By John Conroy

Next month, in Cook County Circuit Court, Darrell Cannon will take the witness stand and swear that three Chicago police officers pinned him to the backseat of a police car, pulled his pants and undershorts down to his ankles, and then used a cattle prod on his testicles and penis and in his mouth.

He will be making that claim in the courtroom of Judge John Morrissey, and Morrissey will be listening only because he has been ordered to. Cannon was convicted of murder in 1984 and won a new trial on appeal. After that, the case landed on Judge Morrissey’s docket. In 1994, before the second trial began, Morrissey declined to schedule a hearing on whether Cannon’s alleged confession was voluntary. In 1997 the Illinois Appellate Court rejected Morrissey’s reasoning in no uncertain terms, forcing the judge to schedule a hearing on the charges of torture Cannon made against the police. If Morrissey finds that Cannon was indeed so abused, prosecutors cannot use the alleged confession as evidence and the case will almost certainly collapse.

Ordinarily, a claim like Cannon’s would be easily dismissed. Cannon can point to no physical scar and say, “Here is proof.” (Electric shock often leaves no marks–one of the reasons it is favored by torturers.) He cannot produce a cattle prod bearing the fingerprints of the arresting detectives. He can call no one who will claim to have seen him physically and sexually assaulted. He has been convicted of participation in two murders (one in 1971) and has been identified in police documents as a general in the El Rukns. One of the three accused officers has died since Cannon’s 1983 arrest, but the other two have at times enjoyed sterling reputations. Reader readers may recognize one of their names: Lieutenant Peter Dignan, who was the subject of a story in these pages last November, was named one of the nation’s “Top Cops” in 1995, and as such he visited the White House and shook the president’s hand. Sergeant John Byrne, now retired from the force, was hailed in the Tribune Sunday magazine in 1980 as a model of integrity. Both have previously testified that Cannon was well treated.

One might think, then, that Morrissey’s unwillingness to listen to claims of a coerced confession was well-grounded. One might think that the battle is lopsided, a waste of time, a legal technicality required by a higher court. In fact, this battle is well drawn. Long-hidden police documents indicate that an investigator from the department’s own Office of Professional Standards revisited the case in 1993 and concluded that the El Rukn was more credible than the cops.

Why then, you might ask, is Darrell Cannon still sitting in jail?

Darrell Cannon’s case began with the October 26, 1983, murder of Derrin Ross. According to police documents, Ross had stolen narcotics and money from a drug dealer with ties to the El Rukns, and Cannon and a man named Andrew McChristian (also known as A.D.), both allegedly El Rukn generals, took Ross for a ride. A police field investigation report goes on to relate that McChristian shot Ross in the head while Cannon was driving the car, and the two gang members dumped the body in a lot behind the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the far south side. On November 2, 1983, Dignan, Byrne, and detective Charles Grunhard (who died in 1990) arrested Cannon at his apartment. It was 7:15 in the morning. Cannon had been sleeping, and upon hearing the police at the door he hid in a closet naked.

Under oath, Dignan has presented a remarkable portrait of Cannon’s arrest. At Cannon’s 1994 trial, he testified that the El Rukn general began cooperating as soon as he was in the police car, pointing out locations where A.D. McChristian might be found. Dignan claimed at a 1984 pretrial hearing that when they arrived at the Area Two police station Cannon declined to have an attorney present, willingly confessed to his role in the shooting, and then accompanied police first to Altgeld Gardens to reenact the crime and then to the Area Two auto pound to help them locate the car in which Ross was killed, a trip that took about three hours to complete.

This account presents some curious details, chief among them Cannon’s alleged immediate cooperation. According to Cannon’s lawyers, A.D. McChristian was one of the El Rukns’ “Main 21,” the few who communicated directly with El Rukn leader Jeff Fort. If the police are to be believed, Cannon immediately set about helping Dignan and his comrades locate one of the most important members of the most notorious gang on the south side of Chicago.

According to a detective who worked the gang’s territory in the 1980s, the El Rukns were fiercely loyal to each other in those days and imposed harsh internal discipline; someone in Cannon’s position, the detective says, would likely be more frightened of offending Fort than of offending the police, and a high-ranking member would never give up a comrade without some deal–immunity from prosecution, a light sentence, or some sort of protective custody arrangement. None of those things could be guaranteed by a policeman; and indeed the police claim that nothing was offered, that Cannon cooperated, all day, quite willingly.

No detective can be sure how long a suspect’s cooperation will last, and a wise cop usually wastes little time in getting a written and signed statement before the alleged culprit decides to “lawyer up.” In this case, however, none of that caution was displayed. Cannon allegedly first confessed to participation in the murder at 10 AM, making an oral statement to detectives at Area Two headquarters. Yet instead of getting a state’s attorney and a court reporter to take it down, Dignan embarked on a three-hour driving tour with the prisoner. Cannon was not brought face-to-face with a state’s attorney until after 2:45 PM, seven and a half hours after he had allegedly begun to cooperate and almost five hours after he told detectives of his direct involvement.

