Ex-officer shot 28 times deserves justice

Howard Morgan

[Photo from FreedomforHowardMorgan.com]

Howard Morgan

As Gov. Pat Quinn ponders requests for pardons in his final days in office, he should pay attention to an online petition calling for freedom for Howard Morgan, which has been signed by more than 42,000 people.

Morgan, a former Chicago police officer who is African-American, was convicted of attempted murder in a second trial in 2012 and sentenced to 40 years in prison following a 2005 incident in which three white officers received minor bullet wounds and Morgan was shot 28 times, nearly killed and permanently disabled.

His attorneys challenged the second trial under the doctrine of double jeopardy, since Morgan was acquitted of aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm in a 2007 trial.  They argued that the first jury believed Morgan’s testimony that he never fired his gun, and an eyewitness who testified that she never saw Morgan with a gun.

Judge Clayton Crane declared a mistrial in 2007 after two jurors became ill.  According to Morgan’s wife, the defense and remaining jurors asked that deliberations continue — ten jurors being enough to reach a verdict — but the judge acceded to a prosecution motion when it appeared Morgan could win full acquittal.

She’s outraged at the retrial on related charges, which was upheld in a convoluted appeals court ruling.  “Does the Constitution mean anything for black Americans?” Rosalind Morgan asked.  “Does it only apply to white Americans?”

There are a lot of curious aspects to the case.

Morgan was 53 in 2005 and had been a police officer for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad since 1992.  Before that he had received numerous commendations as a Chicago police officer for eight years.  He was married, a father or two (he’s now a grandfather of three) and a deacon in his church.

It was 12:45 a.m. when his van was pulled over as he neared a family home he was remodeling.  Two officers said they pulled him over for going the wrong way on a one-way street and driving without headlights.  Another police car pulled up as the stop was in progress.

Morgan says he was “snatched” out of the van and attempted to identify himself as a police officer; the officers who’d stopped him started shooting after one of them saw the service revolver in his waistband and shouted “gun!” Morgan says he never drew his weapon and lost consciousness after the first three or four bullets hit him.

The police account is frankly hard to credit.  They said that during a patdown search, Morgan became angry, pulled out his gun and started shooting, “spraying” bullets at the four officers on the scene.  They took cover behind their vehicles and returned fire, stopping only when Morgan stopped, after he emptied his revolver.

One officer testified that Morgan continued firing after taking a direct shot to his back, and then was struck by several bullets and knocked to the ground, only to get back up and continue firing.

“Twenty-eight bullets,” Rosalind Morgan muses.  “Twenty-one in the back — the neck, the back, the ribs, the buttocks, the lower legs.  Seven in the front — kidney, colon, liver.  Only God let it not hit his spine or heart — which is what they were aiming for.”

And still Morgan kept shooting?  “I didn’t know I was married to Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and the Bionic Man, all in one,” she said. “These are false statements concocted to fit their story. It’s ludicrous.”

There are other troubling anomalies.  Morgan’s hands were never tested for gunshot residue, despite being suspected of attempted murder of police officers.  Of the 28 bullets that entered his body, only three were recovered — making it impossible to refute the defense theory that Morgan was shot with his own gun after it was taken from him. (The defense maintained that the arresting officer’s wounds came from “friendly fire.”) His bullet-ridden van, which could have yielded evidence about bullet trajectories and whether officers opened the door and pulled Morgan out, was destroyed.  The vest of an officer who said he was shot in the chest was lost.

The single independent eyewitness said the second police car had three officers, and one officer’s battery report said there were three assisting officers, though he later testified that that was an error.  Morgan supporters think a fifth officer’s gun could have produced ballistic evidence that might be pinned on Morgan.

Then there are trial irregularities, along with the double jeopardy issue.  Morgan’s attorneys weren’t allowed to mention that he had been acquitted of shooting a gun in a previous trial.  They were prevented from exploring evidence showing that the Morgan’s van’s lights were on at the time of the incident, contradicting the pretext for the stop.

They weren’t allowed to mention the conviction of one of the officers testifying against Morgan for falsifying an arrest report and giving false testimony in a case involving the notorious Special Operations Squad.

Morgan is preparing a post-conviction petition citing what his supporters say are numerous trial errors.  They say Judge Crane consistently ruled for the prosecution in pretrial motions.  The prosecution, meanwhile, used its pre-emptory challenges to ensure that unlike the first jury, the second jury was overwhelmingly white.

The wheels of justice grind slow, but Howard Morgan is in his 60s.  In his case, Gov. Quinn, justice delayed could well be justice denied.