By John Conroy
Lieutenant Raymond Patterson has a bank of war stories accumulated during the 26 years he spent on the Chicago police force, but the most tragic is almost certainly the tale of the younger of his two sons.
“As a kid, Aaron was the one that most mirrored myself,” the retired lieutenant said in an interview with the Reader in 1996. “I was always an outdoors person, I was really into sports and things of that nature, and he expressed an interest in it. So if I couldn’t find somebody to go play tennis with me, for example, he always wanted to go. He liked to fish and things like that, the outdoorsy-type things that a man likes to do with his sons. And he was a good fisherman. We would go fishing and nobody would catch fish but Aaron.”
The bond between the two began to rupture after Aaron began high school at De La Salle. Although Aaron studied periodically, his interests were elsewhere, and he began hanging out with a crowd of young men from less ambitious families who attended less distinguished schools.
“I remember getting calls from police saying Aaron was gangbanging or Aaron was among several people standing in front of a grocery store and the owner asked them to move and he was the only one that caused a problem. And to show you how I was, I would not allow police officers to bother him. I went so far as to tell them that they had no reason to mess with my son. I made one of them bring him home one night. ‘You got my son? Well, bring him home.’ And then when he brought him home, I jumped all over the officer verbally, because I figured that they were harassing my son for no reason. I mean after all, ‘I am a sergeant of police, why are police officers out there messing with my son?’
“That is how blind I was. I was acting as a father. No officer could convince me that Aaron was doing any of the things that they say he did. Because whenever the police had him I would always ask, ‘Did you do what they say you did?’ He would say no. That was good enough for me.”
According to Patterson, this denial lasted several years, and though the relationship between father and son became testy, with regular arguments over Aaron’s choice of friends, Ray Patterson continued to believe that his son was no gangster.
Finally, sometime in the mid-1980s, Aaron’s father received a call from an officer whom he knew fairly well. “He was working tactical unit at that time, and he called me in the middle of the night and asked, ‘Did Aaron just run into the house?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ Because about five minutes before he called I heard Aaron run into the house and back into his bedroom. And this officer said, ‘Raymond, I got to talk to you.’ So I said, ‘Come on over.’
“And he said, ‘You know you been denying that Aaron is a gangbanger, and we are probably going to lose friendship over this, but I just got to tell you, not only is he a gangbanger but he is the leader. He has a street name of Ranger, and he is with the Black P Stone Rangers’–or whatever offshoot of that organization–‘and he wears it.’
“When he said that a little light went on–‘You’re talking about a tattoo.’ You think you know your kids, but how often do you really look at them? I mean up close. I went back to his room and told him, ‘Take your shirt off.’ Took his shirt off. Both sides, emblazoned there on his upper arms, ‘Apache Rangers.’ On one side it had his name, ‘Ranger.'”
At that moment, Patterson said, he could have crawled into a hole no bigger than a quarter. “I felt like a fool. I felt low. I felt embarrassed. I just could not reconcile myself with what I had just discovered.”
He would come to feel a whole lot worse. In the spring of 1986 Aaron was charged with three attempted murders and a brutal double homicide in which an elderly couple were stabbed 34 times. That October he was found guilty of one of the attempted murders and six months later he pled guilty to the other two. In 1989 Aaron was convicted of the double murder and was sentenced to death.
Aaron was not meek by any means–a psychologist hired by his lawyers in 1987 to do a forensic psychological assessment described him as arrogant–and after his arrest for the double homicide he made what seemed to be an audacious claim about his treatment by detectives at Area Two. He claimed to have been tortured–suffocated with a plastic typewriter cover–until he agreed to say whatever the detectives wanted him to say. Aaron maintained that he had never killed anybody, and since then he has argued that the real killer has gone on to rob and stab and maim.
The elder Patterson knew some of the officers involved–some he knew personally, others he knew by reputation–and he could not believe them capable of torturing a policeman’s son. He walked away. If his son was on death row, perhaps he belonged there.
In 1996, ten years after Aaron’s arrest, his father drove to Menard Correctional Center to see him. The lieutenant was by then an enlightened and sorrowful man. He’d concluded that Aaron’s wild claims of suffocation were mere statements of fact. He’d concluded that he had devoted his working life to an organization that could torture his son and protect the torturers. He’d concluded that detectives framed the wrong man, and that the man he believed to be the actual killer had recently stabbed another woman 25 times. And he’d realized that when his son’s need was greatest, he had abandoned him. Aaron had betrayed him, but he had in turn betrayed Aaron.
Raymond Patterson entered the Chicago Police Academy on March 17, 1969. Over the years he served as a patrolman, as a member of a tactical unit, as a sergeant and watch commander in a south-side district. He proudly recalls that in the mid-1980s the department selected him to attend Northwestern University’s prestigious Traffic Institute, an executive training course for police officers. Not long after attending the course, he achieved the third-highest score on the Chicago police lieutenants exam. He subsequently served in the inspection and personnel divisions and as a field lieutenant in districts Five and Six. He retired in January 1996.
As he rose through the ranks, he and his wife Jo Ann came to live a middle-class life in South Shore. Jo Ann worked as a teacher in the Chicago public schools and later became assistant director of education at a private school. Their first son, Raymond Jr., had been born in July 1963, and Aaron a year later. Raymond became an athlete who ranked seventh in his graduating class at De La Salle. He spurned Stanford and Princeton to attend Washington University in Saint Louis, and now holds a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a well-paying corporate job in Indianapolis.
Aaron took a different path. In letters written from death row he disputes his father’s recollection of the revelation that he was in a gang. Aaron recalls the phone call from the tactical unit officer, but he places it in 1982. He denies that he shed his shirt at his father’s command and thinks that his parents knew he was involved with gangs much earlier than that. In Aaron’s view, the first time his parents found out he was in a gang was in 1969. He was then five years old and was sent home from kindergarten for hanging out with older gang members and cursing in the schoolyard during recess. He believes that spot of trouble prompted his parents to send him to a Catholic grammar school. Aaron remembers settling down for a while after that but says he got involved again in gang activity in 1976, when he was 12. In the course of the next few years, Aaron recalls, when friends of his were arrested they would sometimes ask for Officer Patterson, hoping for a break. Those requests infuriated his father, he says, and certainly should have revealed to him that Aaron was a fellow traveler.
Aaron says there was no precise day when he suddenly decided to be a gang member, that no one in particular sold him on the idea, that it just came naturally given that so many people he knew, including uncles on his mother’s side, had been or were members of street gangs. His brother seemed to have been inspired at De La Salle, but Aaron says he found it boring. “I was footloose and adventurous, I always wanted to live on the edge, push the envelope. Street life fascinated me.” His choice of friends, he says, was determined in part by his curfew. The “middle class negro[es]”–his term–who attended De La Salle lived too far away.
