The Worst Shot Came From The Justice System
The case of Howard Morgan
Imagine being put on trial for four counts of attempted murder, four counts of aggravated battery with a firearm against a police officer, and two counts of discharging a firearm.
The jury acquits you of the two counts of firing a firearm and four counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. Logically, you would think that a finding of not guilty would also be entered on the charges of attempted murder, but the jury deadlocks on those charges.
According to your defense attorneys, ten jurors considered you not guilty of attempted murder, and two others would not agree. The judge declares a mistrial.
Then imagine being put on trial again and the court orders that the second jury cannot know that the first jury acquitted you on the charges of discharging a firearm and aggravated battery. The second jury enters a conviction for attempted murder, aggravated battery, and discharging a firearm. You are sentenced to 100 years in total, but since one sentence is 40 years, the judge orders that your sentences run concurrent meaning, you will serve 40 years in prison. At the age of 61, does it really make much difference?
Protesters and your family say that the second trial violated double jeopardy.
Okay, that started at what is now the present. Let’s go to the beginning.
On February 21, 2005, Howard Morgan was working as a senior patrol officer for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, when he was on his way home from work. He had been on that job since 1992 after serving 5 years as a Chicago police officer. About a block from his destination, he was stopped by police for driving the wrong way on a one-way street with his headlights off.
The officers said that they tried to arrest Morgan when he pulled his service revolver and shot at them multiple times, hitting one of the officers. The officers opened fire, shooting Morgan 28 times. In addition to the 28 bullets that hit Morgan, many more were shot into the air, into Morgan’s van, and into the walls and furniture of nearby houses. Morgan was shot 21 times in the back, and 7 times in the front. At trial, one cop testified of standing over Morgan and firing a shot into his back. The cops thought Morgan was dead, but he wasn’t.
Morgan was transported to Mt. Sinai hospital where his condition was reported critical. According to Phillip Zaret, a trauma surgeon who treated Morgan that night, Morgan had injuries to his neck, back, leg, liver, kidney, and colon. He also had an open fracture to his left leg, and a fracture to his right arm. Morgan awoke, handcuffed to a hospital bed.
It took him 7 months to recover. During that time, he was transferred to Oak Forest County Hospital. Judge Kathleen Mary Pantle set his bail at $2 million. Judge Clayton Crane later upheld the $2 million bail despite requests from Morgan’s lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., that he be allowed lower bail to facilitate his recovery. Morgan requires assistance walking and regular medication.
Rosalind Morgan, Howard Morgan’s wife, was able to raise $12,000 in donations for her husband’s bail. The remaining $188,000 was donated by an anonymous donor.
The lone eyewitness who came forth, Charice Rush, testified at Morgan’s 2007 trial that she saw the officers “snatch” Morgan from his van and “force him onto one knee,” and that she heard one officer say, “oh shit, he has a gun” before the officers open fire, while Morgan was on the ground. Rush said she never saw Morgan fire a weapon.
Photographs of the van taken by police evidence technicians all showed that the van was parked with its lights on.
Chicago police officer Richard Pruger arrived at the scene after the shooting. He said that the van’s headlights were on.
Chicago police officer Tom Mitchell arrived on the scene after the shooting. He also testified that the van’s headlights were on.
Chicago police forensic investigator Maurice Henderson testified that when he arrived on the scene, the van’s headlights were on.
Howard Morgan was never tested for gun residue to confirm if he fired a weapon.
The State never produced the actual bullet proof vest worn by one of the officers who claimed to have allegedly taken a shot directly into the vest. The State only produced a replica.
Only 3 of the 28 bullets taken from Morgan’s body were retained in evidence. They did not say what happened to the other 25 bullets or if they had been kept. Some casings and bullets from Morgan’s firearm were presented, but it was argued that since the cops took Morgan’s gun from him before they fired, that they could have fired Morgan’s gun.
Morgan said he identified himself as a police officer to Chicago police officers John Wrigley and Timothy Finley, but that they didn’t believe him. The next officers to pull in at the scene were Nicolas Olsen and Eric White. Morgan says that he was dragged out of his van and forced to the ground. As he tried to produce his identification, one officer noticed his service revolver, a Glock 9mm pistol, and yelled “gun!” The gun was removed from Morgan’s waistband, and then they opened fire on him.
