A former member of one of Chicago’s most notorious gangs has spent years trying to prove his innocence after he was convicted at an infamous double-murder trial before a corrupt Cook County judge who later went to prison for taking $10,000 to fix the case.
But on Tuesday, the presiding judge of the Cook County criminal courts denied a certificate of innocence to Nathson Fields, writing in a 50-page ruling that the former El Rukn had failed to prove he was truly innocent of the 1984 gang slayings and that evidence showed he was aware of the bribe paid to fix his murder case.
The ruling by Judge Paul Biebel Jr. comes as a blow for Fields less than a week before his federal lawsuit over his allegedly wrongful conviction is scheduled to go to trial in federal court. A certificate would not only have strengthened Fields’ civil rights lawsuit but also expunged the murder conviction from his record and made him eligible for $200,000 from the state.
The decision marks a reversal for Biebel, who in 2009 granted Fields the certificate, only to have the decision overturned by an appeals court in 2011.
Prosecutors vigorously fought Fields’ efforts to obtain the certificate, making an unprecedented offer to reduce the sentences of two murderous El Rukn “generals” in exchange for their testimony at the civil hearing.
But in the end, Beibel found that Fields’ own testimony was “unbelievable,” particularly his statements that he knew the gang only as a religious organization and that his role was limited to managing one of its properties and enforcing El Rukn rules with sanctions like push-ups.
“Listening to Fields testimony, it would be difficult to distinguish the El Rukn organization from the Boy Scouts,” Biebel wrote.
Fields was originally convicted of a 1984 double murder ordered by gang kingpin Jeff Fort. But Thomas Maloney, the judge who presided over the bench trial, himself was later convicted of pocketing $10,000 to fix the case, only to return the money in the midst of the trial when he suspected the FBI was onto the bribe. Maloney convicted Fields and a co-defendant and sentenced both to death.
After Maloney's sensational conviction years later, Fields won a new trial and was acquitted in 2009 of the double murder. He was released after spending 17 years in prison and sought a certificate of innocence to clear his name.
Biebel held an extraordinary eight-day hearing last year that served as a history lesson on El Rukn at which former leaders and a current Cook County judge testified.
After he and other Black P Stone leaders went to prison in 1968 for using a $1 million federal grant to buy guns and drugs, Fort ran El Rukn from behind bars, giving orders and discussing strategy in coded language for up to 10 hours a day, according to testimony.
“In the daytime…we was wearing the Islamic garment,” former gang hit man Jackie Clay testified at last year’s hearing. “And at nighttime we was shooting and killing people. We was selling dope.”
In several recorded conversations, Fort discussed bribing Maloney in exchange for acquitting the gang members on murder charges and made clear that he wanted Fields told about their efforts to have him cleared, Biebel noted in his ruling.
“This court finds that Fields was a willing participant in the bribe of Mahoney and therefore has unclean hands in this civil proceeding,” Biebel wrote.
Fields, who previously served more than 12 years in prison for a 1971 murder in Dixmoor, vowed to continue fighting to prove his innocence.
“It’s a life-long process for me,” he said. “It’s never going to end because I know I’m innocent and I didn’t do the crime.”