Aaron recalls that if he went to a party on the weekend, he had to be home by the time the city’s curfew took effect, lest he incur his father’s wrath, which he says was considerable. He recalls sneaking out of the house through the basement door after his parents thought he had gone to bed, a ploy that worked until he was 17 and had no curfew.
“All my guys were real rough looking,” he wrote from prison. “And I do mean rough and were the best fighters I ever seen. When I first started running with them I used to drift off like I was [an] innocent bystander and take notes on how they got into confrontation with bigger, older rival gangs, outnumbered like five to one. And before I knew it, I saw grown men running away, getting flipped on their backs by 12/13/14/yrs old friends of mine. It was like a gladiator or free fall wrestling show. You had to see it to believe it.”
The Apache Rangers operated mostly in the Bush, a neighborhood that bordered the old U.S. Steel plant on the southeast side, not far from the police department’s Fourth District headquarters. The group seems to have been relatively insignificant, a small band of adolescents and teenagers. In those days, Patterson says, gangs on the southeast side were not so quick to resort to guns. He describes meeting the Apache Rangers’ rivals in the middle of the week for a good fight and then meeting them again on Saturday to play football. Elsewhere in the city, Patterson says, gangs were doing a lot of shooting, and the fighting his group specialized in–“with fists/belts/bottles/sticks/ bats/garbage can tops/etc.”–was going out of style. A few times, Patterson says, one of his comrades, a young man known as Snag, “came very close to getting us killed by journeying in areas where getting beaten up wasn’t an option. Those guys wanted to gun us down.”
Patterson says he became the gang’s strategist, determining who they would fight and how they would make their approach. “We used to go to el stations and bus stops after school looking for rival gangs. At first they felt confident they could beat us since it was only about seven of us. But once the fight started they eventually ran or pulled a gun out and started shooting at us. After a few times if they saw us coming they would run or deny they were in gangs.”
“I enjoyed the camaraderie and trust we had to rely on each other in a tight pinch…” Patterson wrote. “My rules were simple. No fighting amongst each other. No stealing from each other, no rapes, or armed robberies of innocent persons. No fucking each other’s women. No younger members under 16 could smoke cigarettes, sell drugs, skip school, or use guns. If any older members tried to influence or hit younger members they got punished….We felt honorable and rebellious at the same time….I was like the conscience of all of them. They knew I was fair and clean cut.”
Patterson described himself as skinny, tall, and innocent in appearance in those days, and he said his “good boy image” protected him. Members of rival gangs might immediately recognize Patterson’s friends as trouble, but the policeman’s son looked different and went to a different school. “Even the police couldn’t figure out who I was. I always got away after fights or blended in with the crowd watching. I’d put my school jacket on and act like I didn’t know anything.
“Detectives finally figured out I was the ringleader and that I used to wait on the bus stop for guys or go into school and tell them to cut class. One day I was on the bus stop waiting for them and detectives drove up on the sidewalk and pinned me to the wall so I couldn’t run. I tried to play innocent, saying I was waiting on my girlfriend to get out of class. They knew I was lying. They told me, ‘We been watching you for awhile. You are somebody!’ I denied all of that. They put me in the car and took me to a rival gang’s high school and made me get out in front of all those guys I’d beaten up before and was wanted by. The detective car pulled off and there I was standing there about to get beat down. But the rivals were so shocked to see me dropped dead into their laps I had just enough time to run like my pants were on fire. Once I got the first step, ain’t no catching me! A whole group of them chased me to the viaduct but stopped there since it was my hood on the other side. While I’m running, I see the detective car riding down the street next to me, honking the horn and waving. It was funny to them and confirmed that I was in a gang!”
Lieutenant Patterson recalls that he threw Aaron out of the house not long after discovering his tattoos. The lieutenant has no precise memory of the timetable of his confrontations with his son, but he has a vivid memory of a day–perhaps a year later–when Aaron paid a surprise call at his office. “He just came in and said, ‘Could I see you for a minute?’ I said, ‘Yeah, come on in.’ He showed me a letter from the city that said that he had taken the police test and he had scored in the 97th percentile. And I never knew that he had even taken the test. He is a very bright kid. He just sort of misdirected it. He was doing it, basically I think, to appease me. I doubt if he had any real interest in the police department. I was often angry with him because of his gangbanging career and constantly getting him out of jail and stuff like that. So I guess to appease me he went down without my knowledge and took the police test, and I guess he wanted to wait until he was sure that the results were favorable. Then he came over to see me, and he was proud.
“So I ran into my boss’s office. Marty was the commander of my district and I was his community relations sergeant at that time. We were very, very close. I said, ‘Marty, Marty, look, look, look at this. Read this.’ Marty, with his long cigar, says, ‘Well, I’ll be damned. Maybe this will be the exact thing that will turn him around. When he gets through his drug test and all that stuff, tell him come see me. I will see what I can do for him.’
“I have never expressed this to Aaron, but when he walked into my office that day with that letter, my chest must’ve reached out to there. But I would never tell him that, you know. Because to me the greatest honor that a son can bestow on his father is to tell his dad that he wants to do what he does. And my sons, neither of them had ever expressed a desire to do what I did, and then all of a sudden, without my knowledge, he made some attempt to. That was mind-boggling. That really elated me.”
Aaron recalls taking the police exam and scoring well, but he has no recollection of going to his father’s office to show him the results. Aaron thinks the results were mailed to his parents’ house and he went over there to pick them up. What is certain is that in April 1986, not long after the exam results came in, some detectives knocked on the Pattersons’ door. “We just chitchatted for about five minutes or so,” the lieutenant recalls, “and what I thought they were there for was to do his background check. I don’t know why I was so naive, but I knew a background check had to be done, because when I took the test even my mother in Virginia was interviewed.
“After about five minutes they said they were looking for Aaron in connection with a shooting of some gangbanger in the gang opposite to his own.”
Patterson was not a typical gangbanger. He graduated from De La Salle and had plans for his future. He enlisted in the National Guard, went through basic training, and liked the military enough to then enlist in the army. Ten months into his training, he broke his ankle. He was given a medical discharge and returned to Chicago, and though he fell in with the old gang again, he also began attending the University of Illinois. For a time he worked at a McDonald’s, and during one Christmas season as a handler at the post office. He took up residence with a girlfriend. He says he found it hard to hold down a job, attend college, maintain a relationship with his girlfriend, and run the gang, so he dropped out of school.
During this period he also extended his rap sheet at a fairly rapid rate, becoming a regular visitor to the police department’s Fourth District station in South Chicago. From May 1983 through April 1986 he was arrested seven times for battery, three times for aggravated battery, twice for attempted murder, twice for armed violence, and once each for damage to property, aggravated assault, criminal trespass, and possession of marijuana.
