The [Wednesday] Papers
Who cares if a decorated Chicago police commander tortured dozens - if not more - of African American men, some of whom wrongly ended up on Death Row, when our former governor is caught on tape musing about trading a U.S. Senate seat for the ambassadorship to India? Don't be such a downer! Blago is fun! Burge is a drag.
That's pretty much where we're at as we await closing arguments on Thursday in a story the mainstream media has only sporadically showed interest in - and then only years after the evidence began to mount ("House of Screams" was published in 1990 - 20 years ago - and it remains poorly read and even more poorly understood in our city's newsrooms.)
This is what happens when news is defined in large measure by its entertainment quotient. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a reporter describe how much fun it was to work in a town with such brazen political schemes, I'd be richer than any one of Mayor Daley's closest pals. Fun? You have to live here, too. It's disgusting.
People get hurt.
Some even die.
* * *
First, back to Ricky Shaw, whose crap-ass testimony I summarized yesterday.
John Conroy, who was fired from the Reader because his (estimated) $30,000 salary was too much for management to take given his inability to produce less bang for the buck, blows a few more holes in what he calls "magnificent tall tales," something the dailies once again failed to do because this trial bores them.
"His primary role in the Burge defense team's strategy was to discredit Melvin Jones, one of the five victims on whose testimony the prosecution has built its case, and to suggest that there was a prison-organized campaign to file false charges of torture against Burge and the detectives under his command at Area 2," Conroy writes. "To that end, Shaw claimed that he became a good friend of Jones in Cook County Jail in 1987. 'He told me he had lawyers and everybody trying to get on the case and there were others who were dying to get on it and that there were movie deals and book deals' in addition to a civil suit. He later claimed he hadn't seen Jones's movie on TV but seemed to say he had seen it anyway and he had read Jones's book.
"It was a wonderful story, but it seemed to be untrue. Melvin Jones is featured in no movie, no book exists with Melvin as the hero, and when the two alleged prison pals got to talking in 1987, Jones couldn't have filed a civil suit if he'd wanted to - the statute of limitations had expired. (Jones, who is now homeless, has never sued anyone for the torture. When he testified earlier in this trial he said he'd didn't know a Ricky Shaw.) Flint Taylor, a founder of the People's Law Office, which represented cop-killer Andrew Wilson in his 1989 civil suit against Burge and the city, said in an interview last night that not only was Jones no cause celebre, he was a complete unknown. 'In 1989, we thought the only torture case was Andrew Wilson,' Taylor said. 'We probably still wouldn't know about Melvin Jones if it weren't for the anonymous cop.'"
What anonymous cop? Read Conroy's whole post to find out, then come on back. I'll be waiting!
* * *
Well hello there!
Now, what of former court reporter Michael Hartnett, who testified that he saw no evidence of torture as he typed up Andrew Wilson's confession?
"Hartnett acknowledged that he'd told the grand jury investigating Burge that he 'didn't give a damn what happened to Andrew Wilson' and that he was 'surprised to see him alive,'" Conroy reports in another post.
And this hasn't shown up, as far as i can tell, in any of the daily reporting. Perhaps it is a concept too difficult to grasp:
"Under questioning from [prosecutor Betsy] Biffl, Hartnett also acknowledged that it was standard procedure for a prosecutor to ask if a statement from a murder suspect was being given voluntarily. The question is typically asked in two or more forms (some examples of the prosecutor's typical litany include: Are you giving this statement voluntarily, of your own free will? Have you been coerced in any way? Were you well treated by the police? Have you been offered something to eat? Have you been offered something to drink?). Biffl then walked Harnett through the statements he'd taken on the day of Wilson's arrest, drawing out that state's attorney Larry Hyman had failed to ask any such questions of the Wilson brothers (Andrew was the shooter, Jackie an accomplice) that day, but had asked them of a witness. It turned out that Hartnett also typed the murder confession of Gregory Banks, who testified to being suffocated and beaten by Burge detectives earlier in the trial. Biffl got Hartnett to read seven voluntariness questions that had been put to Banks."
* * *
As I've written before, Conroy once said on a panel I moderated that he thought that first story he did on Burge for the Reader would be his last; he figured the rest of the media, feeling competitive and smelling blood, would jump all over it. To this day he remains baffled that that didn't happen. It's still not happening.
The Sun-Times's quotidian story today is on page 14. Yawn.
It's the 10th of 12 stories - as of this writing - under "Metro & Tri-State" on the paper's home page. You can only spot it with a magnifying glass.
Over at the Trib, you can turn to page 6 for "Burge Jurors To Await Closings," which will surely draw readers in. Subhead: "Ex-stenographer says he saw no evidence cop killer was tortured."
The story is nowhere to be found on the Trib's home page, unlike, say, "Fully loaded: Transform your garage."
You wouldn't know their Burge story existed if you didn't know it existed.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Brazen.
Posted on June 23, 2010
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