I'd like to wish Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez a happy first anniversary on the announcement of her Conviction Integrity Unit, a task force created to re-examine controversial cases where plausible claims of wrongful conviction have been raised.
"My job is ... about always seeking justice," Alvarez said in a speech to the City Club of Chicago in early February 2012, "even if that measure of justice means that we must acknowledge mistakes of the past."
But I can't wish Alvarez and her Conviction Integrity Unit happy anniversary as long as she remains the custodian and defender of the highly corrupted conviction of Daniel Taylor.
Taylor, 37, is the Chicago man convicted in 1995 of a double murder despite increasingly persuasive evidence that he was being held in a North Side jail at the time of the slayings.
Alvarez wasn't part of the case at the beginning. It was initially prosecuted under State's Attorney Jack O'Malley, whose team argued it meant nothing that an arrest report and bond slip showed Taylor was taken into police custody on a disorderly conduct rap two hours before the murders occurred in November 1992 and was released on bond a little more than an hour after the murders occurred.
Mere paperwork errors, they said. Their major evidence was a 25-page confession signed by Taylor, a confession Taylor's attorneys said was false and coerced. The jury convicted Taylor, and he was sentenced to life without parole.
O'Malley's successor, Dick Devine, took on responsibility for the case when a 2001 Tribune investigation bolstered Taylor's alibi. That 4,600-word report presented new interviews with witnesses and former co-defendants as well as evidence from police files that hadn't been turned over to defense attorneys.
Devine's office then conducted a cursory reinvestigation of the case that did not include interviews with the detectives or prosecutors who took the disputed confession. The conclusion? Surprise, surprise. The conviction was solid.
Taylor's lawyers, now led by Karen Daniel of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, did not give up. They took the case to federal court, where in 2011 an appellate panel found that the emerging paper trail provided "strong proof" of Taylor's innocence and granted him permission to file a new appeal in state court.
That trail now includes handwritten notes from interviews with police officers who were in charge of the lockup at the time of the murders, notes that had not been turned over to Taylor's original defense attorneys. These notes, like every other scrap of evidence that's turned up since the original conviction, point to Taylor's innocence.
That evidence is summarized in Taylor's petition for post-conviction relief filed last week in Cook County Circuit Court.
A key passage is the recent sworn affidavit of retired Chicago police officer Michael Mitchell, who was in charge of the lockup at the time paperwork shows Taylor was released, 75 minutes after the murders occurred:
"It is not possible that Daniel Taylor was released early, released by mistake or escaped from custody," says Mitchell's affidavit. "For this to have happened, numerous personnel from two separate watches would have had to conspire ... to cover it up. ... I would not and did not engage in any such conspiracy."
Alvarez has owned this case and its dreadful implications since she became state's attorney in late 2008. It stands to become a nationally famous example of how stubborn blind justice can be and how obtuse prosecutors still are on the issue of false confessions.
Alvarez can begin to set it right — to restore the integrity of her office that she preened about an entire year ago — by going along with the demand for a new trial at a preliminary hearing on this case Thursday.
Better still, she can earn her happy anniversary greetings and "acknowledge (the) mistakes of the past" by dropping this shocking case altogether and setting Daniel Taylor free.
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