Most citizens would find that a shameful record, yet Patterson contends that it shows some honor. Every violent crime he was charged with, he says, was committed in response to an attack on himself, on his gang, or on the rules the Apache Rangers were supposed to live by. The people he shot and otherwise assaulted, he says, were gang members, fellow combatants, not innocent bystanders, not anyone he was trying to rob. He argues that he was not a thief, and his rap sheet shows nothing to contradict that claim; he incurred no charges of burglary, armed robbery, or home invasion. He contends that he committed no crimes with knives, and it is true that the assaults on his sheet up to his last arrest mention none.
Not being a thief is a small claim to virtue. Not being handy with a knife seems beside the point if guns are used instead. Both attributes, however, are crucial to Patterson’s argument that he does not belong on death row.
The detectives from Area Two who called at Lieutenant Patterson’s home wanted to question his son about more than the shooting of a rival gang member. They also wanted to ask about the murders of Vincente Sanchez, age 73, and his wife Rafaela, 62, whose decomposing bodies were found in their southeast-side home on April 19, 1986. Vincente had been stabbed 25 times, Rafaela 9. The corpses were discovered after a boy named Wayne Washington, who did odd jobs for the couple, noticed that the back door was open and told a neighbor to call the police.
Vincente Sanchez, a retired steelworker, had been working as a fence. The initial police report described the residence as “filled with clothes, household items, tools, suitcases, and such an assortment of non valuable items to the extent that it [is] difficult to maneuver through the rooms.” Four guns were found at the scene. Two were registered to Sanchez, one was not registered to anyone, and one was hot, having been stolen from a woman who lived two blocks away. None had been recently fired.
In the course of their investigation, detectives found word on the street to be contradictory. Some sources said Patterson and the Apache Rangers were responsible, some pointed to a member of another gang, and one man called Sweet Tooth told detectives that he had heard that the murders were done by Willie Washington, the brother of the boy who had spotted the open back door.
It happened that when Area Two detectives called on Lieutenant Patterson he didn’t know where Aaron was. Aaron knew the police were looking for him on charges unrelated to the Sanchez murders and he was avoiding his usual haunts. A few weeks before the Sanchez murders, Patterson had shot a rival gang member in the chest. And on April 18, the day before the Sanchezes’ bodies were found, Patterson and other Apache Rangers had beaten one of their comrades for stealing. The beating caused severe head and chest injuries.
On April 30, police acting on an anonymous tip found Aaron Patterson hiding in the attic of a building at 8456 S. Euclid. They brought him to an interview room at Area Two, and detectives from the violent crimes unit began their interrogation. They had also arrested Eric Caine, a man who was a member of a different gang–the Vice Lords.
The detectives’ field investigation report says that both men failed polygraph tests. It goes on to offer the following scenario, allegedly compiled with the cooperation of both of the accused: Caine approached the Apache Rangers because he needed guns to protect himself from the Spanish Gangster Disciples, who had attacked his house and his girlfriend. Patterson said he could have a gun at half price if he went with them on “a mission.” The mission was the invasion of the Sanchez home. Patterson allegedly told detectives that once inside, he took matters into his own hands because Caine proved an ineffective interrogator, unable to get Vincente Sanchez to say where his guns and drugs were.
This is a portion of Patterson’s alleged statement: “We told the guy we wanted his guns. I pointed a gun at him. My gun didn’t work but the chump didn’t know it. Eric had a knife. I got a knife too, from the kitchen. The Mexican [Vincente Sanchez] was too slow getting the good stuff, the guns. I went off. I’m Ninja. He was scared. He backed away. I shanked him. He tried to run. I’m the last Apache so I got him. I stabbed him. I was a straight up Ninja. His old lady was screaming. She tried to run too. I had that chick swinging everywhere. I shanked her. More than once the bitch. When I go on a mission I get it done. That old chump took too long to get it done so I did him. Eric, that shrimp, he got scared. He tried to stop me. He was so scared he ran out. He took a red bag with a shotgun in it. We couldn’t find the good stuff. When I left I took the knife with me. I tossed it on the tracks.”
Fair enough, one might think. Patterson confessed, end of story, book him. And yet Patterson wasn’t booked. According to police documents, assistant state’s attorney Kip Owen was present for the interviews and heard the confession, yet he was not willing to file charges. “At this point in the investigation,” the police field investigation report reads, “ASA Owen deferred formal charging pending a continuing investigation.” According to the police report, Area Two detectives proceeded to search for the murder weapon along the IC tracks, walking them from 87th street to 92nd to no avail. Then, without any more evidence than they’d had when Owen declined to file charges, Patterson was charged by assistant state’s attorney Peter Troy. Troy wrote out a statement and asked the Apache Ranger to sign it. He refused.
Evidence proved to be in short supply. No witnesses claimed they’d seen Patterson come or go, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Fingerprints found at the scene did not match the Apache Ranger’s. Bloody shoe prints also provided no corroboration. No hair or fiber samples put Patterson in the house, and none of his clothes turned up with the blood of the victims–and there must have been plenty of blood.
Lieutenant Patterson calls his son “a pioneer” in accusing Area Two detectives of torture, and the description is accurate. Aaron Patterson leveled his accusations on May 2, 1986, at his very first court appearance, three days after his arrest. While other men had previously claimed to have been tortured at Area Two, when Patterson told his story those claims had no currency. No one in any position of authority outside the police department (and, one might suspect, the state’s attorney’s office) knew that Patterson was just one of many African-Americans who had made the same claim against a small gang of south-side detectives and their commander, Jon Burge.
Patterson’s claim was entered into the court record three years before attorneys from the People’s Law Office began to see a pattern and started compiling a list that eventually included more than 60 alleged victims; four years before the Reader reported that Commander Burge had been accused of electric shock as far back as 1973; four years before Office of Professional Standards investigator Michael Goldston wrote a report stating that the abuse had been systematic and included “planned torture”; five years before Amnesty International called for an inquiry; seven years before Jon Burge was dismissed by the Police Board for the “physical abuse” of cop killer Andrew Wilson; ten years before the city of Chicago’s own attorneys argued in federal court that Burge engaged in the “savage torture” of Wilson and a man named Melvin Jones; and 13 years before the Area Two victims–11 of whom are awaiting execution–pricked the conscience of the Tribune’s editorial page, which called for a judicial inquiry for the first time on July 31, 1999. (The Sun-Times had expressed its concern seven months earlier.)
