CHICAGO (CBS) — A judge on Thursday announced he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate possible misconduct by past and current Cook County prosecutors involved in the case of Jackie Wilson, eight months after prosecutors dropped murder charges against him when an assistant Cook County state’s attorney revealed he was a long-time friend with a key witness in the case.
Near the end of his third trial for the 1982 murder of a Chicago police officer last October, special prosecutors dropped all charges against Wilson, just after assistant Cook County state’s attorney William Trutenko testified during the defense case that he was a long-time friend with William Coleman, a central witness in Wilson’s second trial in 1989.
According to published reports, Trutenko later testified he hadn’t discussed Coleman with the special prosecutors who had taken over the case for Wilson’s third trial. Special prosecutors told the judge Trutenko had lied on the stand, and they then dropped all charges against Wilson, meaning he can’t be tried a fourth time for the 1982 murder of a Chicago police officer.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx fired Trutenko later the same day.
In a ruling issued on Thursday, Judge Alfredo Maldonado on Thursday said he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether any prosecutors involved in the case at any point engaged in criminal conduct.
According to published reports, Cook County prosecutors had objected to appointing a special prosecutor to investigate current assistant state’s attorneys.
However, in a statement Thursday afternoon, Foxx’s office said they will cooperate with the probe ordered by Maldonado.
“The CCSAO welcomes the Court’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor. The State’s Attorney is committed to transparency and accountability in this and all matters and looks forward to cooperating fully with the special prosecutor ultimately appointed in this case,” spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said in an email.
Wilson’s murder conviction was tossed out in 2018 after he testified about torture at the hands of detectives connected to former police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
Due to a conflict of interest, special prosecutors took over the case for his third trial last year, which came to an abrupt halt after Trutenko revealed his relationship with Coleman, a key witness in the case.
Wilson’s defense team has portrayed Coleman as an “an international con man who repeatedly perjured himself decades ago to secure Wilson’s conviction,” but neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys in the case knew whether Coleman was alive or dead.
Trutenko testified he had recently been in touch with Coleman, noting he became godfather to one of Coleman’s daughters several years ago.
When pressed as to whether he had ever disclosed that friendship to the prosecutors’ office, Trutenko said he did not believe he had any obligation to do so.
“If proven, the failure of Trutenko to reveal the existence of a key witness – and his relationship with that witness – is serious professional misconduct that was never disclosed to Jackie Wilson during his decades of wrongful incarceration,” Wilson’s defense attorneys said at the time.
Wilson, 59, was being tried again despite successfully arguing in prior hearings that he was tortured into confessing to taking part in the killings by notorious former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Wilson has claimed Burge and detectives under his command beat him with a dictionary, stuck a gun in his mouth and played Russian roulette, and gave him electric shocks.
Wilson’s 1989 conviction was thrown out in 2018 by Judge William Hooks after allegations that Wilson had been tortured by Burge, who is now deceased, into confessing to a role in the shooting. Hooks was hearing evidence in Wilson’s third trial. Wilson has been free on bail since Hooks threw out his conviction in 2018.
Defense attorney Flint Taylor said his team was pleased Thursday night that the case was dismissed by the special prosecutor.
“It should have been dismissed and never gone to trial. But it did and it was a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money,” Taylor said.
Wilson’s first conviction was overturned by an appellate court. At a retrial in 1989, he was acquitted of Fahey’s murder but convicted of O’Brien’s.
His brother, Andrew Wilson, was convicted of firing the shots that killed both officers, and is serving a life sentence. At question in Jackie Wilson’s third trial was whether he also participated in the murders, or was legally responsible because prosecutors say the two brothers were plotting to break a friend out of police custody while the friend was in the hospital.
Burge has never faced criminal charges for abuse. He was fired from the police department in 1993 over the 1982 beating and burning of Andrew Wilson.
Wilson died in prison in 2007, convicted twice in the murders of O’Brien and Fahey.
Burge died in 2018, four years after he was released from prison, having been tried and convicted of lying about the torture of suspects in police custody.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)