Dignan’s explanations under oath for the three-hour tour of the housing project and auto pound also seem peculiar. The crime scene had been processed days earlier. Dignan says that the trip to Altgeld Gardens was made because he wasn’t familiar with the area where the murder occurred, but there was no need for Dignan to see the scene; he was a bystander who’d been recruited to make the arrest simply because of his work schedule. Daniel McWeeny, the primary detective on the case, thought Cannon would be best apprehended in the early morning, which meant that the midnight shift would have to do it, and McWeeny wasn’t working midnights. “It’s kind of like standard specialty with me,” McWeeny said in a 1987 deposition. “If I get a guy that isn’t afraid to run from the police or has got people that can hide him out…I try to have him arrested in the early morning hours.”

Once Cannon was in the station, McWeeny was called for and promptly reported for duty to conduct the interrogation. The police department encourages detectives to structure their investigations so that a minimum number of people are required to testify. (According to one detective, this is done to save manpower–better to have one detective tied up in court, waiting to testify, than three or four–and to give defense attorneys less of an opportunity to impeach the police version of events by highlighting contradictions, however minor, in the testimony of multiple detectives.) In the Cannon case, Dignan was finished once McWeeny arrived to question the allegedly cooperative El Rukn, and as Dignan’s shift was over he could have gone home. Whether he was familiar with Altgeld Gardens was not important.

Nor, perhaps, was taking Cannon to the auto pound. Dignan testified that they went there because he did not know what McChristian’s car looked like and because he wanted to see if Cannon could identify it. But the car was already in custody and the police knew it was the one that had transported Ross. There was no need to rush out to find it on the street to preserve evidence and no need for Cannon to identify it, and every minute Cannon was out of Area Two headquarters and away from a state’s attorney was a minute in which he might change his mind and ask for a lawyer. (In his 1987 deposition, four years after the arrest, McWeeny could recall being at the pound with Cannon, but the detective was not sure exactly why Cannon was there.) More common procedure would have been to consult a state’s attorney right away to see if he or she thought a walk-through at the scene or a visit to the pound was necessary.

Cannon says it is preposterous that he would willingly confess, indeed that he would make any statement willingly, without a lawyer present. Cannon had a previous murder conviction for which he had served 12 years, and he had been out of prison for less than a year. He had become conversant with the law during that incarceration (he had, for example, filed suit in federal court against the parole board and won a parole hearing that he had been denied). He clearly was one suspect who knew his rights, who knew what the result of a confession would be. Furthermore, Cannon claims that from the start of his arrest he was addressed as “nigger.” (Thirteen years later Dignan admitted in a deposition in a different case that “nigger” was a common salutation of his for African-American suspects.) Would an El Rukn general, who began the day standing naked before a shotgun, who knew that he faced serious prison time if convicted, who knew that he would incur the wrath of his comrades if he implicated McChristian, jump into a police car and start cooperating with detectives who called him “nigger”?

In complaints filed in circuit court, in federal court, and with OPS, Cannon asserts that after his arrest he was placed in the backseat of a police car, where Dignan proceeded to beat him about the knees with a flashlight. Cannon says that Dignan, Byrne, and Grunhard then took him to an isolated area near the old Wisconsin Steel plant on the southeast side. He says he was taken from the car and his hands were cuffed behind his back, and Dignan, who was demanding information about McChristian, then threatened him with a shotgun: the officer showed Cannon shotgun shells, pretended to load the weapon with his back turned, put the barrel of the gun in Cannon’s mouth, and pulled the trigger. Cannon says Dignan repeated the mock execution three times.

When that ordeal ended, Cannon says, another began. This one was a modification of a centuries-old torture called the strappado. Usually the victim has his wrists bound behind his back and is raised by his hands on a pulley. The torturer then lets the victim fall suddenly, ending the descent with a jerk of the rope. The version Cannon accuses the officers of using was less elaborate but employed the same principles. Cannon claims that his hands remained cuffed behind his back, that Byrne stood on the bumper of the police car holding him by the cuffs, and that Dignan and Grunhard lifted Cannon up and dropped him while Byrne maintained his grip on the cuffs. Cannon claims the procedure caused him unbearable pain.

Finally, Cannon says, the handcuff arrangement was changed so that his hands were joined in front of him. He says the police then made him lie on the backseat of the car, his feet on the ground on the passenger side. In an affidavit filed in a pretrial hearing in 1985, Cannon said Dignan stood on his right foot, Byrne stood on his left, and Grunhard, reaching in from the rear door on the driver’s side, held his wrists down on the seat. “The officer with the electric cattle prod was sticking it to my penis & testicles while my pant and shorts were pull down around my ankles…” Cannon wrote. “From time to time Officer Byrne would stick the electric-cattle-prod in my mouth to stop me from yelling so loud.”

Cannon says that when that session ended, the cattle prod was put into the glove compartment of the police car. He says they used it on him again at the auto pound.