Patterson showed a certain self-confidence in that first court appearance, a self-confidence that many might label reckless. It was a bond hearing–a session in which a judge is merely supposed to set bail for the accused, not make any determination of guilt or innocence. Patterson appeared with no attorney, refusing the services of both the public defender’s office and the lawyer representing codefendant Eric Caine, who did her best to protect Patterson by warning him to keep his mouth shut. Nonetheless Patterson persisted, trying to interrupt the proceedings and finally getting a nod from the judge that he could say something. Without hesitation, he claimed to have been suffocated with a plastic bag.
Two years later, on March 30, 1988, he told his story at some length at a hearing on a motion to suppress his confession. He described his arrest and interrogation as an ordeal that lasted 25 hours. He claimed that upon his arrival at Area Two, he asked for an attorney. None was provided. He claimed that when his interrogators grew tired of his unwillingness to confess to a crime he had not committed, they cuffed his hands behind his back, turned off the lights in the interview room, covered his face with a gray typewriter cover so that he could not breathe, and began beating him about the chest. When the lights were turned back on, the detectives were sitting and standing about the room as they had been before, as if nothing had happened. Patterson says he again asked for an attorney, to no avail, and the detectives said they would repeat the treatment until he cooperated. When he continued in his refusal, he says, the lights went off and the typewriter cover again was placed over his face. “I was trying to find an outlet where I could breathe and they was saying, ‘Well, hold his nose and his mouth.’ And they did that for a minute or two. And they kept on saying, ‘Answer me. Answer me,’ you know. And I wouldn’t say nothing. And then after a while they kept on doing it and they was punching me and stuff and I said, ‘OK, anything you say.'” The lights then went back on and the Apache Ranger saw the detectives as they had been before.
At that point, faced with the prospect of going through the suffocation and beating routine repeatedly, Patterson says he stopped resisting. “So I more or like just said, ‘Whatever you say,’ you know. Everything they said I would like, ‘OK, whatever you say.’ They was more or less telling me what was supposed to have transpired at that house, you know, what their theory was about what happened.”
Seemingly assured that their quarry was under their control, the detectives removed his handcuffs, Patterson says, and left him alone for about an hour while they rounded up a state’s attorney. According to Patterson, assistant state’s attorney Kip Owen entered the room with a plainclothes policeman whom Patterson later identified as Jon Burge. Patterson says he asked to speak to Owen alone, and after Burge left asked for an attorney and declined to make a statement. Owen allegedly walked out. Burge walked in, Patterson says, sat down, took out his gun, and put it on the table. Patterson claims that Burge said “you are fucking up,” that things would get worse for him, that if he told of what he’d been through it would be “your word against our word. And who are they going to believe, you or us?” (In a recent interview with the Reader, Owen called this account “absolute nonsense….I don’t know that I have ever met Jon Burge, ever in my entire life.”)
In Patterson’s account, Burge left the room again and the Apache Ranger found a paper clip on the floor. He used it to scratch two messages into the bench and one into the door frame indicating that he had been tortured and prevented from calling for help. Those messages were later discovered intact by Isaac Carothers, an investigator with the public defender’s office and now 29th Ward alderman. According to an affidavit filed by Carothers, one etching read as follows:
I lied about murders
Police threatened me with
violence, slapped and
suffocated me with plastic
The prosecution had one witness who linked Patterson to the crime, Marva Hall, who was 16 when the Sanchezes’ corpses were discovered. Testifying under oath before the grand jury three weeks after the murders, Hall identified Patterson as “Lone Ranger” and said she had joined his gang at 13 but was no longer a member. She said that on April 18, 1986, she had seen him in a car and he had asked her if she knew anyone who wanted to buy a shotgun and a chain saw. Hall said Patterson claimed to have gotten them at the Sanchezes’ house, where he had stabbed both husband and wife.
She also claimed the shotgun had a scope on it. This would be most unusual. A shotgun is an imprecise weapon meant to blast an area at relatively close range, and a scope is a device attached to rifles, occasionally to handguns, to aid shooters aiming at distant targets. Putting a scope on a shotgun is a little like wearing a baseball mitt to catch a football. You can do it, but nobody does.
One month later, on June 6, 1986, Hall recanted her grand jury testimony. She told investigator Carothers that she had never heard Patterson admit to any murders and that she had never told the police that he had. Carothers wrote out an affidavit saying precisely that and Hall signed it.
Three years later, at Patterson’s trial, Hall recanted her recantation and went back to her original story. She claimed that she had given the signed statement to Carothers because Patterson had phoned her four times from jail and in each of those calls had threatened to kill her if she came to court. She admitted that she had never called the police about those threats.
Patterson’s attorney, public defender Brian Dosch, proposed to Hall that the conversation with Patterson had occurred a week before the murders, that the Apache Ranger had been seeking a buyer only for a saw, and that two men she knew had witnessed the sales pitch. Dosch also asked Hall if she was not driven by other motives in telling her story to police. Hall’s cousin had been brought in for questioning about the murders, and Dosch raised the possibility she had attempted to clear him by offering Patterson to the police instead. Dosch argued that Hall was happy to see Patterson sacrificed, as he had beaten up her boyfriend a week before the bodies were found. The public defender put Carothers on the stand, and the future alderman said Hall told her she was afraid not of Patterson but of the police. Judge John Morrissey, however, ordered the comment stricken. Morrissey also refused to allow the defense to establish that Patterson could make only collect calls during the time that he was allegedly threatening Hall. Dosch did not contest Hall’s description of a shotgun with a scope on it, presenting no experts who would have pointed out the absurdity of such an attachment. No one seems to have noticed at the time that Hall had also changed the location of the weapon. She originally told Area Two detectives that she saw it on the floor of the car. At trial, she testified that it was in the trunk.
Dosch says he fully intended to put Patterson on the witness stand to describe how he had been tortured, even after Judge Morrissey ruled that he could be impeached with his attempted-murder convictions. Dosch changed his mind after police officer James Jackson took the stand and prosecutor Jack Hynes made an error that might have been egregious. Officer Jackson testified about reading Patterson his Miranda rights. The last line of the Miranda litany is, “Do you wish to answer questions at this time?” Hynes asked Jackson what Patterson had replied, and Jackson indicated that Patterson had not wished to answer questions.
Dosch immediately asked for a mistrial. Morrissey called for a sidebar. “Mr. Hynes, what are you doing?” he said. “That’s a comment on the defendant’s postarrest silence. My God.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a defendant’s silence cannot be used against him or her, and commenting on postarrest silence is therefore forbidden. However, violations of the rule are usually considered less serious if a defendant ultimately confesses and if that confession withstands challenges and is brought to the attention of the jury.
Morrissey declined to grant Dosch’s motion for a mistrial, but the public defender thought the violation was significant enough that even if the jury voted to convict Patterson, he could be certain of a reversal on appeal and a second trial. Dosch then decided not to put Patterson on the stand, thereby keeping his felony record from the jury, but also preventing the jurors from hearing about the circumstances in which the unsigned confession was generated.