Morgan’s van was crushed and destroyed without notice or cause before any forensic investigation could be done.
In April 2012, Morgan stood trial again, with the same prosecutor, State Attorney Dan Groth Jr., and in front of the same judge, Clayton Crane.
Dan Groth Jr. is the son of Sergeant Daniel R. Groth Sr. who led the squad of Chicago Police Department raiders who killed Fred Hampton as he slept in his bed 43 years ago.
Officer Finley testified that at 12:35 AM on February 21, 2005, he and Officer Wrigley heard a sound that they believed to be a gunshot. He said they saw a van going the wrong way down a one-way street with its lights off. The officers followed it through several stop signs, then pulled it over.
Finley says that he drew his gun as Morgan got out of his van. Finley and Wrigley were joined by Olsen and White. Finley testified that Morgan complied with an order to put his hands on the van, but then began to struggle while being patted down. Finley describes an extended gunfight, during which Morgan fired at the officers from the ground. When questioned about the bullets in Morgan’s back, Finley said that Morgan stood up and the officers were spread out, so Morgan turned around to shoot at them.
At Morgan’s sentencing, Officer John Wrigley yelled in court, “You shot me, Morgan. You came very close to taking my life. … you slandered our reputations as police officers. … you are a fraud.” Wrigley was treated for a gunshot grazing wound to his left wrist. It is not known whether the bullet came from Morgan’s gun, or from friendly fire.
Officers alleged that Morgan fired 17 rounds. Three shell casings from Morgan’s gun were recovered at the scene. The other 14 are unaccounted for and his defense argued that the cops could have shot Morgan’s gun.
Olson was also treated at the hospital with a band-aid for a puncture wound to his right calf. He did not turn-in his firearm to the Chicago police department for testing.
White had two weapons registered with the Chicago police department, but his revolver was not examined to see if it was fired at the scene.
None of the officers were swabbed for gun-shot residue.
Ted Pearson, Co-Chairperson of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, witnessed much of the trial testimony. Upon learning of the verdict he said, “It is clear that this jury of ten white people and only two African Americans did not take any time to reviewing nine full days of testimony by witnesses for the prosecution or the defense. They simply wanted to go home.”
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Clayton Crane immediately revoked Morgan’s bond and would not consider bond pending appeal.
I read the first 18 pages of the 36 page Appellate Court’s decision that denied Morgan’s appeal then scrolled to page 34. The Appellate Court said that Morgan’s constitutional rights (double-jeopardy), were not violated, holding;
“We find that defendant has failed to meet his burden of establishing that, in acquitting him of [aggravated discharge of a firearm] the jury necessarily determined that he did not discharge his firearm.”
The justices went on to say how the jury could have found that did not necessarily mean that they could decide that Morgan didn’t discharge his firearm. UH??? What happened to reasonable doubt?
The order captures trial testimony, and from the officers, it was very contradictory. The forensic witnesses had no answers; nobody could establish where anyone was standing while firing; they failed to conduct rod investigation of the path of the bullet holes in Morgan’s van, and the clerk sent certified mail to him to get his van from impound that was unsigned for and returned — because she didn’t know that he was in the hospital and under arrest. So, they crushed the van.
Rosalind Morgan is represented by attorney Benjamin Crump, who after Morgan’s sentencing stated, “The reality of it is there is no way that we can let these inconsistent verdicts stand; to let this complete miscarriage of justice stand, and tell people to respect the judicial system.”
Morgan has filed another appeal based on what his attorneys and supporters say is double jeopardy in the 2012 retrial, and their allegations of destruction of evidence. They argue that the judge erred in the second trial by ruling that Morgan’s defense attorneys were barred from telling the jury of his acquittal on the gun and assault charges in the earlier trial.
There is a change.org petition to Illinois Governor Quinn.
In an interview with Roland Martin, attorney Crump stated, “I’ve said, Roland, he was shot 28 times in the street but the worst shot came in that courtroom from the judge and the justice system. And if this can happen to a black police officer with 22 years of experience with his prestige in the community, what about our little boys who are driving while black?”
Sources: NBC Chicago