At around two-thirty in the afternoon on May 8, 1993, Marshall Morgan left his mother's house, on the South Side of Chicago, and drove off in her light-blue Chevrolet Cavalier. Morgan was borrowing the car and, in return, had agreed to get it washed. It was a warm day, and he wore denim shorts, a black-and-white pin-striped shirt, and black sneakers. After he got the car cleaned, he planned to return home and spruce himself up: he had a date with his girlfriend that night.
Morgan was a twenty-year-old sophomore at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he played point guard on the basketball team. The season had just ended, and he had performed notably well, averaging eighteen points and three steals a game; he had been the runner-up for the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference's most-valuable-player award. His coach, Ed McQuillan, told me recently that Morgan was a "great kid" and a complete player, who was "quicker than hell, great on defense—he could shoot long, and he could drive and penetrate."
When Morgan didn't come home, his mother, Marcia Escoffery, grew worried. She and Morgan were close: she became pregnant at fifteen and brought him up, an only child, on her own. "All we had was each other," Escoffery told me.
Morgan's father, Marshall Morgan, Sr., had recently come back into his life, after an absence of seventeen years. He had attended his son's basketball games and made other efforts at reconciliation: that day, he had booked a room for Morgan and his girlfriend, Lorena Peete, at a local Days Inn. Escoffery had warned her son to be wary of such gestures, but he welcomed them. "He would never back off from family," Peete told me.
Escoffery stared at the phone for hours. Morgan always called to say that he'd be late. After nightfall, she notified the police that her son was missing.
Morgan's disappearance made the Chicago evening news. Police created a toll-free number to encourage leads and plastered the South Side with photographs of him. Nine days after Morgan disappeared, the Cavalier was found parked in front of a run-down building on South Michigan Avenue, near Fifty-eighth Street. Neighbors had reported a putrid smell escaping from a cracked rear window. A forensic team arrived to find a decomposing male corpse on the floor, between the front and back seats, with a .38-calibre gunshot wound in the stomach and two more in the back. The body was naked, except for a black-and-white pin-striped shirt. Dental records confirmed that it was Morgan.
Homicide investigators from Area One, the branch responsible for the neighborhood around Fifty-eighth and Michigan, took up the case. Even in a city that was averaging three murders a day, Area One detectives were exceptionally busy. Their territory included the notorious Robert Taylor Homes, twenty-eight public-housing towers whose stairwells were controlled by drug gangs. Robbery, rape, and murder were commonplace. "They were killing people left and right," Kenneth Boudreau, a veteran detective who served in Area One, told me. The neighborhood was overwhelmingly black, but the police force was overwhelmingly white, and it struggled to establish authority. Tenants, seeing police below, sometimes threw trash from their windows. Many crimes went unsolved.
Cases that attracted significant media attention, however, often became known as "heaters," drawing the resources necessary to make arrests and secure convictions. According to a 1992 article by Myron W. Orfield, Jr., a law professor at the University of Minnesota, heater cases were diverted to "judges statistically far more likely to convict." Some cops tried to avoid the stress of such cases: in 2005, a retired detective told the Chicago Tribune, "You pray to God not to give you a heater case." Others, like Boudreau, didn't shirk the challenge.
Morgan's case was a heater. Crime-lab technicians dusted the Cavalier, and three days later they pulled fingerprints from a Miller High Life bottle and a Löwenbräu forty-ounce that had been found in the car; the prints matched a set on file for Tyrone Hood, a resident of a South Side neighborhood eight miles away. Two detectives immediately began searching for him.
Shortly before 4 P.M., Hood was walking from his house to a corner store, the Munch Shop, when the officers, in an unmarked police car, pulled up alongside him. They informed him that his prints had turned up at a murder scene. Hood, who was twenty-nine, had a full, unpicked head of hair, and a tattoo of his nickname, Tony, on his left forearm. A married father of three, he cobbled together a living through temporary auto-repair jobs, construction gigs, and clerical work. He had grown up in a chaotic home, the eighth of ten children. An older brother had served time for robbing McDonald's restaurants. When Hood was seventeen, two thieves shot and killed his father. Not long afterward, Hood was arrested twice for aggravated assault—one of the incidents involved unlawful use of a firearm—and once each for marijuana possession, battery, and theft. He had served a year on probation for the weapons charge. Now, facing the cops, he dismissed the possibility of his prints being at the scene. ("Someone must have put them there," he later declared.) But he agreed to answer questions at the police station, to "clear his name."
On May 8th, Hood said, he had spent the day at home with his family; that evening, he had watched "Cops" with his wife, Tiwanna. Later in the interrogation, though, he said that several people had come over, among them his friend Wayne Washington. When Hood was asked about his whereabouts on May 9th—Mother's Day—he initially said that he had been with his mom. Then he said that he had stayed home with Tiwanna.
Kenneth Boudreau and his partner, John Halloran, took over the interrogation the next day. Boudreau considered himself an expert at separating a man from his secrets. "I have spent a lot of time learning how to interview people, and have been trained by the F.B.I.," he told me recently. "You don't have to beat people to get them to talk." Chicago cops, however, have long been criticized for being overly aggressive. In 1931, a White House commission warned that the "third degree"—methods that "inflict suffering, physical or mental, upon a person in order to obtain information about a crime"—was "thoroughly at home in Chicago"; one preferred tactic involved beating a suspect in the head with a phone book, since it could "stun a man without leaving a mark." In the late sixties, Chicago police officers shot and killed a Black Panther activist while he was in bed; his relatives received a large wrongful-death settlement. In 1982, a lieutenant named Jon Burge was accused of torturing Andrew Wilson, an alleged murderer of two police officers, who was in his custody. A doctor who examined Wilson found "multiple bruises, swellings, and abrasions," and several "linear blisters." Wilson claimed that he had been cuffed to a hot radiator and that "electrical shocks had been administered to his gums, lips, and genitals." Burge was eventually fired for "systematic" misconduct.
Boudreau, a solidly built man who is now in his mid-fifties, told me that he had never relied on physical intimidation during interrogations. At the time of his encounter with Hood, Boudreau was an Army reservist. In 1990, during the Gulf War, he had deployed to Saudi Arabia; after the September 11th attacks, he had participated in the Ground Zero rescue effort. When he discussed interrogations with me, he spoke like a student of cognitive science. "It's all right-brain, left-brain," he said. "When someone is recalling something, they look left. But when they're creating an answer they look right." He claimed that people who spoke with their hands near their mouths were acting suspiciously, and theorized that "when someone's tapping their leg you can see that if they had full movement they would be running away."
