It happened fast. Police officer Robert Perkins had stopped a man at the corner of 61st and Wabash. It was 10:30 in the morning on March 7, 1992. Perkins suspected him of burglary.
It’s not clear whether Perkins turned his nightstick against Stanley Davis to subdue him. What’s incontrovertible is that Davis, who was not the burglar, reached into his waistband and pulled out a .357 magnum snub-nosed revolver.
Davis fired four of its six rounds. Two shots hit Perkins. The first penetrated the crease of his left elbow, skidded the length of his arm, passed through the armpit, and stopped on the left side of his back. Testimony would indicate that Perkins spun away from Davis and began to fall. A second shot entered his upper back on the right, traveled through his neck, and lodged on the left side of his brain. Perkins–six foot one, 225 pounds–crumpled to the sidewalk near a fireplug. Davis fled east on 61st Street.
Frank Starke, a janitor at the Cockerell Child Parent Center across the street, had been watching the altercation from his car. He raced inside the school and called 911.
As the intersection filled with squad cars, Eldridge Smith, a fellow Third District officer, moved close to his downed friend and spoke into his ear. An ambulance arrived and the paramedics went to work.
Gus Harvey, another Third District veteran, located Perkins’s service revolver under his body. Other items found included a half-smoked cigar on the ground and an unopened bottle of Wild Irish Rose in a paper bag on the hood of Perkins’s squad car. The location of Perkins’s nightstick would become a matter of debate.
The paramedics worked on Perkins 10 or 15 minutes and then raced him by ambulance to Cook County Hospital. “They cut his clothes off,” says Eldridge Smith. “Four doctors were working on him immediately.” One doctor told Smith there was still a heartbeat but said nothing about saving Perkins’s life. First Deputy Police Superintendent Charles Ford arrived, and hospital personnel tried to reach the next of kin.
“Then a doctor appeared and said he’d passed,” says Smith. Perkins was declared dead at 12:50 PM. His vital signs returned four times, and then he died.
Mattie Perkins, the officer’s estranged wife, was at home on the phone trying to locate their teenage daughter Ramona to tell her about the shooting. Ramona’s older sister, Renee, rang through from Alabama with the news that Perkins had died. Mattie rushed to the hospital. “He was down in the morgue,” she says. “I looked at Bob and kissed him good-bye.”
Ramona Perkins, a student at Lindblom High School, lived with her father in Prairie Shores, and they were extraordinarily close. She’d been out shopping. She came home to find the answering machine pulsing with messages. By the time her mother arrived the girl was inconsolable. “You can’t understand,” Ramona said through her tears. “Your daddy is alive. Mine is dead.”
After shooting Perkins, Stanley Davis ran east and then north. He ditched his gun, his coat, and the pants he was wearing over sweatpants in a gangway at 6021 S. Michigan. Then he made his way to a first-floor apartment at 5855 S. Michigan.
Davis lived there with his cousin April Kuykindall, her children, her boyfriend, his own girlfriend JoAnn Sawyers, and Sawyers’s children–a dozen people in all. Davis came inside perspiring and looking nervous. He talked to Sawyers, then went into a bedroom and called his brother Wallace, a laid-off factory worker. I’m in trouble, he said. (Wallace supposed the trouble had to do with Sawyers.) Sawyers called Kuykindall’s brother, Tony Darring. “Tony, something’s happened,” she said with terror in her voice. “I can’t say what over the phone.” But she did murmur, “The gun, the gun.”
Out on the street, Davis opened up to Kuykindall. He said he was sorry for what he’d done, but he couldn’t allow that cop to frisk him. He’d been paroled just ten months earlier after serving 20 years on a murder rap; if Perkins had found the gun, it would have sent him right back to prison.
Tony Darring arrived. “Drive, drive, drive,” Davis begged him. “I think I am in some trouble.” When they got to Darring’s flat, Davis leveled with him. “I shot a policeman,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s dead.” Darring didn’t quite believe this; he turned on the radio and the television and heard nothing about a cop killing.
Soon Wallace Davis arrived. Stanley took him into the bathroom and repeated the confession. “Oh, Stan, you must have been out of your mind,” said Wallace. “Turn yourself in, man, turn yourself in.” When Stanley Davis called and told his mother, Dorothy Collins, Darring knew for sure the story was true. “Bring me my son,” Dorothy Collins told him.