Cannon complained to the Office of Professional Standards about the alleged torture within days of his arrest. OPS investigated and eventually declined to sustain any of the charges. Cannon’s attorney filed a motion in circuit court to suppress the signed statement his client gave a prosecutor in which he supposedly confessed; he submitted Cannon’s affidavit and drawings he’d made to convey his treatment at the officers’ hands. Judge Thomas Maloney ruled against Cannon, saying that he had seen cattle prods on his own farm and that he did not believe they could fit into a car’s glove compartment.

Cannon has admitted that part of his statement to police was true. He had, he says, driven the car while A.D. McChristian talked to Ross, but he claims he had not known McChristian intended to shoot the man. Cannon has testified that he was so startled when shots were fired that he nearly wrecked the car, and that when McChristian told him where to go to dump the body, he drove the wrong way down a one-way street. Cannon has also testified that when he gave his statement to the police he consciously inserted an untrue detail–that Ross had been wearing a gray-and-black tweed coat. He did this, he said, to show that his alleged confession could not be taken as the whole truth.

The jury at Cannon’s first trial returned with a guilty verdict and Judge Maloney sentenced him to life in prison. A.D. McChristian was apprehended in Detroit more than a year after Cannon’s arrest. He was charged with murder and was brought to trial, but he was acquitted.

While waiting for his criminal appeal to be resolved, Cannon filed a civil suit in federal court against the individual officers. At the time, Cannon’s claims of having been tortured lacked the currency they would have now. Someone complaining today of having been tortured at Area Two in the 1980s would become another of more than 50 people who have made that claim. When Cannon filed his suit, however, no one had put together the big picture, no one realized that there was a pattern to the complaints about treatment at Area Two. The El Rukn’s voice was part of no chorus; it seemed instead a lone and perhaps mad cry in the wilderness.

But Cannon uncovered one seemingly significant piece of evidence. Testifying under oath at a pretrial hearing, Dignan had denied that he had a shotgun in his car when he took Cannon to Altgeld Gardens and the auto pound. After Cannon was convicted, however, the El Rukn had the idea that there must have been a weapons log at Area Two, and he had his lawyer subpoena it. The log revealed that the detectives who arrested him had checked out three shotguns on the day of the arrest.

As the trial neared, Cannon’s court-appointed attorney told him that because of his previous murder conviction he would have a hard time prevailing. The city offered to settle out of court for $3,000. Cannon was furious, but he took the money.

When Cannon settled for $3,000, he did not know that the city was about to embark on a series of payments to other men who said they had been tortured at Area Two. Three weeks after the city closed the El Rukn’s case for $3,000, the corporation counsel moved to settle the case of Phillip Adkins. Adkins had claimed that Area Two detectives Dignan, James Lotito, and Ronald Boffo took him to a vacant railroad viaduct and beat him with nightsticks and flashlights, that he was beaten so badly he defecated in his pants, and that he was later taken to an emergency room suffering from multiple trauma, abrasions, and bruises to his neck, chest, head, shoulder, abdomen, back, groin, thighs, and legs. Adkins claimed that after the beating, detectives removed his soiled pants because they couldn’t stand the smell. The police report indicates Adkins was arrested while wearing jeans, but the jeans disappeared between the time he was arrested and the time he showed up at the station house, where a television cameraman filmed him entering wearing a pair of shorts. The city offered Adkins $25,000 to settle the case, and he took it.

The city also settled the civil suit of Gregory Banks out of court. Banks had been arrested four days before Cannon by the same officers who arrested him. In a hearing on a motion to suppress his confession, Banks claimed that Dignan, Byrne, and Grunhard put a gun in his mouth and threatened to blow his head off, beat him with a flashlight, kicked him about the ankle and stomach, and said, “We have something for niggers,” and put a plastic bag over his head before he agreed to give a statement confessing to involvement in a murder. When Dignan testified at the same hearing he said he could not recall anyone making such accusations. Banks’s attorneys pointed out that 13 months before their client was arrested, a suspect named Lee Holmes had accused Byrne and Dignan of precisely the same treatment–beating with a flashlight and suffocation with a plastic bag.

At trial, Dignan and Byrne testified that Banks had sustained his injuries during an escape attempt when Dignan tackled the suspect and the two rolled down some stairs together. Dignan and Byrne, however, differed on the location of the fight, one placing it on the second floor, the other at ground level. When questioned by prosecutors, Dignan said he had never struck Banks; but he changed that story on cross-examination, recalling an alleged fistfight with the suspect during the course of the alleged escape attempt.

Banks was convicted despite these inconsistencies. On appeal, his attorneys called particular attention to what they said in a brief was Dignan’s “propensity to fabricate.” The Illinois Appellate Court threw out the conviction and excoriated the judge for ignoring the accounts of torture. The state’s attorney declined to reprosecute. Banks sued the city and the policemen involved in his arrest, alleging that he had been tortured. In August 1993 the city settled the case for $92,500.