Hood took a polygraph exam. Many scholars have questioned the reliability of such tests, but cops regularly use them. The polygraph technician detected "deception" in Hood's answers. When Boudreau and Halloran pressed him over the inconsistencies in his story, Hood was impassive, telling them, "If I don't say anything to explain, I will go to jail for a long time. If I do tell what happened, I will go to jail." Hood later reported that Boudreau and his fellow-interrogators, frustrated with his refusal to confess, slapped him in the head and thrust a gun in his face, telling him that he could go home "if he signed 'the papers.' " (Boudreau told me that he had not engaged in any abuse; Halloran declined to comment.)
After forty-eight hours in detention, Hood still maintained his innocence. Boudreau and his colleagues couldn't hold him any longer without formally charging him, and they didn't have enough evidence to succeed in court. On May 22nd, they let him go.
Three days after Hood left the station, investigators pulled another set of prints from a beer can in Morgan's car and traced them to Joe West, who lived two blocks away from Hood. On May 27th, two detectives went looking for West; they didn't find him, but came across Hood hanging out at the Munch Shop with his friend Wayne Washington. The cops, recalling that Washington had figured in Hood's alibi, asked him if he would answer questions at the station. Washington agreed. Hood, who said that he didn't want Washington to mistake him for a snitch, volunteered to go along and face further interrogation.
At the station, Hood and Washington were ushered into separate rooms. Detectives also tracked down West and another friend of Hood's, Jody Rogers. Boudreau and three other detectives questioned West, who initially denied any knowledge of Morgan's murder. But after West was informed that his fingerprints had been found on the beer can he told a different story. Wayne Washington and Jody Rogers, in turn, provided details that complemented West's account.
On the evening of the murder, Washington and Rogers said, they had been idling with Hood on a front porch in the neighborhood. Rogers suggested getting high, according to Washington, and asked him to roll a "mo"—a cigarette sprinkled with cocaine. Washington, who belonged to a street gang and sold drugs, said that he was thirty dollars short for the day and couldn't afford to dip into his supply. He told the police that Hood proposed getting cash by doing a stickup, and that Rogers, who was on parole for armed robbery, declined to participate. Nevertheless, Rogers told detectives, he offered his friends a .38 revolver, and Hood took it.
According to Washington, he and Hood set out on foot. After a few blocks, they spotted a blue sedan pulling up to the curb, and saw a man they didn't recognize—Marshall Morgan—getting out. "There's a vic," Hood said, aiming the .38 at Morgan. Washington told police that Morgan gave Hood money from one of his pockets and was reaching into the other when Hood shot him in the gut; as Morgan doubled over, screaming for help, Hood and Washington grabbed his arms and legs and shunted him between the front and back seats of the car. Hood, Washington said, took the car keys from Morgan's pocket, then climbed into the driver's seat and sped away.
Joe West told investigators that, on May 10th, he had recognized Hood driving around the neighborhood in a blue sedan, and waved him down: he wanted to buy a dime bag of marijuana, and knew that Hood could help him find one. West got in, pushing aside a pile of empty beer cans and bottles at his feet, and they headed a few blocks east to make a deal. At one point, according to West, Hood ran a red light, and West, anxious about police, glanced backward and spotted someone sprawled across the floor of the back seat. West recalled that, when he asked what was going on, Hood avoided the question and said that he was "zoning"—stoned. At a corner, West continued, Hood got out and bought a dime bag. After that, Hood drove him home. As West got out, he said, "You are some kind of crazy nigga."
West told police that he watched Hood ease down the street and park a few hundred feet away; the dome light flipped on, and two gunshots rang out. Panicked, West ran inside.
With West's statement in hand, detectives entered Hood's interrogation room and charged him with killing Morgan. Washington was also indicted. The Cook County state's attorney's office assigned Hood's case to Michael Rogers. Rogers—no relation to Jody—was a prosecutor pointedly averse to compromise. Years of contending with violent criminals had left him with a dark view of humanity. The previous year, he and Boudreau had worked on a case in which three men confessed to raping a woman, strangling her, and setting her on fire. "Most of the people who live in the criminal world are riding their own trail down the razor blade of life," he wrote in a forty-page memo that circulated around the state's attorney's office in 2004.
The memo offered advice to young prosecutors. It warned them about the "anti-state judge" who is "bent on screwing you for a discovery violation." Rogers added, "You will want to punch this judge." He portrayed appellate clerks as fifth columnists whose "only exposure to the criminal justice system [will] be some professor who is a former public defender who wore Birkenstocks to class." Rogers cautioned against picking jurors who looked "like the defense lawyer or defendant," and mocked appellate judges who, "for some reason," believed that "the Constitution is more than a technicality."
Hood hired an attorney. But he couldn't keep up with the payments, and turned to a public defender named Jim Mullenix, who had spent two years living in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps volunteer. "People like me root for the underdog," Mullenix said. In their jailhouse conferences, Hood insisted upon his innocence, even though the three witness statements—and Hood's fingerprints on the beer bottles—suggested otherwise.
The judge, Michael Bolan, scheduled the trial for April, 1996. On the eve of jury selection, three detectives intending to bolster the state's case visited a woman in Hood's neighborhood, and asked her if she could help them confirm identities in some photographs. After they fanned several Polaroids—including one of Hood and one of the Cavalier—across the woman's kitchen table, her sister's fiancé entered the room in search of an onion and said, "I seen that guy before."
The fiancé, a former prison guard named Emanuel Bob, pointed at a picture of Hood. Bob said that he had run into Hood "off and on" over the years. Three years earlier, on the night after the killing, Bob explained, he had been looking out his second-story window sometime between midnight and 3 A.M. when he spotted, about a hundred feet away, Hood sitting in the Cavalier. When asked why he hadn't reported this to the police, he said, "I figured, 'Well, they done caught the person who did it.' It's in the paper." Rosemary Higgins, who prosecuted Hood with Rogers, felt that Bob's eyewitness account sealed their case, and had come about "almost by divine providence."
