Todd Savage’s wicked little satire of our state’s cynical, careless law enforcement and overly zealous courts–a fanciful form letter that Savage imagined the several prisoners recently freed from death row in dramatic judicial reversals might receive from a mildly apologetic, bureaucratic jailer (“We regret the impersonal nature of this communication”)–was quite funny [February 19]. But Savage may turn the screws a bit too hard with the line “You may apply to the State of Illinois for reparations, which are limited to a maximum of $____, based on the _____ years you spent waiting to be executed.”
There’s more than one way to claim reparations, as was illustrated that same day in the Tribune: Cook County has scraped together “approximately $30 million” to settle lawsuits brought by all members of the Ford Heights Four, one of the most prominent cases of this sort, alleging ill treatment by police and prosecutors. Even if the plaintiffs’ attorneys grab, say, a third of that $30 million ($20 million less than their clients were seeking, by the way) for their cut, that still leaves the five plaintiffs $4 million apiece. Clearly, the law taketh, but the law also giveth away.
Paula Gray, the fifth member of the Ford Heights Four and a plaintiff here, may provide the most important lesson of this matter; she “was convicted initially in the case but later won her freedom after agreeing to testify for the prosecution,” says the Trib, “in subsequent trials against members of the Ford Heights Four.” This though the Four had not committed the crime they stood accused of. This fact should be a caution to all who favor “buying” the testimony of accused felons against their alleged accomplices by granting them immunity to prosecution or similar deals. When push comes to shove, to save their own skins, those accused of serious crimes may be willing to say, or led to concede, almost anything. Wouldn’t you be?