Thursday, September 10, 2009

Update on a fascinating Chicago case

By Laura Caldwell

I wanted to provide a personal update on a Chicago situation reported on this year by our own Sara Paretsky. Briefly the story is this—Alton Logan (now one of my clients at Loyola’s Life After Innocence Project) was convicted of being an accessory to the killing a security guard on the south side of Chicago, and he did twenty-six years in jail before he was freed. We hear often of DNA evidence which exonerates someone. This was not the case with Alton. Instead, lawyers for a man named Andrew Wilson knew that their client (who they were representing on an unrelated cop-killing case) was the real perpetrator of the crime. Andrew Wilson had confessed to them almost immediately. What were they to do?

The attorney-client privilege in our country, for some very good reasons, provides that an attorney may not disclose anything a client has told him, unless under extreme circumstances, such as if the client discloses an intent to kill someone in the near future. In this case, their client had told them that he had helped killed someone in the past. In looking into it, they realized that another man was in jail for that crime. The attorneys couldn’t convince their client to come forward, so they had him sign an affidavit stating that upon his death they could disclose his confession. So many years later, when Wilson died, that’s exactly what happened, and Alton Logan was exonerated.

When I first saw Alton speak at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, I was struck, as I have been by so many other exonerees, at his lack of bitterness. He was speaking on a panel and sitting immediately next to the attorney who, because of the attorney-client privilege, felt he was forced to wait all those years to disclose his client’s confession, and yet Alton did not seem to harbor any resentment toward the man. Much debate has been had about the attorneys and what they should have done. Many experts I’ve asked have indicated that it is a trickier situation than most people think. By breaking the attorney-client privilege, the lawyers could, hypothetically, have lost their law licenses. But many of those experts think they should have hired outside counsel to find a way to disclose the confession within the ethics rules and the laws.

But coming back to Alton. As I mentioned, he is now a client of the Life After Innocence Project, of which I’m the director. At our project, we aid exonerees, after they’ve been found innocent to reclaim their lives—get their records expunged, help find state money, locate jobs and housing, obtain counseling if necessary and a lot more. In Alton’s case, we’re helping to get him some much-needed medical attention, ensuring that his conviction doesn’t keep showing up on his record, getting him some financial counseling, and working with the state to obtain the relatively small amount of funds he will eventually receive.

But when I think of his case, I keep returning to Alton himself. He is employed and is in a relationship. He is working hard to learn the ways of the world—Google, email, cell phones, automated everything—and he is succeeding. In large part that success is due to that lack of bitterness. We see this same thing in all our clients. They tell us that they choose, every day, sometimes many times a day, not to be bitter, not to be angry, because somewhere along their journey they realized that those emotions will hurt no one but themselves. I often wonder if I could do the same thing. Could you?


Dana King said...

I understand and support attorney-client privilege. Still, the lawyers were officers of the court, and should have tried something. They were more concerned about their careers than an innocent man languishing in prison.

Barbara D'Amato said...

This is good work, Laura.

I wonder--would it help new exonerees to be guided by one who has been out for a time?

Leslie S. Klinger said...

The stories of the moral courage of Alton and Jovan and others like them are truly uplifting. I hope that you will write these up as a "sequel" to "Unlikely."

Laura Caldwell said...

Barb, that is an excellent suggestion, and one we're trying to work on now. First, we're starting a monthly support group for Chicago or Illinois exonerees, which would provide job training, group counseling, networking and an opportunity to share experiences, with a range of people who have been exonerated at different times. Also, we have long term goals to hopefully start working more closely with some of exonerees (as co-workers rather than clients) once they are up and running on a few fronts. Thanks for that suggestion, though, because it reminded me to keep pushing forward on those things.

Les, great idea! Could be an excellent book.