Gathered at Collins’s Roseland home, the family argued over Stanley’s next step. For want of a better idea, Stanley finally left with Wallace for Wallace’s home in Altgeld Gardens, the far-south-side housing project where the brothers had grown up a generation before.
Robert Harris Perkins–star number 16557–was the only Chicago policeman to be killed on duty in 1992. He enjoyed a good, if not sterling, reputation among his peers and was popular among the citizens he served. Normally he did not ride in a squad car; he was an “officer friendly” who walked a beat. The search for his killer dominated the news the week Stanley Davis remained at large.
Bob Perkins was 45 when he died and Stanley Davis was 40 when he shot him. Both south-side natives, the two led lives that early on weren’t entirely dissimilar. The story of Robert Perkins’s murder is the story of those two lives.
Stanley Davis’s parents, Dorothy Vance and Wallace Davis, met as teenagers in 1947 at a dance hall at 45th and King Drive. They would have four children. Stanley, the third, was born on August 8, 1951, at Cook County Hospital.
Wallace Senior worked for a while as a presser at a cleaners, a job arranged by his mother, Hattie Davis, the family matriarch. Hattie was one of the first female black supervisors at the main post office and is still remembered there. Known for her proper manners and expensive clothes, Hattie set high standards for her female staff. “She expected a certain standard of dress, or you didn’t work,” says Rosetta Johnson, now the post office’s personnel manager. “She used to get on my case about my miniskirts. I remember one day borrowing a long smock that fell below my knees just so that Miss Davis wouldn’t say anything to me.”
Hattie had less impact on her son Wallace. “Mostly Wallace stayed in jail on account of his habits with heroin,” says his former wife, the present Dorothy Collins. Davis remembers his father as a pickpocket, heroin addict, and prison inmate–as someone he didn’t really know growing up. The job of raising the family fell to Dorothy, herself the product of a mother-run home on the south side, and to Davis’s mind she did remarkably well: “She was a typical black woman with a large family. She always made sure we went to school and that we had clothes on our backs. She might not have been the best mother that ever was, but she tried.”
Through the years Dorothy Davis occasionally drew welfare, but she found frequent work as a cleaning woman in office buildings. She also did day work for an insurance man’s widow who lived on Lake Shore Drive. “I cleaned for her, but I also went to the bank and grocery–shopped for the woman,” says Dorothy, who was shocked at the woman’s helplessness. Later, for the Illinois Department of Public Aid, she tended a terminally ill woman with ten children.
Stanley was a quiet child whose main preoccupation was reading. He loved history, frequenting the branch library after school to find books on Napoleon and ancient Greece and Rome. At home he would shut himself in the bathroom with volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which Dorothy had purchased for her kids.
He missed having a father. Dorothy’s common-law second husband, the father of her fifth and sixth children–Sharon and Janice–wasn’t an adequate substitute. “He was somewhat abusive,” Davis says. “When my mother would leave, he used to step on our fingers and dangle us out the window of the apartment we had in Hyde Park.” Davis was a chronic bed wetter, not always unintentionally; he says he preferred to wet his bed rather than hazard a trip to the bathroom, where he might run into his stepfather.
In 1958 Dorothy moved out of Hyde Park. She joined her identical twin, Doris Darring, in Altgeld Gardens, the sprawling Chicago Housing Authority development of 1,500 brick row houses completed in 1945 on the far southeast side for black workers in wartime industries. “I wasn’t used to living way out south,” says Dorothy, “but in Hyde Park we were way up on the fourth floor, and somebody could just as well fall off the fire escape, or a fire could burn the whole building down. In the Gardens I figured I’d have my own place.”
“The community was virtually clean,” recalls Davis. “They planted trees and shrubs every year and made you stay off the grass. If your house wasn’t up to par, they gave you a fine. People were well behaved.”
Davis did well in math and science and demonstrated real talent in social studies. He skipped sixth grade. “I had a photographic memory,” he says. “I could stare at a page and tell you what was on it.” He was a Boy Scout and delivered the Sun-Times in Roseland, sometimes working two routes at a time; later he cut weeds in Roseland under a city-sponsored program called the Neighborhood Youth Corps. Tony Darring, Davis’s cousin four years younger, remembers that he “was so smart, and he taught us to fight, box, and play baseball.”