The jury also heard nothing about the list of men who claimed to have been tortured by Commander Burge and his detectives. Dosch had access to the list, which was being compiled by the People’s Law Office, and he has since shouldered blame for not pursuing it and for not making Burge a central figure in Patterson’s case. But in fairness to Dosch, it must be noted that Burge was still three years away from being purged, and the leading figure on the list of Burge’s victims was Andrew Wilson, who did not prevail in his civil suit against Burge and the city until nearly seven years after Patterson’s trial ended. As the convicted killer of two policemen, Wilson would have won Patterson little sympathy had Morrissey allowed him to testify, and the judge’s other rulings in the case suggest that evidence of torture would have never been heard in that particular courtroom.
For example, the judge refused to allow Dosch to introduce photos of Patterson’s interrogation-room etchings. Morrissey called them “hearsay.” Dosch subpoenaed complaints filed with the Office of Professional Standards that named detectives who had arrested and interrogated Patterson. Morrissey reviewed the documents in camera and then refused to turn them over, stating that he found them “irrelevant and immaterial.” Dosch proposed to question Detective James Pienta, who had played a major role in Patterson’s case, about his role in the Andrew Wilson case. Wilson, who was subjected to electric shock, also claimed to have been suffocated with a plastic bag. Morrissey declared that avenue off limits to Dosch.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Kenneth Zelazo leaned heavily on the testimony of Marva Hall and her performance on the witness stand. “Recall the tears of Marva Hall,” he said. “Those were tears of honesty. Those were tears of fear. Those were tears that tell you about the defendant.”
The jury deliberated for nine hours. They came back with a verdict of guilty.
After delivery of the verdict, the trial entered its aggravation/mitigation phase. Assistant state’s attorneys Zelazo and Hynes presented witnesses who they hoped would make the jurors feel that they had convicted a particularly evil man who deserved to be put to death. Public defenders Dosch and Janice McGaughey countered with witnesses they hoped would make the jurors reluctant to take Patterson’s life.
Officer Charles Gomez, a member of the Fourth District tactical unit, testified that at 11:30 PM on April 18, 1986, he and his partner had seen three men carrying a rug through an alley and that the men had dropped the rug and started running when they saw Gomez’s car approach. The rug was soaked with blood, and while throwing it into the trunk of the police car, Gomez heard a moan come from a nearby garage. He found a man there lying naked in a pool of water, covered with blood, his head split open. Gomez called paramedics and followed a trail of blood back to the Apache Rangers’ headquarters, an apartment he could not enter because there were several hostile dogs in the yard.
The nearly dead man, Russell Warner, also took the stand. He testified that on that evening, he had been taken at gunpoint by an Apache Ranger to the gang’s headquarters, where he was accused of having stolen a .22-caliber pistol from the gang. Warner claimed that he told those assembled that he had a gun like the one that was missing and “wasn’t going to fight over no pistol,” so he phoned a friend and asked him to bring the weapon to Patterson. After the weapon was turned over, Warner said, he was beaten, stripped naked, wrapped in a rug, and disposed of in the garage; he fell into a coma that lasted three days. “I got a steel plate in my jaw, my nose is broke, and then I got…a scar on my back and then the back of my head.” Patterson’s attorneys tried to get Warner to admit that he had been a member of the Apache Rangers and had taken the gun with the intention of selling it to buy cocaine. Warner denied this, and even if the jury doubted his denial there was no getting around the horror of the Apache Rangers’ punishment. Aaron Patterson had pled guilty to attempted murder charges in that case.
Police officer Fred Vlahovich took the stand and testified that on April 6, 1985, he had pursued Patterson down a gangway, that Patterson had fired at him, and that the Apache Ranger later pled guilty to the resulting charges. The judge in the case ordered Patterson to turn over the weapon, and Vlahovich reported that he had.
Area Two violent crimes detective Michael McDermott testified that he had visited two Apache Rangers in the hospital who allegedly had been assaulted by Patterson. McDermott said Patterson had punished Kirk Belt and Joseph Jackson for not carrying out his orders. He said Patterson had hit Belt on the head with a hammer and had shot Jackson with a rifle. According to the policeman, Patterson straddled Jackson and pointed a rifle at his head. Jackson shouted “No!” and put his hands in front of his face. A shot went through both hands, broke Jackson’s jaw, and lodged near the back of his head. McDermott testified that the doctor who treated Jackson predicted that he would no longer be able to use his right hand.
Henry Simmons, a Cook County state’s attorney, testified that he had prosecuted Patterson for the shooting of Charles Lampkins, the trial taking place while the Sanchez murder trial was pending. Lampkins was a member of the Cobras street gang who had survived after being wounded in the chest. Simmons said Patterson had testified at his trial that he and the Apache Rangers fought only other gangs, that they would continue to do so, and that Lampkins had been shot in self-defense. Simmons said the judge had sentenced Patterson to nine years for attempted murder.
Corrections officers testified that while Patterson was awaiting trial for the Sanchez murders, he was involved in two violent incidents in Cook County Jail. In one, the Apache Ranger had stabbed another inmate, a man accused of killing the brother of El Rukn leader Jeff Fort. Patterson’s attorneys suggested that the wounded man was the aggressor, while guards contended it was Patterson who owned the shank. In the other incident, Patterson participated in a riot that may have been sparked off when guards forcibly terminated an inmate’s phone call in the day room. Patterson was alleged to have hit one guard with a broom handle, causing a laceration that required stitches, and to have broken the hand of another guard by throwing a chair at him.
After that litany of mayhem, the defense took over. Aaron’s brother, Raymond Jr., testified first. He told the jury about his education, and said he was an account executive for Pitney Bowes. He went on to describe Aaron’s childhood. Both boys had attended Saint Bronislava’s, a now defunct Catholic grammar school; both had played Little League; both had gone to day camp. Aaron, he said, was a fine baseball player, a fast runner, a superior roller skater, and an altar boy.
“Aaron got along with all the neighbors particularly well,” Raymond said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but everybody liked Aaron quite a bit….He was close to a lot of people in the neighborhood, not just the kids in the neighborhood but some of the parents in the area too.” Aaron, he said, had been chosen by the next-door neighbors to be godfather to both their children.
Raymond went on to say that his parents had been strict, particularly about the boys being home by curfew. He described an evening when he and Aaron had run a few miles to get home on time because no bus appeared. Raymond said that when he and his brother were in their last years at De La Salle, Aaron started to bristle whenever rules were invoked, both at school and at home. “I kind of like would brush [it] aside, you know, as it’s a matter of time, you know. I will be out, I will be grown, be able to do what I want to do. But my brother…he objected more than I did.”
