Prosecutors have rescinded a promise to reopen the case of a Chicago man who says he was framed for murder — and is still waiting for the day in court he was promised 18 years ago.
Roosevelt Myles, who was convicted of murder in 1996, has always maintained that he was set up by the man who arrested him, a Chicago Police detective with a long history of misconduct. Myles has also maintained that his public defender failed to present evidence at his trial that would exonerate him. Eighteen years ago, an Illinois Appellate Court granted him a hearing to argue he didn’t receive an adequate defense. But the hearing never happened. His case was delayed more than 70 times, due in part to a public defender who admits that she did no work on the matter for years, and prosecutors and a judge who also seemingly did nothing to move the case along.
More than a year ago, after BuzzFeed News wrote about the delays, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office announced that its Conviction Integrity Unit would review Myles’ case.
But now the office’s post-conviction unit is arguing that Myles should not have his day in court after all. Relying mostly on legal technicalities, prosecutors are trying to dismiss his petition entirely.
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Meanwhile, a key witness against Myles at his 1996 trial has offered a sworn statement that a detective pressured her into identifying Myles even though she had previously told the detective Myles wasn’t the killer.
The state’s attorney’s reversal is “a punch to the gut,” said Jennifer Bonjean, Myles’ attorney, of the state’s attorney’s reversal.
Myles’ case, Bonjean says, is “a study in how broken the system is at every level, from the defense side to the judiciary to the prosecution, to law enforcement, and in epic proportions. The process has failed him on every level. It’s just fucking tragic.”
His case was investigated by officers working out of what was then known as Area 5, which covered swaths of the city’s north and west sides. BuzzFeed News has chronicled allegations by more than 50 people who claim officers working out of Area 5 framed them for murders they didn’t commit. Nine of those people have since been exonerated.
When BuzzFeed News asked the State’s Attorney’s Office why the Conviction Integrity Unit was no longer investigating Myles’ case, a spokesperson pointed to policy on the webpage that states that the unit cannot investigate cases for which defendants are also appealing their convictions through a post-conviction petition.
Bonjean said she met with the head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, Mark Rotert, last January and agreed to hold off on pursuing a post-conviction petition while Rotert’s unit investigated. But after five months had passed and there seemed to be no action, she proceeded.
Myles’ legal journey began in November 1992, when 16-year-old Sharharian Brandon was gunned down. According to the first police reports taken at the scene, Brandon and his girlfriend, Octavius Morris, left her home around 2:45 a.m. and planned to go to a nearby restaurant. Two young men, whom Morris described to officers as in their late teens, approached the Brandon, yelling, “This is a stickup,” before firing the fatal shots.
On the night of the crime, Morris told officers on scene that gang tensions ran high in her neighborhood. That made Brandon, listed in police reports as a member of the Four Corner Hustlers, vulnerable to violence from members of rival gangs.
His uncle told police that earlier the same day, Brandon had said he feared visiting his new girlfriend at her home because her ex-boyfriend had shot at him. Records provided by the Chicago Police Department don’t show that officers followed up on those leads in any way.
Instead, police arrested Myles, who said he was out getting cigarettes a few blocks away moments after the shooting. They placed him in the back of a police cruiser and brought him to Morris for identification. She told police that he was not the shooter.
Yet, as days passed and the case transferred to several detectives, Morris’s story shifted. Rather than two teen offenders, she changed her story to say that Myles — who was 28 at the time — was the shooter. She later testified that she didn’t identify Myles earlier because she was afraid, but she never specified of what.
Now, 26 years after the crime, Morris, 41, alleges in a sworn statement that she lied about Myles because the cops were pressuring her to do so. A detective she has identified as Anthony Wojcik “aggressively kept insisting that to me that Blue,” the nickname by which she knew Myles, “was the person who shot my friend. No matter how many times I told him Blue was not the person I saw, he insisted it was Blue.”
She later says in the statement that the detective “was not going to leave me alone until I implicated Blue. I was young and scared and traumatized so I eventually went along” with the officer’s demands. “Even after that, I tried to tell people that Blue was not the person but no one would listen.”
She notes that she knew Myles and would have recognized him if he had been the one to shoot at her boyfriend. In her sworn statement she also claimed officers plied another witness with drugs “to say it was Blue even though she was not there when the shooting happened.”
Morris’s affidavit isn’t the first time she has recanted her identification of Myles. In 1994, two years after the shooting, she told an investigator that police pressured her into making the identification. She also claimed she told police the shooter was light skinned. Myles has a dark complexion.
Wojcik has been accused by more than a dozen defendants — all of whom were found guilty — of beating them into false confessions. Myles claims Wojcik beat him with a flashlight and phone book during his interrogation. Over the course of his career, Wojcik accumulated 41 civilian complaints, though only three resulted in some form of discipline.
In 2014, Wojcik, who had ascended the ranks of the police department, signed off on reports in which his subordinates lied about the high-profile police shooting of Laquan McDonald. A lawsuit filed by the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General described Wojcik as playing a “significant role” in the police department’s response to the shooting. The officer who fired the fatal shot, Jason Van Dyke, was convicted of second-degree murder earlier this year. Three officers accused of lying in their reports in order to justify the shooting are currently on trial for their conspiracy to cover up the crime. Wojcik was not charged.
A message to Wojcik delivered this week through his former attorney wasn’t returned. The attorney, Darren O’Brien, told BuzzFeed News last year that Wojcik has “never done anything improper while investigating any CPD matter.”
In written court filings, Assistant State’s Attorney Todd Dombrowski brushed aside Wojcik’s complaint history. The state argued that Myles’ claims are not timely — despite Myles having filed them more than two decades ago — and also that they fail to adhere to procedure.
Bonjean says the state’s use of procedure to try to dump the case is “gross.”
“Given all that he’s been through, give him his day in court,” she said. “Give him an opportunity to present his new evidence.”
Myles is due back in the courtroom of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Porter on Monday. Porter has overseen the case for two decades and could decide whether Myles will get a new hearing soon.