From the age of 11 until he was 17 Davis played baseball in Carver Park, coached by Isaac Cotton, a young postal worker who would later become a police officer. Davis was such a good pitcher Cotton fiddled with league rules covering the number of innings a player could pitch to keep Davis on the mound. “I had three good pitches and pinpoint control,” Davis says. “In my best game, in Washington Park once, I went six innings without anyone getting a hit off me. They used to marvel at how someone so small–I was five foot three and 135 pounds–could pitch so hard. Mr. Cotton said I was exceptional.”
Of Cotton Davis says, “He was the first male I actually respected. He made me feel like I could be a major league pitcher, another Sandy Koufax.” Cotton thinks Davis could have made it to the major leagues, but he saw in him more than athletic ability. “He was smart, and he had leadership qualities,” says Cotton. “If things didn’t go his way he didn’t storm off, stamping his feet. He tried to understand why.”
But Davis’s promise began to fade. In 1967, his junior year at Carver High School, he dropped out. “One day I woke up and I’d lost interest in school,” he says. “I seemed to already know what the teachers were talking about.” A year later, he and his girlfriend Linda had a son, Curtis. Davis was 16. Soon after, the federal Job Corps sent him to a camp south of Indianapolis to learn electronics; although he enjoyed the classes he dropped out after nine months and came home for good. “I knew if I left again Linda’d run off with another man,” he says. In 1970 they had a second son, Eugene, and were married at City Hall. They lived in an apartment at 131st and Langley. Davis worked for a time at a sub shop near the Howard el stop in Rogers Park, but the long trip from Altgeld Gardens became too much for him and he quit. Linda worked as a file clerk at the Chicago Police Department headquarters at 11th and State.
Minding his sons at home, Davis discovered he enjoyed child care. The discovery didn’t save his marriage. In 1970 he moved out, Curtis in tow, and joined a new girlfriend, a telephone operator, in an apartment near Trumbull Park. He scraped by on general assistance and day jobs as a stevedore at the nearby docks.
About this time Davis became a volunteer at a free-breakfast-and-clothing distribution program run by the Black Panthers. Through reading Muhammad Speaks and the writings of Kwame Nkrumah he was immersing himself in the black consciousness that flourished in the era. “This wasn’t gang stuff,” says Rena Neighbors, a family friend. “The Panther ideology was contrary to doing harm to black folk, and Stanley, who was a quiet kid, believed in what he was learning.”
Isaac Cotton sensed a new bitterness in Davis. “He was trying to do something with himself, but he was positive that he didn’t have no chance ’cause he had no clout.” Cotton counseled other young men who felt this way but not Davis. “There wasn’t much a pig could tell him,” Cotton says–he was on the force now and Davis worshiped the Panthers.
Robert Perkins was the youngest of four sons of Mary and Cornelius Perkins. He was born on May 29, 1946, at Cook County Hospital.
Cornelius Perkins, Mary’s second husband, was a laborer for a meat packing firm, but in the memories of his children he’s a shadowy figure. “He sort of left when we were young,” says Bob’s older brother Leon. “He was nice enough–I didn’t have any run-ins with him really–but I always thought of him as a winehead. He thought it was great to hang out on the corner and drink.”
Mary Perkins, the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, had had three children by her first husband, but she left them behind to be raised by their father when she came north. The four Chicago sons were followed by a daughter, Gwen, by Mary’s third husband, a longshoreman.
In the 1940s Mary found work in the household of Charlotte Miller Blommer in Wilmette. Blommer, an heiress to the Miller brewing fortune, was married to a founder of the Blommer Chocolate Company, and Mary’s cousin Inez Wrentz ran the couple’s domestic staff. “Mrs. Blommer was a nice wealthy lady who always had servants around her and knew how to treat them,” says Wrentz. Mary worked at the Blommers’ on Mondays and Fridays for $10 a day.
A talkative woman, Mary displayed much of her love through food. She was known to cook two separate dinners to please the family, a southern-style supper of pigs’ tails and sauerkraut for herself, hamburgers for the kids. On Sundays Mary would rouse herself at 5 AM to fix biscuits, bacon, and sausage. “She used to iron my underclothes and the sheets on the bed,” says Leon. “She put creases in our pants. She used to say that if she did it for other people, she could do it for her own.”
She summoned her children after dark with a voice that rang through the neighborhood, and made sure they were in church every Sunday. “I learned my math from her,” says Leon, who is a mechanical draftsman. “She helped me approach numbers without fear.” Perk, the oldest son, a securities analyst in New York, says, “She was the one who pushed ideas, education, character, and honesty.”