Up to that point, the city had been able to settle the Area Two cases for relatively measly sums. This is not unusual in police brutality cases. Often the victims have criminal records that diminish their credibility on the stand, and they are usually poor and thus willing to settle for smaller sums rather than risk getting nothing from a jury at trial. But the city was not so lucky in the case of Andrew Wilson, who alleged that he had been beaten, shocked in the testicles, and burned on the face, chest, and thigh by Area Two detectives and their commander, Jon Burge. Wilson filed a civil suit against the officers and the city. During the course of prosecuting Wilson’s claims–laid out here in “House of Screams,” January 26, 1990–his attorneys at the People’s Law Office began to get anonymous letters in police department envelopes suggesting other leads, and eventually they compiled a list of more than 60 men (Cannon, Banks, and Adkins among them) who claimed to have been abused by Burge and his detectives. The police department’s Office of Professional Standards was then moved to investigate, and that investigation ultimately led to a Police Board decision in 1993 that Burge was guilty of physical abuse and should be removed from the force. After the Police Board ruling, the city’s lawyers did an about-face. As we reported in “The Shocking Truth,” January 10, 1997, they had initially claimed that Wilson was telling a fantastic tall tale; but in the wake of Burge’s firing, the corporation counsel argued that Wilson had been subjected to “savage torture” and that Burge had also applied electric shock to a man named Melvin Jones. The city’s dramatic reversal, however, was not an admission that something had been drastically wrong at Area Two, nor did it promise any full-scale, full-bore investigation. The corporation counsel’s change in position was the legal equivalent of crocodile tears, an attempt to make the case that the city should not be held financially culpable because torture was beyond the scope of a police officer’s employment.

In July 1997, the U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed that argument with a collective snort, saying it “borders on the frivolous.” The city then abided by the order of U.S. District Court judge Robert Gettleman, issuing checks for more than $1 million. More than $900,000 went to Wilson’s attorneys at the People’s Law Office, who had labored for nine years on the case without seeing a dime. The remaining $100,000, earmarked for Wilson, went instead to the family of one of the officers he had killed, that family having prevailed in a wrongful death suit against the convict years earlier.

David Kelley, the assistant state’s attorney who will oppose Cannon next month, declined to say who he might call as witnesses or whether he would object to any of the witnesses Cannon’s lawyers hope to put on the stand. It is known that the previous testimony of Dignan and Byrne will be submitted and that they probably will be called as rebuttal witnesses.

Cannon’s lawyers–Flint Taylor and Tim Lohraff of the People’s Law Office and Larry Marshall and Thomas Geraghty of the Northwestern University Law School–intended to call Dr. Antonio Martinez, a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of torture victims, to the witness stand. Martinez was expected to testify this week that Cannon’s psyche bears certain psychological markers that are characteristic of survivors of torture. Starting on July 19 (after a scheduled recess of several weeks in the hearing), Cannon’s attorneys hope to call as many as 15 men to testify about being tortured at Area Two; they have already submitted the written testimony of 12 other alleged victims.

Cannon’s legal team would also seem to have powerful weapons in two OPS reports. Those reports were suppressed by the police department. The first was written by OPS investigator Michael Goldston, who in 1990 was assigned the task of determining if there was a pattern of brutality at Area Two. Goldston identified 50 victims mistreated between 1973 and 1986, grouped them by the torture techniques used on them (electroshock, suffocation, hanging by handcuffs, etc), and concluded that the abuse was “systematic,” that it included “planned torture,” and that particular command members were aware of the abuse and either actively participated or did nothing to stop it. Goldston named seven “players,” men whose names appeared repeatedly in the cases he examined. Dignan, Byrne, and Grunhard were among the seven.

Goldston’s report was delivered to Superintendent LeRoy Martin in November 1990, along with a letter from OPS chief administrator Gayle Shines calling the document “masterful.” Martin sat on it for more than a year. It was released to the public in February 1992, over the city’s strenuous objection, by U.S. District Court judge Milton Shadur.

The second suppressed report had its origin in a decision made by the next superintendent, Matt Rodriguez, in late 1992, when he asked Shines to review the cases listed in the Goldston report. Shines decided to reopen just nine of them, choosing only those cases in which the alleged victim had filed a civil suit, and she assigned Cannon’s case to investigator Veronica Tillman. Tillman turned in her report in January 1994, and her supervisor, Carmen Cristia, approved it and passed it on to Shines. By that time, Grunhard was already dead and no longer a target of the investigation. Tillman and Cristia sustained Cannon’s charges, concluding that Dignan and Byrne had conducted the strappadolike torture, that Dignan had carried out the mock executions with the shotgun, and that he had beaten Cannon on the knee with a flashlight. They said that Byrne had put the cattle prod to Cannon’s testicles, penis, and mouth.

Years passed, and no action emanated from Shines’s office. After an inquiry by the Reader in the fall of 1996, Shines indicated that she had filed her opinion on Cannon’s case and had passed the file on to the superintendent’s office. What happened thereafter was a mystery until a few weeks ago.