Hood waived his right to a jury trial, placing his fate in Judge Bolan's hands. Two weeks later, Bolan found Hood guilty of murder and armed robbery. At the sentencing hearing, Higgins read a statement from Morgan's mother, who pleaded with Bolan not to show Hood mercy. "He took my son's life so brutally," she said. "He must pay for his crime so no other parent or child has to go through what I am going through." Later, Higgins called Hood a "heartless killer" who possessed no "rehabilitative potential." (Higgins, now a judge, declined to comment.)
Hood's family and friends and former bosses lobbied Bolan for leniency. A relative characterized Hood as a "lovable and devoted father" with a "smile as big as the sun." Mullenix pointed out that Hood had spent three years in pre-trial detention, and that much time had passed since his previous run-ins with police. Before his arrest, Hood had graduated from high school, married, brought up children, and earned twelve hours of community-college credit in automotive mechanics. A supervisor at Catholic Charities, where Hood had done clerical work, said that he was admired there. Mullenix submitted a review from the director of the PACE Institute, a social and academic program for inmates; it described Hood as "highly motivated," and cited his inclusion on the honor roll and his publication of "inspirational articles" in the PACE newsletter as indicators of a "successful future adjustment."
Bolan, unmoved, sentenced Hood to seventy-five years. Before leaving the court, Hood submitted a statement, which Mullenix read aloud. "Life is too precious to take away and not give back," Hood wrote. "An innocent man's life or freedom" was "about to be taken away." The statement continued, "I pray that the truth will come out. In the Bible in Luke, chapter eight, verses seventeen to eighteen, it says, 'Whatever is covered up will be uncovered, and whatever is hidden will be found, therefore, consider carefully how you listen.' I say to myself, 'Tony, they will find out that I'm an innocent man, just have patience for the Lord to help you.' "
Hood was sent to a maximum-security facility in Menard, Illinois. The prison, which sits at the foot of a bluff on the east bank of the Mississippi River, was built in the late nineteenth century, of sandstone blocks ornamented with Egyptian Revival and Greek Revival motifs. It looks like a derelict boarding school.
Shortly after Hood arrived, he listened as an inmate in a nearby cell killed another inmate by bashing a television against his head. Hood started lifting weights to protect himself from potential attackers. Eventually, he got a job at the fry-cook station in the kitchen. He worked there for three and a half years before moving to the knit shop, where he made T-shirts for the prisoners. He received a pittance, but the money hardly mattered. "The more time you spend working, the better chance you will be out of harm's way," he told me recently.
Menard is seven hours south of Chicago, and the distance deterred Tiwanna and the kids from visiting. Calling was expensive, and Tiwanna told me that she's "not a writing person." Some inmates encouraged Hood to forget about her. Women never wait, they told him.
One day when Hood called home, he could tell by Tiwanna's voice that something had changed. "She said she had company, and I knew right there, this ain't good," he recalled. He heard a man speaking in the background. "You ever heard of a Dear John letter? I got a Dear John call," Hood told me. "I was, like, 'How could you? You was one of my alibi witnesses—you know I didn't kill this guy.' " He removed snapshots of Tiwanna from his photo album, and mailed them back to her. Eventually, he filed for divorce.
In 2000, Hood submitted a request for legal assistance through a pen-pal network for inmates. In a letter, he introduced himself as a victim of wrongful conviction, seeking someone to do footwork for him on the outside, so that he could mount a successful appeal. Months later, he received a reply from an Australian woman. The woman, Barbara Santek, had been attending an Amnesty International meeting one night in Fremantle, a town outside Perth, and had agreed to correspond with an American inmate. At first, she was wary of Hood's letter. Weren't judicial measures in place to prevent innocent people from going to jail? Moreover, she told me, exchanging letters with a convicted murderer "took me out of my comfort zone."
After they exchanged a few letters, Hood shipped Santek a packet containing trial transcripts, witness statements, and police files. In a letter to one of Santek's friends, Robyn Fisher, who also corresponded with him, Hood emphasized that he had always maintained his innocence: "If the prosecutor ask me to plea guilty to this crime and they will let me go with time served, well, I would have to say NO because I will be admitting to something that I didn't do, and that would be lying. And I would have to explain that to God on Judgment Day." After his mother became sick, Hood wrote, "This is why I work vigorously on my case, to get out before some else bad happen and I won't be able to see her."
He urged Santek not to take his word for anything, telling her, "Read the stuff and make your own decision."
Santek began leafing through the contents of the package. Forty-seven, with blue eyes and a sandy-blond bob, she grew up as one of four children on a farm on the southwestern tip of Australia. She hadn't seen a black person until she went to boarding school, at the age of fifteen, in the coastal town of Busselton. After graduation, she stayed in Busselton, married, had two children, divorced, and married again, giving birth to a third child. Her second husband abused her, to the point of hospitalization, and she left him. She lived alone in an apartment on the beach, but compared life in Busselton to "God's waiting room": "Everybody says, 'I want to live there,' but then you have it and it's really quite boring." Searching for something meaningful, she began attending the Amnesty International meetings.
She knew little about the law. But as she read Hood's papers she sensed that his case was far more convoluted than the outcome suggested. At various points before the trial, three of the main witnesses against Hood—Wayne Washington, Joe West, and Jody Rogers—had all, in some manner, recanted.
Three years passed between Morgan's murder, in 1993, and Hood's conviction. Eight months after Joe West told Boudreau about buying a dime bag with Hood and seeing someone in the back of the Cavalier, Mullenix, the public defender, arrived unannounced at West's door. Mullenix always tried to interview witnesses himself, in search of inconsistencies. "A lot of times, witnesses don't know what they've told the police," he explained. "When you meet the witness on the street and don't drag them to the police station, oftentimes they will say something completely different from what's in the police report."
West invited Mullenix inside, and told him that everything he had said to the police—including the dime bag and riding with Hood in the sedan—was "a lie." At the station, he recalled, detectives had grilled him about his fingerprints on the beer cans and accused him of killing "the next Michael Jordan." One officer, West said, had pointed a pistol at him. The only way to be released, he felt, was to pin Morgan's murder on someone else.
In a recantation, signed by West more than two years before Hood's trial, Mullenix wrote, "The story was just something he made up. He never met Tyrone Hood that day, he never saw Tyrone Hood drive a car, he never saw a body in the back seat of that car, he never heard 2 gun shots come from that car."
