A law school professor and his students contend in a motion filed in the Illinois Supreme Court that they have uncovered evidence that a death row inmate was wrongfully convicted of a 1982 murder on testimony by witnesses who now say Chicago police detectives coerced them into falsely identifying the suspect as the killer.
The Chicago-Kent College of Law students said that their investigation into the case of Edgar Hope Jr.--convicted in the shotgun slaying of an off-duty sheriff's deputy who was working as a security guard at a South Side McDonald's restaurant--found evidence implicating the real killer, who is serving a life sentence for the 1982 murders of two Chicago police officers during a traffic stop.
The motion filed by law professor Richard S. Kling accuses a former South Side police commander and his detectives of coercing witnesses, destroying police records and withholding evidence that could have exonerated Hope in the slaying. The commander, Jon G. Burge, was fired in 1993 for allegedly directing the torture of suspects who made confessions to murder charges that later were proved to be false. He is still under investigation.
If the law students' efforts on behalf of Hope succeed, he would become the 14th death row inmate cleared of a murder charge since Illinois reinstated capital punishment in 1977. Three murder convictions have been overturned on the basis of investigations by journalism students at Northwestern University.
Hope still faces a possible death sentence on his guilty plea in a separate case, the 1982 shooting death of a Chicago policeman on a bus. Death sentences imposed on him in that case were reversed three times, and he is awaiting his fourth sentencing.
Kling said that Burge was in charge of not only the McDonald's murder case in which Hope was convicted but also the case in which Andrew Wilson, 46, was convicted of killing two policemen who stopped his car in 1982. Wilson's death sentence in that case was vacated after it was proved his confession was extracted under torture by detectives under the direction of Burge.
Burge also has been accused by death row inmate Aaron Patterson, who charged in an appeal that the commander and his detectives tortured him for 30 hours until he confessed to killing an elderly South Side couple who ran a fence for stolen goods. Patterson, whose case has been championed by such death penalty opponents as former model Bianca Jagger, is seeking a hearing on his appeal.
Kling's motion says that the law students obtained a videotaped affidavit from a former McDonald's employee who recanted her identification of Hope as a participant in the 1982 shooting that left one off-duty officer dead and another wounded. The employee, then 17, said detectives showed her a photograph of Hope and said they would not leave her home until she identified Hope as one of the gunmen.
Kling said the witness had felt guilty for 18 years for identifying the "wrong man" and wanted to apologize to the presiding judge and "pray for forgiveness."
Another former McDonald's employee interviewed by the students said Hope was not in the restaurant, but she identified Wilson as the man who shot and killed one of the security guards. Kling said the employee, whom he did not name in the motion, will testify that she has never been questioned by the police.
Several other employees asserted in affidavits that after telling police that Hope was not in the restaurant, they were never called to testify at his trial. Kling also submitted a copy of a 1982 internal memo written by a regional security manager for McDonald's saying that he had talked with Burge every day after the murder and that "at the present time there are several good witnesses but I'm withholding their names for their protection."
Robert Benjamin, spokesman for State's Attorney Dick Devine, said today his office would not oppose Hope's motion for a hearing if it appears valid and is filed in the trial court instead of the state Supreme Court.
"We'd like to see any information they have," Benjamin said. "We've asked for it, but they haven't given us anything yet."