Shines was removed from her post in June 1998, a few months after Terry Hillard replaced Matt Rodriguez as police superintendent. With Shines gone, her second in command, Leonard Benefico, became acting chief of OPS. Benefico came upon Cannon’s file in a box in Shine’s office. Contrary to what Shines had told the Reader, the file had never left OPS. Benefico then phoned Thomas Needham, counsel to the superintendent, and asked what to do. Needham came to a decision that stunned defense attorneys when it was later exposed in federal court: he wrote a letter to OPS in which he cited the lengthy delay as a good reason to close all of the reopened Area Two cases. Though charges had been sustained by OPS investigators, Needham decided that those charges would henceforth be considered not sustained.

Thus the police department neatly disposed of its problem: one superintendent reopened the cases, and his successor simply closed them. Needham, a former state’s attorney, has admitted that he did not bother to read all of the files in the reopened cases, or even to consult Hillard. Hillard is unbothered by that fact and said so May 3 in a deposition given to Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office. In the same deposition, Hillard was asked about the Goldston report. “I don’t know nothing about the Goldston report,” said the police superintendent.

Needham’s seemingly casual dismissal of the reopened cases could have a dire effect on the appeals of Area Two victims. For them it is important–for the ten victims on death row it is a matter of life and death–to establish that certain detectives participated in the “systematic” torture that Goldston says occurred at Area Two. Some trial judges–Morrissey is one–have in the past denied defense attorneys access to OPS files if the agency had concluded that charges should not be sustained.

Cannon’s attorneys have Tillman’s file already, having obtained it during the course of a suit in federal court on behalf of another client. What Judge Morrissey will let them do with it in the courtroom, however, has yet to be determined.

At Cannon’s hearing, the state’s case will depend in large part on how the arresting officers are perceived by the judge. Dignan, who through his attorney declined to comment for this story, and Byrne, who could not be located for comment, may not be the sort of officers a state’s attorney would like to have as his star witnesses.

Ordinarily, someone with Dignan’s many medals and decorations would have such credibility that a criminal claiming that the officer was untruthful would have no chance at all. As readers of our “Shot in the Dark,” November 6, 1998, may recall, many of Dignan’s awards are the result of a narcotics raid he and four other officers conducted in 1994, a raid in which two policemen were wounded and drug dealer Allen Richard was killed, and Dignan’s account of what happened that day has changed several times. Deputy chief Eddie King set down two versions: he wrote that Dignan told him privately that wounded officer Steven Tyler had “moved himself to safety” and that Dignan had told a “roundtable” of police officials and assistant state’s attorneys that he had taken Tyler “to safety behind a van.” Tyler is on record saying that Dignan’s tale of rescue is false. Dignan now says he never claimed to have taken Tyler to safety, though both King and captain Harry Bingham wrote memos documenting the claim. In the weapons discharge report Dignan filed in the wake of the raid, he also claimed that his shots felled the drug dealer, who was walking down the hall pointing his weapon at officer Richard Peck. That contradicts the account provided by Peck, who in the immediate aftermath of the raid told an investigating detective that he shot the drug dealer, disarmed him, and then crawled back into his hiding place thinking there might be other offenders in the apartment. From there, Peck said, he heard more shots. The police department contends that only three weapons were fired at the scene–Dignan’s, Peck’s, and the drug dealer’s. If that’s the case, then the shots Peck heard from his hiding place presumably were fired by Dignan, and if Peck is telling the truth, then Dignan would have been firing at a disarmed man, already shot through the heart, who was either dead or dying. Adding credibility to Peck’s account is the fact that the drug dealer’s weapon was found not in the hall where he fell, but in the kitchen, where Peck was hiding and where he said he had taken the offender’s weapon.

For his part in the raid, Dignan was named one of the nation’s Top Cops, an annual award given by the National Association of Police Organizations, and that award brought the officer to the Oval Office to shake hands with President Clinton. Superintendent Hillard, who has been moved by media accounts to order fast-track investigations of other officers demonstrating questionable behavior, has done nothing about the revelations about Dignan. On the contrary, Hillard promoted the alleged hero to lieutenant last November and assigned him to District 21, a south-side area that’s mostly African-American.

Retired sergeant John Byrne also presents certain credibility problems for the state’s attorney. In a flattering profile that appeared in the Tribune magazine on February 10, 1980 (“Homicide Cop” by Bill Granger), Byrne was described as a former seminarian, a former marine, a Loyola University graduate with a degree in psychology, and a man who spoke of service and ideals and had the virtue of a Boy Scout. In the intervening years, the Boy Scout seems to have run amok.

Byrne, a 24-year police veteran, left the force in June 1993 armed with a law degree and went into private practice. Three years later the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed an 11-count complaint against him. In that complaint and in oral argument, ARDC attorney Jason Rose accused Byrne of lying to a circuit court judge, submitting the forged signature of another attorney on a federal court document, and taking retainers from clients and then doing little or no work for the money.