Asked why his life had turned out so different from Aaron’s, Raymond said it was because he had been more passive in his last years in high school and because he’d not been as socially successful as Aaron. “I think Aaron was comfortable in the environment he was in, more or less, and he felt at home there,” Raymond said. “I did not feel at home in the neighborhood.” When it came time to choose a college, Raymond wanted to leave town. One of the things he was most afraid of, he said, was the pull of his surroundings in Chicago, and he said he would be reluctant to raise a family here. Had he stayed, he said, he would have been hanging out with the same people Aaron hung with.
Aaron’s mother, Jo Ann Patterson, was the next witness in mitigation. She had stayed at home to raise the children while they attended Saint Bronislava’s, and she’d help support the small school with bake sales, teas, and luncheons. In those years, the boys could play outside only until the street lights came on. Their report cards were the basis for rewards and punishment. Good grades earned them money, but infractions like speaking out of turn in class resulted in a period of no television and home confinement. She recalled a report-card day when Aaron did not come home after school, staying away for four hours to avoid the rebuke he knew was coming for the check mark in the discipline column of his card.
Asked to recall Aaron’s high school years, Mrs. Patterson recalled that she and her husband had often discussed what they could do to make their son’s journey to and from De La Salle less dangerous. “Sometimes he would run into someone who was wanting to chase him or he would say they were shooting at him. And I just–we just didn’t know what to do. We’d say, ‘Why don’t you go earlier or later, something like that? But he never did talk anymore….We did not know what to do at that point.”
She recalled that “it was a no-no to hang in front of the house….If you had company, you did not sit on the front porch. If you wanted to entertain, you come in the living room and entertain or go somewhere in the house and entertain.” Aaron resented the rule, his mother recalled, and if his friends did come over, they would come inside for “about four minutes, enough for Aaron to get dressed and to go wherever else they had to go. I do not remember anyone ever being there to visit as a friend over a half hour.”
As Aaron neared graduation from high school, his parents made plans for him to attend college. He had other ideas. One day he came home and said he had enlisted in the National Guard. Mrs. Patterson recalled being disappointed but coming to support the plan because Aaron was excited about it and because he said he would use whatever money he saved to attend college later. She testified that after Aaron’s military career came to an end, he returned home and took up with his old pals, and his parents started to see him only at 6 PM, when they had dinner. She recalled one holiday family gathering during this time. On such occasions the boys were expected to be around and help out, but Aaron disappeared and showed up when everything was just about over.
“And his dad asked him, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ And we both were–his dad and I were both disappointed because we had not seen him all that day. And I think that they had some kind of heated discussion at that point, and that’s when Aaron just left the house and I did not see him anymore for a long time.”
Public defender McGaughey then had Mrs. Patterson identify photos–of Aaron’s first communion, Aaron and Ray Jr. serving mass at Saint Bronislava’s, the family at the Wisconsin Dells and Niagara Falls, Aaron with a Little League trophy, Aaron at his senior prom. McGaughey asked Mrs. Patterson if she had any explanation for why Aaron had “difficulties with the police in his later years.”
“All I know is that everybody knew Aaron and that he was always a protector,” she said. “And I would always tell him, ‘Would you just mind your own business? You have a lot to do for yourself, don’t worry about what somebody did to someone else. I mean, they can take care of themselves.’…And he always say, ‘Well, that’s the problem. Nobody does anything around here about what goes on.’ And I say, ‘Well, as long as it does not affect you, why don’t you just leave it alone?’ But…he just did not want to do that.” Aaron would accuse his mother of being naive, of not knowing what was going on on the streets. She would respond that she did not want to know what was going on, that she had plenty of responsibilities as it was.
Mrs. Patterson said Aaron would tell her nothing about his difficulties until a situation had gotten beyond the point where she could do anything about it. Then he would explain himself, and the story was always the same: Aaron was doing something to protect a friend, or he had been challenged “because he was supposed to be some kind of protector.” She concluded that Aaron’s lifestyle was hopeless. “If you stay on the street…” she said, “the trouble just comes to you.” Thus, she said, it was natural for her son to be blamed for the Sanchez murders. The police knew Aaron, they needed a solution for the double homicide, and Aaron could play the lead role. “I could not believe it, when they told me that he was found guilty, because I know he could not have done this. I know it. He is not that kind of person. He is a protector. He guards against harm.”
Aaron’s father also testified in mitigation, and it must have seemed remarkable to the jury to have a lieutenant on the police force, the commanding officer of the employee development section, testifying on behalf of the chief Apache Ranger. In response to questions from Brian Dosch, Lieutenant Patterson sketched in his background. He had a BA in criminal justice and history from the University of Illinois, earned while serving as a patrolman. He had a master’s degree from IIT in public administration with a concentration in labor relations, also earned while on the job. He was then midwest president of the American Criminal Justice Association and a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
In response to questions from Dosch, the lieutenant described a “normal parent-child relationship” with Aaron, free of confrontation unless his son got into trouble. When asked about Aaron’s friends, he was blunt. He didn’t like them. He had objected to Aaron’s friends “on most occasions.” They did not “contribute to the betterment of society….They just didn’t seem to be doing anything.” The public defender asked why Aaron had hung out with them. “Well, Mr. Dosch,” the lieutenant said, “if I could really answer that question, then I would know what to do about it. But he never really gave me any reasonable reason why he would hang with them.”
The lieutenant recalled his discovery that his son was in a gang. “Several police officers had mentioned it to me prior to my actual finding out,” he said. When he spotted “the insignia”–the lieutenant did not use the word “tattoo”–he and his son “had words….I let him know in no uncertain words how I felt about it, and I reminded him at that time that I had been denying to my friends that he was a gang member because he was my son.” Aaron moved out not long thereafter, and his father testified that he did not know where his son was living after that. Every time he ran across Aaron, he said, he would talk to him about the futility of his lifestyle.
Dosch: Do you like your son?
Lieutenant Patterson: Did I like my–
Dosch: Do you like your son?
Patterson: Well I love him.
Dosch: I have nothing further.
Dosch and McGaughey presented some of the Pattersons’ neighbors who testified that Aaron had helped the elderly in the neighborhood, doing odd jobs for them, often without pay. A Chicago policeman who had been friends with Aaron in grammar and high school testified that Patterson “was a nice guy to me and everybody that I know he came into contact with. Everybody liked him.” A psychologist hired to write a forensic psychological assessment testified that Patterson had no arrest record as a juvenile, that he had graduated in the top 35 percent of his class at De La Salle, that he had been on the honor roll for one year, and that he was in training as a radar technician when he was discharged from military service.
The effect of the aggravation testimony, however, proved impossible to overcome. The jury voted in favor of execution, and Aaron Patterson was sent to death row.
