Over the past 15 years or so, those of us in Illinois have hardly seen a month go by where an accused killer hasn’t had their case set aside because of serious doubts raised about his or her case, if not proof of their actual innocence.
Thanks in part to the hard work of John Conroy of the Chicago Reader, exposing the police brutality of Area One Detectives lead by Lt. Jon Burge, Professor David Protess and the Medill School Innocence Project, various newspaper columnists, and the development of DNA testing, we have come to learn that many people were sentenced to death or life imprisonment based on faulty confessions.
This ultimately led to Governor George Ryan imposing a moratorium on the death penalty, and its eventual abolishment last year under Governor Patrick Quinn.
So, I think that any right thinking person would expect, in fact, demand, reform of the system that has lead to so many false arrests and convictions. One obvious element to focus on would be how to avoid getting “confessions” from the innocent.
Instead, I opened up my newspaper today to see this:
By Dan Hinkel
, Chicago Tribune reporterApril 6, 2012
Hoping to prevent bungled police probes and prosecutions like those that have plagued Illinois’ legal system, state lawmakers mandated the creation of a class to certify officers as “lead homicide investigators.”
But one of the teams being paid tax dollars to teach the five-day course consists of two law-enforcement figures who were involved in — and sometimes central to — a spate of collapsing prosecutions in Lake County, including high-profile cases that disintegrated in the face of contradictory evidence.
In December, appeals judges called out former Waukegan Detective Lou Tessmann by name as they ordered the release of Juan Rivera after almost 20 years in prison. The judges questioned Tessmann’s interrogation tactics and the believability of the confession he took from Rivera in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.
The other trainer, Jeffrey Pavletic, has spent 15 years as second-in-command in the Lake County state’s attorney’s office, an agency battered by recent legal losses in cases where defendants were pursued for years after DNA seemed to suggest their innocence.
Pavletic prosecuted Rivera and handled pretrial hearings for Jerry Hobbs, who was released in 2010 after evidence pointed toward another man in the stabbing deaths of two Zion girls. Like Rivera, Hobbs had confessed after a grueling interrogation that prosecutors defended as legally sound.
Pavletic also tried another man, James Edwards, whose guilt has been called into question by DNA.
The legal and financial fallout from these cases promises to trouble Lake County for years, and critics of its judicial system said they were disturbed to learn that officers around the state are being taught by two of the county’s key law enforcement figures — at taxpayer expense.
Proper police training could help stem the flow of false confessions and wrongful convictions revealed in the last 25 years by advancing DNA technology, experts said. Steven Drizin, legal director of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, said he fears Lake County’s approach to investigations, interrogations and prosecutions could be transmitted “like a virus.”
“Are they spreading the wrong lessons throughout the state?” he asked.
Legislators who pushed the certification law, which took effect Jan. 1, questioned the vetting process for instructors. Sen. William Haine, the former Madison County state’s attorney, was “shocked” when told by the Tribune that the men taught the course in a nearby county in December.
“I’m at a loss as to why they went up to Chicago to get (instructors with) more baggage than a Greyhound bus when they have diamonds right there in their own backyard,” he said.
Read the whole article here.
I don’t know these two attorneys, and for all I know, they are fine and ethical lawyers. But how hard would it be to find people to teach this training who weren’t involved in false confession cases and have demonstrated a passion, not just for convictions, but for truth, justice and fairness, no matter where the evidence leads them?