ARDC documents indicate that in October 1993 Byrne agreed to represent John Pentek, a Chicago Fire Department lieutenant who was being sued by a man named Bryan Etten. Etten claimed that Pentek had assaulted him outside a tavern. Pentek had been convicted of battery in the case in criminal court.

Before the civil suit came to trial, Etten’s attorneys indicated that he would be willing to settle for $50,000, but Byrne never mentioned that offer to his client. When the case came to trial on the morning of April 19, 1995, Byrne asked the judge to allow him to go to his office to get a file. It was 9:45 AM. The judge said he could, with the understanding that he’d be back by 10:30. According to the ARDC narrative, Byrne left, drove to Pentek’s house, and told him for the first time that his case was set for trial that day but that he would get a continuance by telling the judge that his car broke down or that he was sick. Byrne phoned in excuses at 10:45 and again at 12:20, complaining of car trouble and an inability to locate the file. The judge began the case at 1:45. By the time Byrne showed up at 4:30 the jury was gone, having awarded Etten $150,000 in damages. Two months later Pentek learned of the verdict when Etten’s attorney sent him a copy of the judgment order. Pentek told the ARDC that he was financially ruined. The judgment was recorded as a lien against his house, his pay was being garnished at $655 a month, and he was considering filing for bankruptcy. Pentek brought a legal malpractice action against Byrne, and when Byrne failed to appear to answer the charges a judgment was ordered against the former homicide detective. Pentek testified that Byrne carried no malpractice insurance.

According to the ARDC, Byrne had failed to appear in court before. When he represented Arcelia Vaca in 1993 in a personal injury case filed against an insurance company, Byrne failed to appear and the case was dismissed. After filing suit in 1994 for Jannice Rosa in a “slip and fall” case against a building supply store, he failed to appear and the case was dismissed. Thereafter, he told Rosa the case was still pending. In 1994 he agreed to represent Luz Maria Landeros after she was shot by unknown assailants at the Ford City shopping mall. Landeros sued the mall’s owners, but Byrne failed to appear and the case was dismissed. He also represented Dragica Milekic in an employment dispute with National Cleaning Company. Milekic told the ARDC that she had paid Byrne a retainer of $1,500 but that he had done nothing for her. She asked for her money back, and Byrne showed up at her home armed with a handgun. He consented to a refund, but only of $700.

Byrne also pulled a disappearing act when he represented his friend Wayne Campbell. Campbell, a policeman who had been Byrne’s partner in the 1970s, suffered significant injuries in a 1992 traffic accident involving a truck driver who admitted the crash was his fault. In 1994 Campbell sued the driver and the trucking company. The driver carried insurance that would have covered him in the case. Campbell testified that after the suit was filed he could not get Byrne to tell him what was going on. He left more than 70 phone messages for him, but to no avail. He was baffled by Byrne’s behavior. “We were friends,” Campbell told the ARDC. “We were partners.” He ran into Byrne accidentally in traffic court in February 1995, and Byrne assured him that everything was going well. Finally Campbell hired another law firm to look into it, and they reported that the case had been dismissed. As it had been reinstated once already, it probably could not be reinstated again. They also reported that a malpractice suit would probably serve no purpose as Byrne was uninsured.

According to the ARDC, retired police officer James D’Agostino retained Byrne in 1992 to pursue ownership of a burial plot and have a tombstone removed. When the matter languished, D’Agostino called Byrne three times a day for two weeks but never got a return call. In September 1994, D’Agostino finally met with a cemetery official himself and resolved the matter. Five months later he got a letter from Byrne, who was obviously unaware that the battle had ended. Byrne indicated that he was still on the job.

By the spring of 1995, Byrne’s list of angry clients was growing and people were starting to notice. Byrne rented office space from Richard Beuke, a former state’s attorney who maintained a suite in the Monadnock Building. Thomas Epach, another lawyer who shared the office, noted “Jack” Byrne’s refusal to return his clients’ calls and, according to the Tribune magazine (“Men of Monadnock” by Anne Keegan, March 3, 1996), worried that an angry client might come in with a gun to take revenge. One day Epach showed up with two T-shirts he’d had printed up as an office joke. The one he gave to Beuke read, “I’m not Jack,” while the one Epach wore proclaimed, “I’m not Jack either.” Beuke came in the next day with an additional shirt, which he presented to the office secretary. That shirt said, “I’m not Jack’s wife.”

That joke occurred before Beuke learned that his friend Jack had filed a document in federal court with Beuke’s signature forged upon it. According to the ARDC, Byrne had agreed in 1994 to represent Delko Security and Investigations, a defendant in a civil suit in U.S. District Court. Byrne was not licensed to practice in federal court, but Beuke was, so the former policeman filed papers indicating that both Beuke and Byrne were on the job. Beuke knew nothing about it. The ARDC said Byrne “engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” and noted that he “failed to answer interrogatories and other discovery, failed to respond to opposing counsel’s requests for compliance with discovery; failed to appear at a hearing on a Motion to Compel and failed to appear at a hearing on a Motion for Sanctions.” The court eventually entered an order of default against Byrne’s client and ordered the company to pay attorney’s fees and costs.