In the ten years Patterson has spent waiting to be killed, the prosecution’s case has fallen apart. Marva Hall, who recanted her grand jury testimony and then recanted her recantation at trial, has since recanted her trial testimony to several journalists and to Patterson’s attorneys. In an affidavit signed on July 2, 1998, Hall said she had seen Patterson with a shotgun, but that it had been a few weeks before the Sanchez murders. She said she had been intimidated into implicating Patterson by police and prosecutors.
The only other evidence connecting Patterson to the crime is his alleged confession, which was written by a state’s attorney and which he refused to sign. Patterson’s claim that the confession came after he was suffocated now holds considerable credibility. The city has admitted that “savage torture” occurred at Area Two, and a federal court has agreed.
Also haunting the prosecution case is the criminal career of Willie Washington, whose brother Wayne was instrumental in the discovery of the bodies of Vincente and Rafaela Sanchez. Recall that Patterson had never before been charged with a home invasion, had always used a gun in his crimes, and had never been charged with a stabbing, much less one carried out with such frenzy. Willie Washington, who was briefly a suspect in the case, invaded the home of Colleen Hamling in Aurora on April 26, 1994. Hamling was stabbed nine times in the neck, seven times in the upper spine, eight times in the chest, and once on the hand. The 35-year-old Hamling struggled, sustained numerous cuts on her arms, and then pretended to be dead. She survived and identified her attacker as Washington, who lived next door and had previously asked her for money. According to Aurora police documents, when Washington was interviewed about the crime he admitted that he smoked about $300 worth of crack a day. He pled guilty to attacking Hamling and to two other home invasions and is now serving a 50-year sentence in the Menard Correctional Center. He has denied killing Vincente and Rafaela Sanchez.
Despite the collapse of the evidence against him and the emergence of a more likely suspect, Patterson remains on death row. His case is now in the final stage of appeal at the state level. In the Illinois Supreme Court a few weeks ago, assistant state’s attorney Carol Gaines argued that he deserved no evidentiary hearing, that execution should proceed as scheduled. In oral arguments on September 14, Gaines admitted that torture had occurred at Area Two, specifically in the case of Andrew Wilson, but said that there was no connection between Wilson’s case and Aaron Patterson’s. Wilson had emerged from police custody with physical injuries (the alligator clips used in the administration of electric shock had left a pattern of abrasions on Wilson’s ears, there were burns on his thigh and chest, and his head was cut open). Patterson, Gaines argued, had no physical marks. It did not matter to Gaines that torturers often use methods that leave no marks; in her brief she and fellow prosecutor Renee Goldfarb cited eight Illinois Supreme Court decisions, six of them involving men who alleged torture at Area Two, in which the judges had held that physical injury was required to prove police brutality had taken place. Patterson’s etchings also made no difference to Gaines and Goldfarb; it was their view that Patterson’s claims of torture should not be believed because he had not complained about it to the state’s attorney who took his alleged confession or to the paramedic who examined him when he arrived at Cook County Jail. Goldfarb and Gaines also argued that Marva Hall’s newest recantation was irrelevant, as the time to raise the issue of the prosecution’s use of perjured testimony was in an earlier appeal.
Patterson now awaits the court’s ruling, which is expected in the next few weeks. If the supreme court decides that his case should not be reexamined, he will have exhausted his avenues of appeal on the state level. His attorneys will then ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. This is a routine and required procedural step that defense attorneys recognize as hopeless; the likelihood of the Supreme Court agreeing to review such a case is minuscule (in the court session that ended in June, the justices were asked to review 8,083 cases; they ruled on only 90). After the U.S. Supreme Court files its expected rejection, Patterson will have one more shot at avoiding execution–a habeas corpus hearing in U.S. District Court.
A perusal of the newspaper archives since the end of the Patterson trial might lead the superstitious to conclude that a certain stain marked the lives of some of its participants.
Prosecutor Kip Owen achieved some notoriety in 1998 when he charged two boys, ages seven and eight, with the murder of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. Owen and the two other assistant state’s attorneys who worked on the case dropped the charges after receiving a crime lab report that semen had been found on the girl’s clothes (the possibility of semen being produced by a seven- or eight-year-old is highly remote). DNA in the semen was later found to match that of a man charged with the rapes of three girls aged 10, 11, and 15.
Prosecutor Jack Hynes was recently named a circuit court judge, only to have Tribune reporters Ken Armstrong and Maurice Possley point out that as a state’s attorney he had had two cases reversed because he had discriminated against members of minorities during jury selection. The Chicago Bar Association and the Cook County Bar Association have since called for his dismissal, and the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission may investigate whether Hynes lied on his application to become a judge by omitting mention of having been rebuked by a higher court.
Judge John Morrissey’s hostility to evidence of police brutality surfaced in other cases after Patterson’s, ultimately to the embarrassment of the judiciary. In a front page story last May 18, Tribune reporters Armstrong and Steve Mills highlighted the judge’s behavior in People v. Ronald Jones. Prosecutors had charged that Jones 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 the states’ attorney’s office dropped all charges against him.
Morrissey is now presiding over People v. Darrell Cannon, another Area Two torture case in which he has made controversial rulings in favor of the police. (For details see “Poison in the System,” which ran in the Reader, June 25, 1999.)
Patterson has shown a certain charisma while under this death sentence. There are 11 men on death row who have alleged that they were tortured at Area Two (they are known collectively as the Death Row 10, one member having arrived after the group was formed). Of the lot, Patterson has garnered the most support by far. He has an active defense committee working for him, and assorted luminaries–among them Bianca Jagger and former judge and White House counsel Abner Mikva–have signed a petition asking the Illinois Supreme Court to spare his life. He is the only Area Two victim with demonstrable support from any local African-American politicians: state representative Connie Howard has been active on his behalf, and congressmen Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, and Jesse Jackson Jr. have demonstrated mild interest. Patterson also has a Web page maintained by the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and there are indications that the government of the Republic of Ireland may write a letter on his behalf. On December 7, 60 Minutes II will air a story about Patterson and the Death Row 10, and Newsweek covered his case last May, focusing on the efforts of Northwestern University professor David Protess and his journalism students, who have been investigating the case for more than two years. 60 Minutes has been working on a story about Patterson for several months. In interviews, Patterson pleads not just his case but that of the other members of the Death Row 10 as well. He is convinced he will be released, and talks of saving some of his best material for the book and movie versions of his travails.
