemed to destroy his own credibility - which hardly helps Burge as McDermott clearly was trying to do.
I'm not exactly sure how his hinky testimony suddenly warrants a breakthrough in coverage, though.
"On the night in question, McDermott said Burge had taken out his gun, secured it and appeared to have pointed it at [suspect Shadeed] Mu'min, who was 10 feet to 12 feet away," the Sun-Times reports. "He said he couldn't be sure if the weapon was aimed directly at Mu'min because his 'line of sight' made it difficult for him to see.
"When Assistant U.S. Attorney April Perry asked McDermott if he then witnessed Burge point the weapon at Mu'min's head, McDermott bristled, 'I never said that. It's an absolute lie.'
"McDermott repeatedly said he never saw Burge place a plastic bag on Mu'min's head, even though Perry referenced his 2008 grand jury testimony saying otherwise.
"During three hours of questioning, McDermott said he had 'clarified' his answers to the grand jury and had said he saw Burge's arm go over Mu'min's head before he eyed a transparent object in front of the suspect's face."
So McDermott once testified that he saw Burge point a gun at a suspect; now he's not sure exactly where Burge was pointing. And he once testified that he saw Burge put a plastic bag over that suspect's head; now he says he merely saw a "transparent object."
I wasn't in the courtroom so I can't say how McDermott's testimony appeared live or how the jury may have received it, but any reasonable person - not that we can assume a jury is made up of such creatures - will conclude that McDermott is hedging as best he can to save his old friend's skin. A person might then also conclude that McDermott saw what he previously said he saw, or that in the least his testimony has little value outside of adding to the suspicions about Burge.
Mark Brown was in the courtroom for McDermott's testimony, and describes it as "just the latest chapter in the real life story of how Burge's police colleagues have closed ranks to outmaneuver decades-old torture allegations involving the former Area 2 lieutenant."
(That's just one of many questions the City Hall press corps could be asking Mayor Daley about during the proceedings, instead of trying to pin him down about, say, whether the city has shown Oprah enough gratitude.)
The cross-examination by defense lawyer Rick Bueke only seemed to backfire, by my reading of it.
"Bueke brought up instances where McDermott had lied under oath," the Tribune reports.
Bueke was trying to show that McDermott's original grand jury testimony about Burge was a lie for the benefit of prosecutors, but what he really showed was that McDermott will squeeze the truth into whatever contortions best serve his own interest.
"McDermott admitted that he lied during a 1993 internal police investigation regarding alleged abuse and that in a 1986 court hearing he lied about pushing a suspect back in his seat in a police interview room," the Trib reports.
And then, Bueke insinuated, McDermott lied to satisfy prosecutors and save his job.
Which leads to an entirely different line of questioning for reporters outside the courtroom: How in the world did McDermott get hired on in the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, and why is he still there?
Over at Vocalo, John Conroy saw things a bit differently than his media colleagues, who on the whole seemed to think McDermott's testimony helped Burge.
"Despite his waffling and hedging, it was remarkable testimony," Conroy reports. "McDermott is the first non-victim to say that he saw what amounts to a suffocation tool in Burge's hand, the first non-victim to say he saw Burge point a gun at a suspect inside the confines of Area 2 (being threatened with revolvers was a common complaint among the scores of victims who have been identified)."
To be fair, Conroy filed that post before Bueke's cross. Even so, Conroy's deep knowledge of the case - and yes, it's a knowledge jurors won't have - is invaluable.
"The defense will shortly being its attack, and it will be based on McDermott's willingness to lie under oath previously when asked if he abused suspects," Conroy writes. "Assistant US Attorney April Perry indicated that McDermott admitted to a federal grand jury that he'd lied under oath in the case of Alfonso Pinex, when he claimed he had not abused the prisoner. The Pinex case achieved some note in the Cook County Special Prosecutor's report, issued in 2006. It was one of the few singled out by special prosecutors as one they would have prosecuted, charging McDermott and his partner Anthony Maslanka with aggravated battery, perjury, and obstruction of justice, had the statute of limitations not precluded an indictment."
Michael McDermott, you are Today's Worst Person in Chicago.
"He takes a partial quotation from her Saturday remarks - 'The only people who can improve our public schools are professional educators' - and makes up a classroom discussion in which a made-up student named Leonard calls her comment 'kinda arrogant.' Because it 'negate[s] the crucial role of parents' and of students.
"I didn't see Steinberg at King High School on Saturday, and I seriously doubt whether he's actually read Lewis's comments. Because his whole point hinges on ignoring what she actually said."
Go read Black's post and you'll see the whole of Lewis's comments - and find it hard to argue that Steinberg didn't get it horribly wrong.
To be fair, though, Steinberg wasn't the only one who clipped Lewis's comment. In fact, that was probably his source.
Lesson: Don't believe everything - or anything, really - that you read.
Why Drew's Mom Rules
The Beachwood Tip Line: Patch in.
Posted on June 15, 2010
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