By late 1995 the ARDC had compiled a list of complainants and had begun proceedings against Byrne. A hearing board was convened on March 14, 1996, and Jason Rose presented the case against the former policeman. Rose said that Byrne “has lied to both clients, attorneys, and judges about the cases that he has worked on….His conduct represents a black eye on the legal profession and is deserving of the most severe of sanctions.” The hearing board concluded that Byrne’s conduct was “egregious,” that it had “defeated the administration of justice,” and that Byrne had a “continuing insolence and disrespect for the disciplinary rules and unwillingness to abide by them.” It recommended that Byrne be disbarred, and the case moved on to the Illinois Supreme Court, the final arbiter in disbarment cases.

Byrne had not shown up for his own ARDC hearing. The day after the hearing board filed its conclusions, he walked into a lawyer’s office and dumped a stack of unopened envelopes from the ARDC on the lawyer’s desk. This led to a mental illness defense, Byrne arguing that clinical depression had caused him to act so irresponsibly.

The Illinois Supreme Court was unmoved. On November 26, 1996, Byrne was disbarred.

All of this–the other torture victims, the OPS documents, the questions about Dignan and the reputation of Byrne–would seem to indicate that Darrell Cannon has a fair chance of prevailing in Judge Morrissey’s courtroom. He shouldn’t get his hopes up.

John Morrissey is the third circuit court judge to hear Cannon’s case. The first, back in 1984, was Thomas Maloney, who was later convicted of fixing murder cases before and after Cannon appeared in his courtroom. In an opinion filed in the case of Bracy v. Gramley, U.S. Court of Appeals judge Ilana Rovner commented that Maloney possibly operated his courtroom like a business: if he came down hard on murder defendants who did not bribe him, he could both keep his conviction rate up and advertise the desirability of bribing the judge. The advertising from Cannon’s case may indeed have inspired the El Rukns. In 1986 they passed $10,000 to Maloney to fix a case in which two gang members were charged with a double murder. Maloney returned the money ten days later, believing that the FBI was aware of the fix, and he convicted the gang members on trial. They were later sentenced to death.

Maloney was convicted in 1993 of taking that bribe and several others. He was given a 16-year sentence. He did not testify at his own trial, but last week, while testifying in federal court in a hearing on the Bracy case, the 74-year-old former judge denied taking any bribes.

Cannon was given a new trial by the Illinois Appellate Court in 1992, a decision based not on Maloney’s corruption, which had yet to be proved, but on the fact that prosecutors had excluded African-Americans from the jury seemingly because they were African-American, a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

When a defendant wins an appeal, the case normally is returned to the judge who presided over the original trial. Since Maloney had left the bench in 1990, Cannon’s case went to Judge John Mannion.

Anita Carothers represented Cannon in his second trial. She asked Mannion to reconsider Maloney’s ruling on the motion to suppress the confession. Mannion refused. Carothers thought that was highly unreasonable and did some research on the judge. She subsequently filed a motion for substitution of judges, pointing out that Mannion had previously been employed as a homicide detective, that he had served at Area Two, and also that he had testified on Commander Burge’s behalf during the Police Board hearings that led to Burge’s dismissal.

Mannion passed the recusal motion to another judge for consideration. Carothers remembers Mannion predicting that she would lose and be back before him in short order. She considered it a great victory when Judge John Madden ruled that her motion had merit and Mannion was removed from the case.

The case then was assigned to Judge Morrissey. On May 16, 1994, Carothers asked him to reconsider Judge Maloney’s original ruling on the motion to suppress. She argued that a raft of new evidence had been uncovered to support Cannon’s claims. She had a list of 21 other men who claimed to have been subjected to similar torture methods at Area Two, men who claimed to have been shocked, to have been hung by their handcuffs, to have had guns placed in their mouths, to have been unwilling players in games of Russian roulette, and to have been beaten with flashlights. She had photographs of the torture site Cannon had described (Cannon had drawn a detailed picture of the site, but at his first trial the prosecution had attacked his inability to pinpoint the location). Carothers pointed out that she now had the Area Two weapons log showing that the officers may indeed have had a shotgun when Cannon claimed they did, and she had evidence that in 1983, when Cannon was arrested, there were indeed cattle prods on the market that would neatly fit into the glove compartment of a car.

Assistant state’s attorney David Kelley argued that Morrissey had no obligation to revisit the issue because it had already been decided by Judge Mannion, the former Area Two officer. Carothers argued that Mannion’s refusal to reopen the hearing had been one of the reasons for her motion to recuse–that it had showed his bias. What Morrissey thought of that argument is not clear, as he did not address it that day. He denied Carother’s motion, saying only that the fact that the officers had signed out a shotgun on November 2, 1983, did not prove that they put it in Cannon’s mouth.