Soon afterward, Mullenix visited Jody Rogers, the parolee who had supposedly given Hood his gun. Rogers also revised his story. Three days after Hood's arrest, Rogers told Mullenix, police had dragged him from his house, telling him that he was "going down for a murder." At the station, Boudreau and Halloran gave him a choice: he could admit to seeing Hood shoot Morgan or admit to hearing him talk about it later. A third option, Rogers felt, was implicit: if he refused to coöperate, they could send him back to jail on a cooked-up parole violation. In truth, he told Mullenix, he never heard Hood say anything about a murder. He also signed a recantation statement.
Then, in August, 1995, Washington, Hood's co-defendant, appeared at a pre-trial conference, and claimed that his confession also had been coerced. Halloran, he said, had slapped him, then tricked him into thinking that he could go home if he signed a prepared statement. (He made a few minor alterations so that it would look more authentic.) Washington's own trial, which was held in late 1995, ended in a hung jury: jurors obviously doubted his confession. Nevertheless, the state's attorney's office prepared to retry the case, and after Washington saw Hood get seventy-five years he consulted with his lawyer, who brokered an agreement with prosecutors. Washington pleaded guilty to murder; by doing so, he told me, he "would still have a chance to catch my kids and have a life." In 2005, after serving twelve years, Washington was released on parole.
Mullenix suspected that Boudreau, Halloran, and the other cops had taken shreds of truth—West's prints on the cans, Hood's mention of Washington in his alibi—and sewn together a false narrative, one that they subsequently strengthened through coercion. But before Hood's trial began Mullenix's case collapsed: West fell ill and died of cancer, and Rogers flipped yet again. The prosecutor Michael Rogers had gone to see Jody Rogers at a Cook County facility, where Jody had recently been detained on carjacking and cocaine charges. Jody initially stood by his recantation. According to trial testimony, Michael warned Jody that admitting that he had misled a grand jury put him at risk of perjury. But he could offer a deal: if Jody repeated his original version of events at Hood's trial, he would avoid a perjury charge—and the state's attorney's office would recommend a lighter sentence in the carjacking case. Jody agreed.
When Jody testified at Hood's trial, Mullenix assailed his credibility. Under questioning, Jody admitted that, in various attempts to evade police, he had used eight different first names and made up three different birthdays. He also conceded that he had negotiated an "agreement" in exchange for his testimony. "His testimony was simply bought," Mullenix declared, later in the trial.
Santek was dismayed as she finished reading the court files. Given the recantations and other irregularities, how could a judge have determined Hood to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?
The witness testimony wasn't the only aspect of the case that made Santek believe in Hood's innocence. Mullenix, she believed, had identified Morgan's killer.
One day in late 1995, as Mullenix was preparing for Hood's trial, he received a call from Renee Ferguson, an investigative reporter at NBC in Chicago. Ferguson had gathered information that she felt could be pertinent to Hood's defense.
A few months earlier, an administrator at James R. Doolittle, Jr., Elementary School, on the South Side, had contacted Ferguson after the school's computer teacher, Michelle Soto, was murdered. Police found Soto's naked body a week after she disappeared, wedged between the front and back seats of her Chrysler LeBaron, with a fatal gunshot wound to the face. Detectives investigated Soto's fiancé but did not arrest him. It was not a heater case.
Still, Soto's family harbored suspicions about the fiancé, and the school administrator asked Ferguson to look into the case. Ferguson discovered that he was a thirty-nine-year-old public-school janitor with a history of violence and insurance abuse, whose own son had been murdered two years earlier, and had been found wedged between the front and back seats of a car. The fiancé's name was Marshall Morgan, Sr.
Born in Chicago, Morgan, Sr., was good-looking, with coppery skin and a groomed mustache. In 1972, he had married his high-school sweetheart, Marcia Escoffery; they named their one son after his father. Morgan, Sr., lived with Escoffery's family for a short time, and then he started staying out all night. Escoffery filed for divorce. "I told him, 'If you want to be free, be free!' " she said to me.
Around this time, Morgan, Sr.,'s relationship with a friend named William Hall turned bitter over seven hundred dollars that Hall owed him. As Morgan, Sr., later told the authorities, one night, when they were parked in front of a liquor store, he pulled out a revolver and "accidentally" shot Hall, killing him. Morgan, Sr., pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and got seven years. He was paroled after two.
Once out, he remarried, divorced, and married again. In May, 1992, his third wife, Dolores Coleman, filed a restraining order, alleging that Morgan, Sr., had choked her "almost to unconsciousness" and had put a gun to her head. They eventually divorced.
His finances crumbled. An affidavit indicated that his expenses exceeded his monthly income by more than sixteen hundred dollars. In September, 1992, he received a foreclosure notice on his house. The next month, he took out a fifty-thousand-dollar Allstate life-insurance policy on his son, the college basketball star, whom he had abandoned when he was a toddler. Young Morgan was murdered seven months later. Three weeks after his body was found, his father collected forty-four thousand dollars from Allstate.
The insurance money did not solve all of Morgan, Sr.,'s financial problems. In 1993, another woman, who claimed that he was the father of her baby, took him to court for child support, and the bank came after his house. Around that time, he and Michelle Soto, the computer teacher, bought a split-level home in Country Club Hills, a Chicago suburb. Soto had recently separated from her husband, Reynaldo Soto, a marine. The Sotos' oldest daughter, Micaela, spent weekends with her mother and Morgan, Sr. Micaela remembers Morgan, Sr., spoiling her and her mother with jewelry. In February, 1995, as a testament to his commitment to Soto, he took out a life-insurance plan for her.
Their relationship, however, deteriorated as the year went on. One evening, Micaela recalls, her mother and Morgan, Sr., quarrelled at the house in Country Club Hills. "I could hear them in their bedroom," Micaela told me. "He was cussing. My mom said, 'I'm leaving,' and Marshall said, 'You better not.' " Soto ignored his threat and left with Micaela. Soon afterward, she disappeared.
