On Sunday night 60 Minutes reporter Bob Simon talked to Alton Logan, who’s been in prison since he was convicted of murdering a McDonald’s security guard in 1982, and to lawyers Jamie Kunz and Dale Coventry, who have known the whole time that he was innocent but kept it to themselves. Simon respected the dilemma Kunz and Coventry found themselves in — the actual killer was their client and had admitted to them that he did it, but their code of ethics forbade them to do anything that would increase his legal jeopardy. But Logan couldn’t understand why that code of ethics mattered more to Coventry and Kunz than ending the injustice that had sent him to prison for life, and Simon seemed content to leave his audience unable to understand it either.
Probably 13 minutes wasn’t long enough to tell a story this complicated. Here’s what Simon boiled down and left out: There weren’t two lawyers who knew Logan was innocent and signed an affidavit saying so — there were four. One of them had no ethical obligation to Wilson — he represented Wilson’s accomplice in the murder. Furthermore, the police and prosecutorial work that convicted Logan was disgraceful. Evidence as compelling as the murder weapon — which police confiscated during a manhunt for Wilson after he shot and killed two police officers (an unrelated crime) — wasn’t pursued.
It’s hard to know what to make of that affidavit Coventry kept in a lock box under his bed for 26 years. At first glance the writing of it looks conscientious and farsighted — but was it also a way to do nothing and call it something? I couldn’t support Kunz and Coventry’s long silence but I sympathized with them for the agony it caused them. But on TV Kunz said something bizarre. He said there are probably other attorneys keeping the same sorts of secrets, and “I don’t want to be defensive about this, but what makes this case so different is that Dale and I came forward. And that Dale had the good sense to talk to Wilson before his death and get his permission [to speak up after he died]. Without that, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Perhaps Kunz and Coventry mean to impress us with how little wiggle room the canons of the law allowed them. But if the canons are that absolute and they obey them that absolutely, then they’re turning ethics into ideology. I wish Simon had stopped them right there and asked if he’d heard right: Without the permission of Wilson, a street thug, the killer of three men, you would have let him rule you from the grave, while an innocent man continued to rot in prison? I suppose they would have, but I’d much rather believe they had no intention of allowing such a travesty and realized that if they asked Wilson’s permission he might refuse it—and might even put his refusal in writing. No, I’d much rather they were telling us a white lie now than believe that they’d actually have let those canons keep Logan in prison forever.
After my reporting on this case Kunz made a fascinating reply — which he frames as a letter to Wilson (scroll down to “Of All the Lawyers in the World . . .”). And here’s a link to John Conroy’s report on the Alton Logan case Monday morning on WBEZ. Conroy began covering covering Andrew Wilson for the Reader in 1990 in the context of his pivotal role, as a victim who sued the city, in the uncovering of police torture in Chicago. His last Reader piece examines the status of the scandal now that Wilson has died.
Logan’s attorney, Harold Winston, was in court Monday trying to get Logan a new trial. The lawyers’ affidavit is one piece of new evidence and Winston has more — witnesses who never testified at the first trial in 1982. On Monday circuit judge James Schreier listened to the account of Marc Miller, an attorney now living in Florida who back then represented Logan’s codefendant, Edgar Hope. Miller’s story is that Hope told him Logan was innocent and ordered him to pass that information on to Logan’s lawyer. Miller says Hope told him he had only one partner in crime and that was Andrew Wilson, which Miller could find out for himself just by asking around on the street; Hope didn’t even know Logan. Miller and Kunz and Coventry were all members of the homicide task force of the Cook County public defender’s office; Miller passed on to them almost immediately what Hope had said. They asked Wilson — was that you in the McDonald’s? — and Wilson said it was. (Miller was much more circumspect with Logan’s trial lawyer, whom he didn’t know.)
The third signature on the affidavit was that of Andrea Lyon, the public defender who notarized it. The fourth signature was that of Miller. He testified Monday over the objections of assistant attorney general Richard Schwind and Edgar Hope’s current lawyer, Richard Kling. Hope’s trying to overturn his life sentence on the grounds that he’s innocent too. The affidavit and Miller’s testimony both implicate him in the crime he says he didn’t commit.
Winston’s been hoping that Schreier will order a new trial or, even better, that the attorney general’s office will free Logan. But Schreier merely scheduled another hearing for April 18. “They are quick to convict but they are slow to correct their mistakes,” Alton Logan told Simon on 60 Minutes.
There will be more here and elsewhere. ABC World News is working up a story of its own.