Throughout all this, Jo Ann Patterson has been unflagging in her determination to save her son’s life. Chris Bergen, a lawyer who works on the Aaron Patterson Defense Committee, calls her the group’s “spiritual leader.” A quiet, unassuming woman, she now finds herself organizing and addressing rallies, speaking at legislative hearings, and participating in press conferences. In July 1998 she helped organize a bus trip to Pontiac. She and the committee marked Aaron’s 34th birthday by demonstrating outside the prison gates, an event that Aaron saw reported on the local evening news. When the Illinois supreme court heard oral arguments in Aaron’s case last September, his mother helped pack the courtroom, a room so rarely filled that staffers can count on one hand the number of times it has happened. She has also spoken with Colleen Hamling, the victim of Willie Washington’s assault in Aurora, in an effort to enlist her in the campaign to save Aaron’s life. A white woman stabbed by a black crack addict speaks to a different constituency than a black gang leader on death row with three attempted murder convictions.
Jo Ann Patterson, however, has labored largely without the help of her husband. The two separated in 1990, after 28 years together. Lieutenant Patterson believes the breakup was his fault, that his ambition to get ahead on the job got in the way of his family relationships. “I overdid it,” he said in an interview, “with the result that my family fell apart….I spent a lot of time in trying to get myself promoted, and I wasn’t the most faithful husband.”
In the wake of that breakup, which came six months after his son was sentenced to death, the lieutenant says he felt “split from the whole family….I was angry with the whole family, which is kind of a juvenile way of looking at things as I sit here now. When I reflect, I just felt alone, that is all.”
Having a son on death row, he said, seemed to have no effect on his place on the police department’s totem pole, but over the years it became one of several factors that diminished his enthusiasm for the job. “I found myself sitting up in that office, day after day, listening to other people’s problems, helping other police officers’ sons and daughters out of trouble, listening to these goddamn alderman crying all the time and asking for favors, and helping them out of mischief. Then I come home to my own house and don’t know what to do about my own goddamn problems,” he said. “I think those types of things impacted my career more than anything the police department did to hold me back. I just wasn’t motivated to get promoted.”
Years passed, and he had nothing to do with Aaron. “For a long time I had felt betrayed by Aaron,” the lieutenant said, “because I have never taught Aaron to be a gangbanger.” For years he wrestled with the question of whether Aaron had indeed murdered the fence and his wife. “I guess that is a bias I have against gangsterdom. I just couldn’t see any reason to believe him. It’s a terrible thing to say, I admit that, but my feelings had a lot to do with whether or not I believed him, and my belief or disbelief in him stemmed from when he lied to me. I have never been able to reconcile myself to that. And he had been lying to me for so long. I guess that is the problem with lying. I guess it comes back to haunt you sooner or later.”
It was 1996 before the lieutenant came to believe that the police had the wrong man, and at that point he went to visit Aaron in Menard. In an interview with the Reader a few months after that visit, the policeman recalled, “He was pretty cold to me initially….’Why do you let me stay in here for ten years? I’m your son.’ And I don’t have to tell you anymore about that. That was deep. That hurt.” In a subsequent interview a few weeks ago, he suggested the gap between visits may have been only six years, though he admitted that his memory was hazy. Aaron insists that his father has visited him only twice in the last 13 years, once in 1986 and once in 1996.
“I don’t think he sees how I could believe that he did this,” the retired lieutenant told the Reader in 1996. “He said, ‘When I shot those people, I never denied it.’ And he didn’t. He admitted readily that he had shot these guys. And he was convicted and sentenced for that and he has done his time on it. But he was very upfront about that. But he is steadfast in his innocence on this. And the more I review some of the evidence that I was too proud to even try to look at heretofore, the more I am torn to believe him.”
During the visit in 1996, Aaron described the roles that various officers had played in his arrest and interrogation. “This guy’s name came up,” the lieutenant recalled, “and he was one of the guys that supposedly had struck my son. And this guy [later] worked for me as one of my sergeants. He was an excellent employee. I mean excellent. He is just superior in his job. He was my desk sergeant and I depended on him a lot. Then when I went to visit Aaron, Aaron calls his name, I almost fell off the chair. Aaron said this guy actually hit him, that he returned from McDonald’s with a bag of hamburgers or something and he struck Aaron. But Aaron said that he didn’t have a lot to do with the case, it was just that Aaron was raising so much hell in there that he heard the commotion and went in and struck him with a hamburger–‘Shut up all that noise.’ And he called this guy’s name and that really shocked me. It really shocked me.”
The retired lieutenant began thinking about the fine details of the case. The murders were supposed to have been the by-product of a joint venture between members of the Vice Lords and the Apache Rangers. “Is that what usually happens in real life?” he asked. “Gangbangers don’t usually operate that way. They don’t usually take on joint ventures like that.”
He also found it suspicious that evidence had disappeared. The state’s attorney’s office cannot locate the fingerprints lifted at the scene, the footprint left in the congealed blood, or blood samples taken by evidence technicians, all of which could prove useful in identifying the killer.
“I have always felt that if you are going to charge a person with a heinous type crime, you ought to be pretty sure that this person did it, and the only way you can do it is to cross your t’s and dot your i’s….The biggest injustice you can do is to let the real killer get away.” And that, he is certain, is what happened. “I think Willie Washington killed these people, and at the very least I know Aaron didn’t. And I will put anything on that. That is one thing that gives me some consolation now as I sit here while my son sits in prison. At least now I know that he didn’t do it. This is almost as bad as the crime itself, for them to arrest the wrong person when they had every chance to get the right person, but they didn’t use the initiative that they should have used. And nobody made ’em.”
The lieutenant may have been convinced of his son’s innocence, but the two were not reconciled. After retiring at age 58, Raymond Patterson seemed to have a lot of time on his hands, but he did not go back to the prison. He now has two other children with another woman, from whom he has since separated. He spends his time studying the Civil War and visiting sites where great battles were fought.
When People v. Patterson was argued before the supreme court in September, the retired lieutenant drove to Springfield and sat in on the session. Afterward, he stood on the courthouse steps, had his picture taken with his son’s lawyers and his ex-wife, and politely answered questions from the press.
No one had known that the lieutenant was coming. And suddenly, with reporters, photographers, and supporters still mingling about, no one seemed to know that he had gone. Ever the policeman, he would explain that he had departed quickly because his parking meter was running out of time.
“I am not out to do a thing on the death penalty in general,” Raymond Patterson said later. “I am not anti-this or anti-that.” He explained that he agreed with the approach being taken by Aaron’s present attorneys, Flint Taylor and Tim Lohraff from the People’s Law Office. “I just wait and hope any direct assistance that is necessary, I am there to do it.”
“Keep in mind,” he said, “that I had a son–at one time I thought we were the perfect father and son, during the period of his growing up and my chasing my career. And then the relationship changed and at the present time I just wish it were better. That is how I’d like for you to see it. We don’t have the perfect relationship, but one time I like to think it was pretty close to that.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Associated Press–Illinois Dept. of Corrections.