The Perkins family first lived at 31st and Indiana, then moved to a high rise in Cabrini-Green around the time the housing project opened in the late 1950s. “Cabrini was integrated then, and our building at 1150 Sedgwick was brand-spanking new,” recalls Gwen. “We were there for maybe two years, but then a girl got raped and my mother moved us back south.”
Mary moved the family into a courtyard building at 47th and Saint Lawrence. About that time, Cornelius Perkins died.
Nicknamed “Bunky” as a child, Bob Perkins is remembered fondly by his siblings. “He had brothers, and brothers are always pulling a joke on one another,” says Leon. “A sense of humor is a matter of survival.” At DuSable High School he belonged to a group who called themselves the Valley Boys.
“We were mischievous, just like other kids that age,” says Richard Thomas, now a janitor with the CTA. “We used to cut school and steal stuff. We hung out and had fun–life wasn’t serious then.” Another Valley Boy, Glover Jones, now a landscaping contractor, describes Bob as intensely loyal. “He picked his friends carefully, but if you were one of them you knew it.” For a time the two of them worked at a shoeshine parlor at 35th and Wallace. One day Jones told Perkins he was planning to take his girlfriend to the Riverview amusement park but was short of money. Perkins “gave me $12, which was a lot at the time,” Jones recalls, “and he never asked for the money back.”
In 1963 Mary Perkins died of a heart attack, and soon afterward Bob dropped out of DuSable and joined the Marine Corps. He earned his GED in the marines, saw some combat in Vietnam, and came home in 1968 having bulked up his body (“He was big and muscular, 200-some pounds,” says Leon) and lost some of his innocence. “I’m a marine,” he told Richard Thomas. “You’re still a person,” Thomas reminded him.
Perkins went to work for the CTA as an engineer and switchman. He and Thomas and Glover Jones shared a one-bedroom apartment in a Hyde Park high rise.
One October night in 1969 Jones’s girlfriend fixed Perkins up with her friend Mattie Ingram, a data processor with an oil company. She was separated, with a baby at home, and she and Perkins fell in love. Ingram also found work with the CTA and after her divorce she and Perkins married at City Hall, in 1973. Bob adopted Renee, Mattie’s daughter.
Glover Jones says the move from the CTA to the police force wasn’t uncommon in the early 70s. Mattie says Perkins “felt he knew the streets, and from being in the marines he felt he could make a difference.” Perkins flunked the entrance test once, then passed it in April 1975, the month his daughter Ramona was born; he was assigned to the Third District.
On a May day in 1971 Isaac Cotton spotted his old pitching star Stanley Davis standing in a group on South Ellis Avenue. When the others drifted off, Cotton and his partner approached Davis and arrested him for murder.
A month earlier Derrick Merriweather, an army private home on leave, had been sitting with his friend Howard Collins in a black Volkswagen parked in the Gardens at midnight. Shots were fired, and Merriweather died. But Collins, who took shotgun wounds to the throat, neck, lower shoulder, and arms, survived to name his assailants–Albert “Crow” Jackson, William “Bozzy” Jones, and Stanley Davis.
Davis still maintains he was home with his girlfriend the night of the incident. He says, “Here I was, someone with no juvenile record at all, and suddenly I’m arrested for the ultimate crime.”
According to Davis’s stepfather, Albert Collins, the police wanted Davis to turn state’s evidence against Jackson and Jones, but he refused. “They told him that if he didn’t tell on his friends they’d throw the book at him,” says Collins. “And when Stanley wouldn’t give any information, they did.” In January 1972 Davis, 20 years old, came to trial for the murder of Merriweather and the attempted murder of Collins. The crucial witness was Collins himself.
Earlier the day of the shooting, he testified, he’d encountered Jones, Jackson, and Davis across the street from Carver High School. When Davis asked him for $5–what the prosecution contended was a recruitment fee for the Blackstone Rangers–Collins refused. “I will kill you,” Collins quoted Jackson as warning.
That night, his story continued, he and Merriweather were sitting in the Volkswagen when Jackson, Jones, and Davis got out of a 1960 or ’61 Chevy, either blue or gray in color. Collins testified that Davis and Jackson carried shotguns. Jackson, he said, came around to Collins’s side of the car, opened the door, and fired at him. Collins went on, “And they went to the side of Derrick’s door. Jackson fired first. And that’s when I ran.” Earlier in the trial a police fingerprint technician had identified a fingerprint and a handprint taken off a 1963 Chevy found abandoned near Davis’s apartment as belonging to Davis.