He went on to hamper Cannon’s case in other ways. At the same hearing, Morrissey ruled that Carothers would not be able to present the testimony of any other Area Two victims at trial, nor would she be allowed to question the officers about their methods of getting confessions from those suspects.

At that point Carothers knew that OPS had reopened her client’s case–she knew this because Veronica Tillman had interviewed Cannon–so she subpoenaed OPS documents on Cannon’s complaint from the police department. From the court transcripts it is clear, however, that the department and OPS withheld Tillman’s report and provided Judge Morrissey with only the initial Cannon OPS investigation carried out in 1983 and 1984, which had not sustained charges against the officers. As no one had been charged, Morrissey said, the file had no relevance to the trial, and he deemed the contents confidential, refusing to turn them over to Carothers. Carothers therefore had no proof that the police department had withheld the documents from the Tillman investigation.

Finally, Morrissey decided that prosecutors could mention Cannon’s 1971 conviction for murder. Cannon’s “prior bad acts” could be used to show his character and propensity to “commit wrongdoing,” but prior bad acts of Dignan, Byrne, and Grunhard were off-limits.

Cannon was convicted a second time and on October 18, 1994, Morrissey sentenced him to natural life in prison. Cannon appealed again, raising several issues concerning Morrissey’s rulings as well as the argument that Judge Maloney might have used Cannon’s case to keep his conviction rate up and to advertise the value of bribery. The Appellate Court was persuaded. In an opinion written in November 1997 by Justice Warren Wolfson, the three-judge panel vacated Cannon’s conviction. They ordered Judge Morrissey to conduct a new hearing on Cannon’s motion to suppress his statement. If Cannon wins, they said, then he will be given a new trial; if he loses, his conviction and sentence will be reinstated and the Appellate Court will consider the other issues raised in his appeal.

Justice Wolfson imposed some clear guidelines for Morrissey this time around. This time, the judge would have to consider the claims of other Area Two victims and arguments over whether the officers lied about having a shotgun. While the 1994 record suggests that Morrissey was sympathetic to the state’s claims that the differences between the torture methods alleged by Cannon and those alleged by other victims diminishes Cannon’s credibility, Justice Wolfson suggested that this argument was greeted with incredulity by the Appellate Court. “To say, as the State does, there is a qualitative distinction between shocking one suspect’s genitals with a cattle prod and beating another with a flashlight, or inserting a shotgun in a suspect’s mouth as opposed to a handgun, is to trivialize established principles for decent law enforcement. Under that view, accepted standards descend to banality. Minor differences in technique do not alter the nature of the torturer’s work.”

This time, Morrissey will be under considerable public scrutiny. Though the problems at Area Two have been publicly known for at least nine years, no public body has ever held a complete hearing on the matter. If Cannon’s attorneys succeed in putting their alleged victims on the witness stand, it will be the first time that so many voices have been assembled in such a chorus.

Those who would welcome such a hearing might wish that it were being ruled over by a different judge. Morrissey was recently the subject of a front-page story in which he scoffed at the claim of a death row resident who said he had been beaten by police.

On May 18, Tribune reporters Steve Mills and Ken Armstrong called attention to the judge’s behavior in the case of People v. Ronald Jones. In that case, prosecutors charged that Jones had killed an alleged prostitute after having sex with her and refusing to pay, basing their theory on a statement Jones purportedly gave to Area One detectives, a statement Jones claimed was both false and beaten out of him. In their article, Mills and Armstrong presented Morrissey’s repeated rejections of defense attorneys’ requests for DNA testing. “What issue could possibly be resolved by DNA testing?…Save arguments like that for the press. They love it. I don’t….I think you guys really believe Ronald Jones is innocent despite the written confession….I will tell you one thing–I really draw that conclusion after the last tome you sent me where you said that I was absolutely wrong in denying DNA testing. I kind of laughed at that, folks.”

DNA tests, later allowed by the Illinois Supreme Court, showed the semen belonged to someone else. Jones was released from death row, and Mills and Armstrong reported that the state’s attorney’s office had dropped all charges against him.

Morrissey was also unsympathetic in the case of another alleged Area Two victim, a man named Aaron Patterson. Patterson, a gang member and the son of a Chicago police officer, claimed that he had been suffocated and beaten by Area Two detectives, that in order to end the torture he had given a statement, but had then refused to sign it. During a break when detectives were out of the interview room, Patterson found a paper clip and scrawled messages onto the bench and the door frame indicating that he had been suffocated, that the statement was untrue, and that he had not been allowed to call either a lawyer or his father. Patterson’s attorney, public defender Brian Dosch, later sent an investigator to the interrogation room, and the investigator photographed the etchings.

Morrissey refused to allow those photographs to be introduced in Patterson’s defense, however. Morrissey argued that they were “hearsay.” No physical evidence linked Patterson to the crime scene: fingerprints lifted there did not match Patterson’s, no footprints matched his, and no eyewitness placed him there. Yet he was convicted of a double murder, largely on the basis of his contested confession; he is now on death row.

John Conroy’s E-mail address is

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.