After detectives found Soto's body, they opened a homicide investigation. Soto's sister, Doreen Brown, told them that, two weeks before Soto disappeared, Soto had given her an envelope containing "important papers," telling her not to show the envelope to Morgan, Sr., if anything happened to her. "She knew she was getting ready to die," Brown told me, declaring that Morgan, Sr., "had my sister killed." Alonzo Burgess, Morgan, Sr.,'s nephew, told police that he suspected his uncle of having planned a murder. According to Burgess, Morgan, Sr.,'s ex-wife Dolores Coleman reported that Morgan, Sr., had told her he was "about to come into some money."
The police questioned Morgan, Sr., several times, and they detected inconsistencies. At his first interview, he neglected to mention the life-insurance policy for Soto; he later called the omission "a misunderstanding." He denied any involvement in Soto's death.
Laura Burklin, the Allstate claims adjuster who reviewed Morgan, Sr.,'s death claim on Soto, suspected that he was involved in the homicide. He had recently received thirty thousand dollars on a stolen-vehicle claim, and soon after Soto's death he had sold the house in Country Club Hills, using what Soto's family members alleged was a forged deed. But, as Burklin told me, "if the police aren't arresting someone you have to pay the claim." In June, 1997, two years after Soto's death, a judge approved a final settlement, and Morgan, Sr., received a check for a hundred and seven thousand dollars.
In the months before Hood's trial, Jim Mullenix, the public defender, scrambled to incorporate this information into his defense. Everything now made sense to him—even Hood's fingerprints on the bottles. According to Mullenix's theory, Morgan, Sr., had killed his son and then grabbed an armful of loose bottles from a random dumpster and thrown them into the car to confuse detectives. Corliss High School, where Morgan, Sr., worked as a janitor, was two blocks from Tyrone Hood's house.
At Hood's trial, Mullenix argued to Judge Bolan that Morgan, Sr., had a suspicious "connection between two dead bodies" and needed to explain it away. He called Burklin, the Allstate adjuster, to the stand. Burklin told me that Morgan, Sr., was "definitely abusing insurance"—that he had started with an "unusual amount" of petty insurance claims, graduated to stolen cars and house fires, and "worked himself up to people." But she never had a chance to discuss Morgan, Sr.,'s previous insurance claims in court. When Mullenix tried to bring them up with her, prosecutors objected, and Judge Bolan sided with them.
When Morgan, Sr., took the stand, aspects of his testimony contradicted the statement that he had previously given to police. He initially said that he saw his son that Saturday afternoon; now he said that they last saw each other in the morning. Previously, he said that he had given his son a hundred and twenty-five dollars for his date; in court, he revised that amount to three hundred and fifty. Mullenix highlighted these discrepancies and attempted to question Morgan, Sr., about murdering his friend in 1977. Judge Bolan rebuffed these efforts.
When Mullenix asked Morgan, Sr., about the life-insurance policy—"How much money did you collect from your son's death?"—Higgins and Rogers, the state's attorneys, objected. At one point, Judge Bolan told Mullenix, "Perry Mason does this. Perry Mason proves the guy in the back of the court did it." He criticized Mullenix for failing to establish a "relevant nexus" between the Hood case and Morgan, Sr.,'s past. Any similarity between the deaths of Morgan, Jr., and Soto was mere "coincidence." He ridiculed Mullenix's argument as one more appropriate for the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries."
In late 2001, Barbara Santek ran across a series of articles in the Chicago Tribune titled "Cops and Confessions." The reporters described how the Chicago police had relied on "coercive and illegal tactics" to solicit dubious confessions. Among the articles was a profile, by Maurice Possley, Steve Mills, and Ken Armstrong, of Kenneth Boudreau, one of the officers who had culled incriminating statements about Hood from West, Rogers, and Washington. Boudreau, the article stated, had "helped to get confessions from more than a dozen defendants in murder cases in which charges were dropped or the defendant was acquitted at trial." Even in a police department beleaguered by false confessions, Boudreau stood out—"not only for the number of his cases that have fallen apart, but for the reasons." He had targeted suspects especially vulnerable to intimidation, including teen-agers and the mentally retarded, and stood accused of "punching, slapping, or kicking" them. One man, Derrick Flewellen, spent four and a half years in jail after confessing to Boudreau about a rape and a murder—"I wasn't going to get beat up again," he told the paper—before DNA evidence acquitted him. Between 1991 and 1993, Boudreau had allegedly helped elicit at least five dubious confessions from suspects who were later acquitted.
Santek felt sick as she read the article. She told herself, "These were the same guys."
In 2002, Santek came to America for an extended vacation. While in Pittsburgh, she began dating an engineer, and by the end of the year they had married. They started a family together in Pennsylvania, adopting three girls. Meanwhile, Santek and Hood continued to correspond. He wrote to Santek that, after two years of friendship, "I have riches and I can never be poor."
In 2006, Santek and her friend Robyn Fisher travelled to the prison to see Hood. Guards escorted them to a visitation room. "When he walked through the door, I wasn't sure at first if it was him," Santek recalled. His head was shaved, his mustache and goatee flecked with gray. Prison had changed him in other ways. "I learned not to get in nobody's business," he told me, as the possibility of violence lurked behind most prison interactions. "Some guys down here, they like to be right all the time, about anything."
They talked for hours. Hood reminded Santek of her father—"gentle man, good values." She no longer worried that his letters had been a con. "Everything he had written over the years, he was that person," she told me.
A few days later, Hood wrote to Fisher. "During our visit, my mind frame was not in prison at all," he explained. "When it was time for me to lay down, I did hug my pillow and thought about Barbara with a slight smile."
Hood and Santek began talking on the phone several times a month, and he wrote to her frequently. "Your strength has sustained me," he declared in one letter. "Your courage has moved me. Your humor has cheered me. Your wisdom has inspired me." In another, he wrote, "There is not a statement in the English language, or any other language, that could possibly captivate the very essence of how much I truly treasure your Existence." Santek was falling in love, too, and contemplated divorce. In the end, she stayed with her husband, but they began sleeping in separate rooms.
In early 2007, Santek decided to send a plea for help to Loevy & Loevy, a law firm in Chicago that specializes in police-misconduct and wrongful-conviction suits. To insure that her request would attract attention in the firm's mail room, she had Fisher send a parcel of materials, covered in international stamps, from Australia. Gayle Horn, an attorney there, agreed to take the case, on a pro-bono basis. When Hood heard this, he was ecstatic. He wrote to Fisher, "I'm taking the right step to obtain my freedom, and God is going to give me the rest of the steps that I need to walk out this place."
