Thursday, January 01, 2009

Guest Shot: In 90’s, Burris Sought Death Penalty for Innocent Man

The following is re-posted from ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. ProPublica strives to foster change through exposing exploitation of the weak by the strong and the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.

In 90’s, Burris Sought Death Penalty for Innocent Man
by Ben Protess , ProPublica - December 31, 2008

Former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris, embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s pick to replace Barack Obama in the Senate, is no stranger to controversy.

Public fury over the governor’s alleged misconduct has masked the once lively debate over Burris' decision to continue to prosecute – despite the objections of one of his top prosecutors – the wrong man for a high-profile murder case.

While state attorney general in 1992, Burris aggressively sought the death penalty for Rolando Cruz, who twice was convicted of raping and murdering a 10-year-old girl in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. The crime took place in 1983.

But by 1992, another man had confessed to the crime, and Burris’ own deputy attorney general was pleading with Burris to drop the case, then on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Burris refused. He was running for governor.

"Anybody who understood this case wouldn’t have voted for Burris," Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, told ProPublica. Indeed, Burris lost that race, and two other attempts to become governor.

Burris’ role in the Cruz case was "indefensible and in defiance of common sense and common decency," Warden said. "There was obvious evidence that [Cruz] was innocent."

Deputy attorney general Mary Brigid Kenney agreed, and eventually resigned rather than continue to prosecute Cruz.

Once Burris assigned Kenney to the case in 1991, she became convinced that Cruz was innocent, a victim of what she believed was prosecutorial misconduct. She sent Burris a memo reporting that the jury convicted Cruz without knowing that Brian Dugan, a repeat sex offender and murderer, had confessed to the crime. Burris never met with Kenney to discuss a new trial for Cruz, Kenney told ProPublica.

"This is something the attorney general should have been concerned about," Kenney, now an assistant public guardian in Cook County, said in an interview. "I knew the prosecutor’s job was not merely to secure conviction but to ensure justice was done."

Kenney was not alone in her beliefs. Prior to Cruz’ 1985 trial, the lead detective in the case resigned in protest over prosecutors' handling of the case, according to news reports at the time.

And rather than argue Burris’ case before the state supreme court, Kenney also stepped down.

"What I took away was that [Burris] wasn’t going to do anything to seem soft on crime," Kenney said. "He didn’t have the guts."

In her resignation letter, Kenney claimed Burris had "seen fit to ignore the evidence in this case."

"I cannot sit idly by as this office continues to pursue the unjust prosecution of Rolando Cruz," she wrote. "I realized that I was being asked to help execute an innocent man."

Burris' response at the time: "It is not for me to place my judgment over a jury, regardless of what I think." (We have also left a message for Burris at his office and will post an update if we hear back.)

State prosecutors carried on with the prosecution, even after DNA evidence in 1995 excluded Cruz as the victim's rapist and linked somebody else—sex offender Brian Dugan–to the crime.

Eventually, prosecutors’ case hit a wall. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed Cruz's conviction and granted him a third trial. (The court declared that the trial judge in the case had improperly excluded Dugan’s confession, and thus compromised Cruz's defense.) In the new trial, Cruz was acquitted. The judge in that case concluded, "I'd hope and pray the person or persons - whoever is culpable - is brought to justice."

In late 1995, Cruz finally walked free after serving 11 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

A grand jury later indicted four sheriff's deputies and three former county prosecutors for their roles in the Cruz case. They were eventually acquitted. Burris was never accused of any wrongdoing or misconduct. Dugan is scheduled to stand trial for the crime next year, 26 years after it was committed.


FleaStiff said...

A lot of namby-pamby do-gooders are fond of saying that the prosecutor is supposed to see that justice is done rather than simply obtain convictions but that sort of guff is on par with this Tooth Fairy stuff. The prosecutors first duty is to get re-elected! You don't get re-elected by acknowledging mistakes or exposing the cops who made them.

TimWAnderson said...

Wow! What a fantastic site. As a stalked person, placed in fear of being setup, this was a sight for sore eyes. My kids were stalked and attacked at school where teachers had subtle roles. Sounds 'crazy'? That's exactly how they play this crime against those so targeted. ("Idealists", those that "see too well", for the corrupt people around them.) These politically and mason connected people are a hazard to free society and it's amazing the DAs tolerate this. Some do complain, as do honest Masons; they get the 'Some things are bigger than you' speech and are told to back off or put their careers in jeopardy. (Organized crime too is involved; in Northern California anyway.) They dropped a person in my path to literally threaten me with 'The secret societies can take you out any time they want. Why was I targeted by someone with such high level connections? see youtube/dstevens101 for a correlation made to Romans use of slaves to our current 'outsourcing' gig. This has all been done before and was recognized from Roman history in 1998.