Today, Davis explains away those prints, saying the car had nothing to do with the murder. “That car had been sitting up on blocks for six or seven months, rusting.”
Davis’s attorney rested without presenting a defense. “He told me he didn’t think it would be wise,” says Davis.
The story Isaac Cotton tells now, having heard it at the time from Howard Collins, is that Collins had sold Davis, Jackson, and Jones a nickel bag of marijuana. They hadn’t liked the reefer but smoked it anyway. That night they demanded their money back; when Collins refused, Albert Jackson started firing. “But Stanley was with him,” says Cotton, “and under the law he was a conspirator. Stanley didn’t try to stop the shooting, and he didn’t go to the police afterwards. He gave no statement, and so he had to pay the piper.”
“This was a garden-variety murder case,” says Marshall Weinberg, one of Davis’s prosecutors. “You had an eyeball witness who could identify Davis, and you had the fingerprints. You put it all together, and it was all pretty damning. It was, like–gotcha!”
The jury convicted Stanley Davis of murder and attempted murder. Jackson, by then already behind bars in Minnesota for robbing a filling station, also was convicted and remains in prison. Jones plea-bargained and received a shorter sentence.
“It is very sad when a 20-year-old man stands before the court charged with the crime of murder,” said Criminal Court judge Saul Epton at Davis’s sentencing. “It is also sad when, on the other side, you have a family who has lost a boy, Derrick Merriweather, who is home on leave from the army.” Epton called Merriweather’s murder “an absolute execution.” He condemned Davis to 25 to 100 years in prison for murder, to be followed by 10 to 15 years for attempted murder.
Davis remained at the Stateville penitentiary until 1976, when he was transferred to the Pontiac Correctional Center. In 1984 he moved to the Logan Correctional Center, a medium security facility. But a year later Davis was accused of threatening another inmate with a shank. “They said I came in a cell with a hatchet and tried to extort some reefer,” says Davis. “They got the wrong guy. The thing they didn’t understand about me is if I’d have done it, I’d have said I’d done it.” Davis lost three months of good time, was put in segregation, and within a month was back in Pontiac.
In prison he pressed weights and acquired the Popeye-like physique of many inmates. He earned his GED and made street signs in the silk-screen shop. He liked this job because “it preoccupied my time, so that when I got back to the cell at night all I wanted to do was to eat, lay down, and go to sleep.” He also became proficient at manufacturing homemade corn whiskey, which he sold to other inmates. Over the years prison authorities wrote Davis 25 citations; his offenses ranged from possessing a makeshift bludgeon (a metal wheel tied in a towel) to curtaining off his cell from the view of guards. There were several for the whiskey.
Though the Chicago Police would later allege that Davis joined the El Rukns in prison, he says he steered clear of the gangs. The fights he got into were unavoidable. “You’re going to be tested until they know you’re not a pushover,” he explains. “I could never duck that and didn’t.”
In general, he kept to himself. “I had a lot of individuals I talked to,” he says, “but I never had a lot I was close to. I preferred to sit alone in my cell. I read a great many books, on politics and presidents.”
Stanley’s mother visited every two weeks or so. “Whenever he grew heavy on my mind, I always wanted to see him,” says Dorothy Davis Collins. Otherwise, Davis kept in touch by phone. Stanley’s half-brother Dana Collins recalls their conversations. “Don’t end up like me,” Stanley would say. “Finish high school.”
By 1989 Davis was living on the farm at Pontiac. Four times a year the farm held a picnic for inmates, their families, and other visitors, and at one of them Davis met JoAnn Sawyers, who was there to see someone else. “We got to talking, and she said she was going to come visit me,” Davis remembers. “Yeah, I thought to myself, that’s what they all say. But one day I got word that I had a visitor, and it was her. Our conversation was casual, and it was like we had known each other for years. Our attraction was instantaneous.”
The Third District, traditionally called Grand Crossing, encompasses six square miles on Chicago’s south side east of the Dan Ryan Expressway–Woodlawn, Jackson Park, several housing projects, and the middle-class enclaves of Park Manor and South Shore. In terms of serious crime, “we’re somewhere in the middle,” says Third District police commander Hubert Holton. In 1992, the year Bob Perkins died, there were 63 other homicides in the district, plus 2,065 robberies, 2,476 aggravated assaults, 2,605 burglaries, and 221 criminal sexual assaults.