After assessing the case, Horn and her colleagues went out to reinterview witnesses. Wayne Washington reiterated that his confession had been false, saying, "The detectives told me that they wouldn't let me go until I confessed to murdering Marshall Morgan." Jody Rogers signed another sworn recantation. Then Jody's brother, Michael, who had corroborated Jody's false testimony at the trial, revealed something startling: the Chicago police had secretly been paying him for his coöperation. "Every time they picked me up, I got some money," he wrote in a sworn statement. "They told me if I had any problems with anyone in the neighborhood they would take care of it." This struck Horn as a possible infringement of the 1963 Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland, which prohibited the government from withholding information that could help a defendant's case.
In a separate civil suit centering on abusive interrogations, Horn's associates deposed the detectives involved in Hood's prosecution. When John Halloran, Boudreau's partner, was asked if he had hit Washington during an interrogation, Halloran replied, "I invoke my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent." Boudreau, however, told Horn's associates that he would answer questions. "I'm not Michael Corleone," he told me. "I don't take the Fifth." (In fact, Boudreau invoked his Fifth Amendment right in 2005, before a grand jury probing abusive interrogations. He later clarified to me that he had never taken the Fifth in a civil suit.)
Russell Ainsworth, a partner at Loevy & Loevy, asked Boudreau if he had grabbed Jody Rogers's arm and twisted it. "I don't recall my involvement with Jody Rogers," Boudreau said. "I may have placed handcuffs on him. If I put handcuffs on him, it would require twisting the arms up behind your back. I'm not sure what you mean by the word 'twist.' "
"Did you push Jody Rogers into the wall?" Ainsworth asked.
"If I was handcuffing somebody, I would have them stand up against the wall," Boudreau said. "Can you define the word 'push'? . . . The word 'push' has many meanings."
Boudreau is now a sergeant, and oversees the police department's gang-outreach program in area high schools. I met him recently at a diner in Bridgeport, an Irish neighborhood on the South Side. We had apple pie and coffee on tables set with jelly caddies and paper placemats. A cold front was rolling through, causing the awning out front to snap. When I went to turn on my audio recorder, Boudreau flashed a dimpled grin and said, "Nobody tapes me."
He told me that allegations that he had beaten or coerced confessions out of people were "fucking ridiculous." (Years earlier, Boudreau had said in a deposition, "The term 'excessive force' to me is relative. What may be excessive to one person may not be excessive to another.") In one affidavit, a convicted murderer, Kilroy Watkins, claimed that, during an interrogation in 1992 by Boudreau and Halloran, he was "handcuffed to a ring in the wall" and "choked and assaulted repeatedly by Detective Boudreau" until he was "forced into signing a false confession." In 2000, another convicted murderer, Jaime De Avila, said in a sworn statement that Boudreau had threatened to "plant a nigger at the crime scene" who would claim that De Avila had been the driver of a suspect's car. "You'll be surprised what a nigger will do," Boudreau reportedly said. "They will disrespect God before they will disrespect the police." Boudreau denied making such threats, and said, "Have you asked yourself why all the accusations are coming from people in the penitentiary?"
During the past two decades, Chicago has paid substantial legal fees and settlement costs related to Boudreau's discredited cases. In 2011, the city issued a $1.25-million settlement to Harold Hill, a man who was exonerated by DNA evidence years after Boudreau produced a rape and murder confession from him. When I asked Boudreau about the Hill case, he said, "I believe he did it—still to this day. I believe what Harold Hill told me." Asked if he had any regrets, Boudreau said, "I probably should have corroborated more of his statements at the time. Does it aggravate me when I see people walk away and escape justice? Sure. But I can't worry about that. I suppose if I worried about it I'd be biting the barrel of a gun."
Boudreau said that "gravy train" firms like Loevy & Loevy had helped to create a spurious wrongful-conviction industry. I later spoke with Martin Preib, a Chicago cop and author, who said that Boudreau was being maligned by a few firms angling for large settlements. Preib called Boudreau "an unbelievable investigator" and said that wrongful-conviction firms had "ruined the lives of some very good police officers."
The Chicago Police Department has frequently been accused of refusing to acknowledge internal problems. Two years ago, a bartender sued the city after an off-duty policeman pummelled her in a barroom. She alleged that a "code of silence" among officers impeded investigations into misconduct. A jury awarded her eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars in damages.
At the diner, Boudreau said, "I'll tell you what'll happen. Loevy & Loevy wants to get Hood a new trial. The state won't pursue it, Hood will walk, and then Loevy & Loevy will sue me." He took a sip of coffee. "I know in my heart that, when we die, we're going to either Heaven or Hell. I'm convinced that I will be standing at the gates of St. Peter with some homicide victims on my left and some homicide offenders who've made peace with the Lord on my right. And I know that Loevy & Loevy will go straight to Hell for what they do. They call it honor, but they are letting criminals walk free."
We discussed one of the statements attributed to Hood in the police record of his interrogation: "If I don't say anything to explain, I will go to jail for a long time. If I do tell what happened, I will go to jail." At the trial, prosecutors had brought up the statement repeatedly to imply guilt. Hood denies ever saying it.
"So I made it up?" Boudreau asked, his lips pursed in amusement. "I'd like to think if I made up a statement I could make up something better than that."
One morning in August, 2007, Hood boarded a corrections bus heading upstate. He had received a message from the Cook County state's attorney's office, instructing him to report to Chicago for an interview. Days later, he was sitting across from two prosecutors. One of them opened a folder, and Hood saw a photograph of a man he recognized from his trial: Marshall Morgan, Sr. The prosecutors explained that Morgan, Sr., was about to stand trial for the murder of his girlfriend Deborah Jackson.
The circumstances echoed the deaths of his friend, his fiancée, and his son. On September 8, 2001, Morgan, Sr., and Jackson got into an argument about kitchen cabinets. In the middle of the dispute, he left for work, at Barton Elementary School, on the South Side. After a while, Jackson drove to the school and found Morgan, Sr., outside, picking up trash. He got into the car. They continued to argue, with Jackson driving. She stopped a few miles away, and Morgan, Sr., got out. She did, too, and followed him on foot. As he recalled, in a videotaped statement, she slapped him, and he "pushed her."
