Wrongly accused Jackie Wilson released from jail after 36 years, judge tosses out forced confession
A 57-year-old man, one of the two brothers accused in one of Chicago's most notorious cop killings, walked out on Friday a free man for the first time after spending more than 36 years in captivity at the Cook County Jail.
Cook County Circuit Judge William Hooks ordered Jackie Wilson's release after finding that the infamous ex-Chicago police commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command had forced Wilson to blurt out a wrong confession. The judge immediately tossed out his murder conviction after his innocence was proven in court, reported Daily Mail.
Hooks ruled on Friday that after nearly four decades in prison, Wilson neither posed a risk to the community nor the risk to flee, adding that his incarceration had aged him “far beyond his chronological age” while considering factors that could lead to his release.
He further added that special prosecutors appeared to want Wilson to view the case “through the lens of a court sitting in 1982 or 1988 without considering the revelations that have come to light over the last three decades" and maintained that they had "utterly failed" in their arguments to keep him in jail.
Burge and his colleagues have been accused of torturing and abusing several African-American men during the 1970s and 1980s at a South Side police station. Costing taxpayers at least $115 million so far in lawsuit settlements, judgments and other compensation to victims, the alleged scandal has gravely affected the credibility of the city's judicial system.
After the ruling was meted out by Hooks, relatives of slain officers William Fahey and Richard O'Brien left the Leighton Criminal Court Building without comment. It was understood that they were upset by the decision, said special prosecutor Michael O’Rourke.
On the other hand, the president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, Kevin Graham, called the judge's ruling "disgraceful" after the hearing.
“I’m very disappointed that a man that is responsible, who was at the scene, that has admitted to being there when two honored police officers of the Chicago Police Department were murdered, gunned down, and he walks out,” Graham said.
Wilson gratefully remarked that he was “happy to be a member of society again" as reporters and cameraman rushed towards him upon his exit from jail.
“Being a victim of one of a number of Jon Burge’s brutalities … ” Wilson tearfully remarked, while sighing heavily. “Oh Lord, it’s just, it’s been a rocky ride.”
“Thank God you’re free," a nearby woman cried out as Wilson walked toward a car that was waiting for him. The free man stepped towards her, grasped her hand and kissed it before he left.
The said woman, 51-year-old Ilicea Barnes, was reportedly 'moved' when she heard that a prisoner would be walking free after being incarcerated for so long.
“Just imagine all he has missed and lost,” she told reporters.
That being said, a social worker and a psychologist have been arranged for Wilson by his attorneys to help ease his transition into civilian life. However, the lawyers declined to reveal his planned place of residence, citing fears for his safety.
Now that the confession had been tossed by Hooks, a lawyer for Wilson, G. Flint Taylor, who has previously represented several alleged victims of Burge over the years, urged special prosecutors to drop the murder charges as they had no integrity.
“Any self-respecting prosecutor would dismiss this case,” Taylor told reporters.
On the other hand, O'Rourke vowed to pursue the prosecution to the fullest extent of the law as he maintained that besides the tainted confession, there was more than enough evidence to keep Wilson behind bars.
“Jon Burge has no effect on the evidence to prove the actual criminal conduct, which is separate and apart from anything Burge-related,” he said. “We have witnesses and we have testimony that’s completely non-Burge-related that will set out this case and set it out in convincing fashion.”
Earlier this week, special prosecutors filed paperwork indicating that they would be asking an appeals court to reverse the presiding judge's decision to order a retrial and scrap the conviction.
Bear in mind, the pardon did not prompt any side in the decade-long court battle to dispute that Andrew, Wilson's dead brother, shot two police officers during a traffic stop, or if Wilson himself was present. Whether Jackie played an active role in the killing of the officer would be an issue in the retrial, if it happens.
According to his lawyers, Wilson appeared to be in a "state of shock" during the shooting, a witness claimed. However, prosecutors argued that Wilson was not an innocent figure, considering that both he and his brother were on their way to break out another alleged cop murderer from custody when their car was pulled over by Fahey and O'Brien.
Back when the incident occurred, Wilson's first conviction was nullified after an appeals court ruled that he must not be tried with his brother at the same time. Then, in 1989, when the retrial happened, a jury acquitted Wilson of Fahey's murder but convicted him of O'Brien's. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.