Jackson's purse slipped off her shoulder and, according to Morgan, Sr., a pistol tumbled out, hit the ground, and misfired. He grabbed the weapon and, after a brief struggle, fired it. The bullet pierced her elbow and her chest. He shot her again, in the stomach. When investigators asked him why he shot her twice, Morgan, Sr., said, "Out of rage, I guess."
The bullets did not kill Jackson, Morgan, Sr., said; when he popped the trunk and shoved her inside, he "saw her hands moving." As she bled out, he placed the pistol under the driver's seat and "went and caught the El" to complete his shift. The next morning, he moved Jackson's car and took the pistol, which he later threw into Lake Michigan.
Jackson's body was found a week afterward, and police questioned Morgan, Sr. For days, he denied knowledge of the murder, but eventually he made a taped confession. He told the police, "I wanted to clear my conscience."
Hood listened to the assistant state's attorneys, confident that they had all arrived at the same conclusion—that Morgan, Sr.,'s murder of Jackson was "proof that I didn't kill his son." But they didn't consider it a vindicating event: instead, they asked Hood if Morgan, Sr., had paid him to kill his son. "I never seen the father, I never seen the son," Hood recalls telling them. A conversation that had begun with him anticipating exoneration had ended with the accusation that he was a hit man. He returned to his cell downstate. In 2008, Morgan, Sr., received a seventy-five-year sentence for murdering Jackson. (Morgan, Sr., denied requests to be interviewed.)
Gayle Horn, Hood's attorney, told me that, by targeting the wrong man, Boudreau and his colleagues had allowed a murderer to remain at large. "There was a serial killer—Morgan, Sr.—who should have been arrested and prosecuted in 1993, " she said. "Instead, he went on to kill two other women."
In February, 2011, Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago. He apologized for abusive police tactics, referring to them as a "dark chapter" in Chicago's history, and said, "This is not who we are." Meanwhile, the Illinois state government was establishing a Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, to consider retrial for dozens of prisoners who were interrogated by Jon Burge, the detective who had been fired for "systematic" abuse of suspects. (In 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for denying misconduct even when, according to the judge, a "mountain of evidence" suggested otherwise.) Cook County began exonerating prisoners at a record rate, freeing more prisoners a year than any other county in the nation. But was it enough? Did even more people deserve freedom?
In February, 2012, Anita Alvarez, the state's attorney, said in a speech, "My job is not just about racking up convictions. It is about always seeking justice—even if that measure of justice means that we must acknowledge mistakes of the past." Signalling a "shift in philosophy," she announced the creation of a Conviction Integrity Unit, to insure "that only guilty people are convicted here in Cook County." Her spokesperson, Sally Daly, told the Tribune that the unit would commence with Hood's case, which "merits further investigation and a full review."
Three months later, James Papa, the assistant state's attorney supervising the new unit, travelled to a prison in southeastern Illinois to interview Jody Rogers, who was now locked up for armed robbery. Rogers said of Hood, "The man didn't do it." He told Papa that he'd been intimidated by police and had always maintained that he didn't know anything about Morgan's murder. Rogers said of Hood, "Let him out." Papa and his investigator drove to Michigan, to try to speak with Wayne Washington; Washington refused to talk without his lawyer present, and Papa never followed up. Papa and his investigator also flew to Florida to question Emanuel Bob—the man who had testified about seeing Hood sitting in a car, at night, from a hundred feet away. Bob stood by his story, saying, "Nobody could ever put words in my mouth." (According to the Innocence Project, nearly three-quarters of the convictions that have been reversed through DNA evidence have featured mistaken eyewitness testimony.)
At the Cook County criminal courthouse, Papa interviewed Hood, who told him that, before his arrest, he "drank mostly Miller products or rum." He described being threatened and roughed up by Boudreau and Halloran. Hood added that another detective had brandished a pistol and threatened to "put five slugs in him." Papa asked him if he had ever met Morgan, Sr. "Never," Hood replied.
Two months later, Papa visited Morgan, Sr., in Stateville, a prison forty miles outside of Chicago. He denied killing his son. "You can take a look at me all you want—I don't care, I am at peace with myself," he said. He also denied that he had experienced financial troubles during that period, saying that he had given "most of his money" to "people who were in need." He had created a life-insurance policy for Morgan, he added, at the request of Morgan's mother, Marcia Escoffery. ("Bullshit," Escoffery told me.) "You have the right guys," Morgan, Sr., told Papa.
A year after Alvarez formed the Conviction Integrity Unit, Papa went before a judge to share its findings on Hood. He did not recommend overturning the conviction. He offered no explanation.
The decision left Hood, his attorneys, and Santek in disbelief. Santek filed a Freedom of Information request with the state's attorney's office, seeking documents pertaining to the Conviction Integrity Unit's investigation and its methods. A week later, a letter arrived informing her that the unit "has no documents that are responsive to this request," and noting, "There are no forms, protocols, or other documents regarding the creation, implementation or operations of the SAO's Conviction Integrity Unit."
Hood's lawyers petitioned Richard Brzeczek, a former superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, to review the memos that Papa had written after each interview. (None of them featured the phrase "Conviction Integrity Unit," perhaps explaining the fruitless results of Santek's FOIA request.) Brzeczek was appalled by Papa's interview with Morgan, Sr., calling it "superficial, cosmetic, and perfunctory, at best." Not only had Papa failed to push Morgan, Sr., on the claims about his finances; he had not questioned him about the strong similarities among the deaths of his friend, his son, his fiancée, and his girlfriend. Brzeczek concluded that Hood deserved a "legitimate reinvestigation."
Over the years, Brzeczek said, he had watched the Cook County state's attorney's office fight several "nasty, protracted battles" on cases that "it eventually lost." He added, "Most of the decisions were based not on legalities or what's right or what should be done but, rather, on 'How is this going to wash politically?' "
Craig Futterman, a law professor at the University of Chicago, is a member of the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission. He told me that the Cook County state's attorney's office had "fairly consistently stood behind shaky convictions"—even ones that he described as a "shame and stain" on the city. He suggested several reasons that the office might resist rigorous reviews of certain cases. There were "economic incentives," given the potential liabilities, and "relationship issues" flowing from the office's "heavy reliance" on the testimony of officers. Internal investigations of abusive practices had the potential to "undermine hundreds of felony convictions that relied on the word of crooked detectives," triggering a cascade of overturned verdicts. Eighty per cent of Chicago police officers, Futterman said, have received three or fewer misconduct complaints in their careers; in 2012, a court document filed by the torture-inquiry commission listed thirty-eight incidents of alleged misconduct involving Boudreau—"an eye-popping number." Futterman continued, "If an individual police officer is exposed, how many other criminal cases might that undermine? If you have a proven instance where an officer lied to put an innocent person in jail, it calls into question all the other cases in which his word has been a primary source of information." He said of the Conviction Integrity Unit, "Its record is pretty dismal." He added, "Was it simply a P.R. move? Thus far, there's no evidence of more than paper reform."
Papa did not respond to several requests for comment. In an e-mail, Sally Daly, the spokesperson, said, "It would be inappropriate to discuss the specifics of the case," because of Hood's ongoing appeal. "More than 12 individuals were interviewed as part of the reinvestigation," she later noted, including people "located out of state." Daly added that, since 2012, the office "has vacated the convictions of 9 individuals following comprehensive conviction integrity reviews" and is examining hundreds of others.
One of the prosecutors litigating against Hood in recent proceedings is an assistant state's attorney named Kurt Smitko. Smitko, I discovered, had participated in the integrity unit's review of Hood's case, joining Papa when he interviewed Marcia Escoffery. Wasn't this a conflict of interest? Daly told me that Smitko "went along" for the interview because he "had a rapport" with Escoffery, but he "did not evaluate the evidence." Daly added, "There is no conflict."
I visited Escoffery on a snowy night in January. She and her sister, Sharon Murphy, led me into a living room with a baby grand piano, giant houseplants, and a bay window overlooking an ice-crusted street. It was Morgan's birthday. "Hell, he would be forty-one today," Escoffery said, blinking back tears. "I can't go out there now, but normally I go to the cemetery and take a six-pack."
I asked them if they thought that Morgan, Sr., had been involved in his son's death. "Logically?" Murphy said. "You take out life insurance on my nephew? You probably had something to do with it!"
Escoffery stared at the floor and nodded. From what she had seen at the trial, eighteen years ago, she believed in Hood's guilt. But she wouldn't rule out Morgan, Sr.,'s involvement. "He hadn't seen his son in seventeen years and then he got a life-insurance policy," she said. "How do I know he didn't kill him for money?" She paused. "If he did it, whatever the penalty is, go for it. Kill him, I don't care. . . . If they can help me prove that he killed my son, hell, I will pull the lever."
One morning in April, Santek was sitting in the parking lot outside the medium-security wing of the Menard prison, fixing her hair in the rearview mirror of a rental car. She and her daughter Nyasia got out and headed for the entrance. Nyasia, a thirteen-year-old with long spiral curls, had visited Hood several times before, spoke with him regularly on the phone, and thought of him as a stepfather. A female guard checked their underwear for contraband after Santek signed in. "All the stuff he puts up with," Santek said, as we waited for Hood.
Hood entered the room without handcuffs. Nyasia nearly leaped into his arms. They hugged, and Hood kissed her on the forehead. He kissed Santek on the cheek. We had been assigned stools around a metal table, and Hood sat down on one, facing the guards. Aloe plants lined the sill.
"May I have a cup of water?" Hood asked a female guard. That morning, the authorities had turned off the water supply as part of a lockdown. The guard, somewhat grudgingly, obliged.
I mentioned to Hood that, amid the tightened security, Santek's daughter had had to run back to the car twice: once because she had accidentally left her cell phone in her pocket and once because Santek had forgotten to remove a lighter in her purse. (Both were considered contraband.) "You know what you just did?" Hood said to me, smiling. "You just let the cat out of the bag." Apparently, Santek sneaked the occasional cigarette.
"Only when I'm stressed," she said.
"It don't mean I love you less," Hood said. He winked at her and reached across the table to caress her hand.
Hood could be up for parole in 2030. He would be sixty-seven, and Santek would be in her seventies. His lawyers hope to get him out long before then. In 2009, Gayle Horn and another lawyer, Karl Leonard, filed a petition for post-conviction relief for Hood, arguing that the evidence against him had "unraveled," and that the officers involved had "a long history of similar misconduct." Morgan, Sr.,'s most recent murder conviction, they argued, demonstrated a "clear modus operandi: Morgan, Sr. has killed close friends and loved ones for financial gain by shooting them . . . and leaving their partially or fully nude bodies to die in and around abandoned cars."
The petition contained several components: the claim that Morgan, Sr.,'s "pattern" of murder pointed to Hood's innocence; police misconduct; and constitutional violations related to the prosecution's undisclosed payments to Jody Rogers's brother. The judge, Neera Walsh, granted an evidentiary hearing about the payments, but dismissed the other components, calling the pattern of evidence against Morgan, Sr., "immaterial in nature," and rejecting the police-misconduct and innocence claims on procedural grounds. No date has been set for the payments hearing.
The state also agreed to conduct a test of "hair-like fibers," fixed to a strip of black tape, that had been found in Morgan, Sr.,'s trunk during the Michelle Soto investigation. Morgan, Sr., had claimed that the hairs came from a ferret that Michelle's daughter kept as a pet. The hairs had never been analyzed. In May, the results came back, and indicated that the hairs belonged to a human female. Horn told me she hopes that the judge will consider a new evidentiary hearing.
Hood, sitting in the visitors' room, steeled himself against getting needlessly excited—especially given that his fortunes depended on the discretion of Cook County judges and prosecutors. On an earlier visit, I had asked Hood if he ever got angry.
"Every day," he said. "How can you not think about it when you looking at what I'm looking at? Twenty-one years." He said he realized a while ago that "this thing is bigger than me," and that "there's a chain of corruption."
Hood knew four prisoners at Menard who, since 2010, had been cleared of charges and released. "I see people getting out of the penitentiary, right?" he said. "Exonerated. I read about how they were arrested, how they were exonerated. And I'm, like, 'Wait a minute—what is going on? You got all this evidence pointing to somebody else? You got nothing pointing at me but some prints.' " He couldn't help feeling that justice was a kind of lottery, and that he was stuck holding a bunk ticket. "Do I have something written on my forehead saying, 'Y'all can just do something to me'?" he pleaded. "What's wrong with me?" ♦