Perkins began his career without a regular partner. But after he and and a new officer named Dorothy Campbell subdued a man with a gun on 63rd Street, Campbell asked Perkins to team up. She’d been one of the first female cops assigned to the district. In a crunch, says Campbell, “people didn’t know if we were going to shoot or faint.” When the commander allowed her to choose her partner, she chose carefully.
They made a good pair. “Bob was a big guy, and he wasn’t afraid of anyone or anybody,” says Campbell. “He had a wonderful feel for people. He was able to go from the ladies of the evening to the doctors on South Shore Drive. Above all, he knew the street and I did not.” When she started, Campbell had no knowledge of street language–“I didn’t even know what a pimp was,” she laughs–so Perkins made lists of words and their street meanings and stapled them into a book. “Car (a ride),” he wrote. “Hooker (streetwalker, ladies of the night).” Perkins also taught Campbell the right way to swear. “Shithead,” she’d say, until Perkins corrected her. “Say,’asshole,'” he said.
She held her own. “Right off I established that I was the brains of the organization and he was the muscle,” Campbell says. “If we had to talk our way out of a confrontation, I was the one who did the heavy lifting.” Never did Campbell feel patronized. “I had my shortcomings, like with the street language thing, but he treated me as an equal. He never put me down, yet he made me understand what I was going to deal with out there.”
In 1979 Campbell was transferred to police headquarters. Perkins’s next enduring partnership began in 1982, when he was matched with Willie Thomas, a fresh graduate of the academy.
Perkins “was boisterous and aggressive and he taught me about the streets,” says Thomas. Perkins schooled Thomas in how to break up a dispute without getting caught up in it. Thomas learned how to stay in sight of his partner without quite seeming to, and he mastered catching a thief: “At first when Bob and I were chasing somebody, I’d get out of the car and start running. Bob said, “Go after him for two or three blocks in the car–then you run!”‘
Perkins never forgot a face. “You know him?” he’d say, pointing to someone Thomas didn’t recognize. “Last week that guy swore he’d kill the both of us.” Perkins also had an unusual ability to detect guns. “It was uncanny,” says Thomas. “He’d look at somebody and say, “That guy’s armed. Look at the way he’s leaning. Look at the bulge in his pants.’ Nine times out of ten, when we walked up on the cat he turned out to be packing a piece.”
After a couple of years together Perkins and Thomas became plainclothes officers. By then, Thomas remains proud to say, he considered himself Perkins’s peer, and he was honored when his senior partner would ask what he thought about a situation. Thomas enjoyed Perkins’s sense of humor, and though he couldn’t stand his partner’s cigars, the two became friends.
In 1986 Perkins chased down a speeding car and placed the driver under arrest. On the car’s front seat were ten pounds of marijuana and 40 grams of cocaine. for “his keen attention and diligence,” Police superintendent Fred Rice awarded Perkins a commendation. In addition 55 honorable mentions from Perkins’s district commanders were in his service jacket when he died.
Perkins, whose weight ballooned as high as 260 pounds, what not shy about getting physical. “If it came to blows Bob could quell anything in short order,” says Dorothy Campbell. “But he didn’t get an erection out of it,” adds Willie Thomas. “He liked it when the roughhousing was over.” Perkins was suspended once–in 1979 Mattie says–for failing to report a colleague who was drunk on the job. In the mid-80s he passed the sergeant’s exam, but his score wasn’t high, he was never promoted. In 1987, just before Christmas, Bob and Mattie Perkins separated. “We were working various shifts and we’d grown apart,” says Mattie. Perkins had become involved with a CTA bus driver, and they’d had a daughter, Tiffany. Mattie and Ramona moved in with her parents, and Bob took a smaller place at Lake Meadows.
Being a tactical officer no longer excited Perkins. “He was tired of it, the fact that it was so demanding on his time,” says Thomas, “and then Bob began having a problem with our sergeant, who wouldn’t let him have the time off he wanted.” In 1989 he was reassigned to foot patrol.
From ten to six on business days, he walked 71st Street from State to Champlain, checking in with the merchants and at Saint Columbanus, the local Catholic school. “Foot’s the best thing in the world,” Perkins told Willie Thomas. “It’s lax, there are no supervisors, and you don’t have to answer your radio.”
But he took his duties seriously. “Most of the cops on 71st Street come in when they want their checks cashed, and that’s about it,” says Bill Miller, owner of the 71st & Indiana Currency Exchange. “Bob was in here all the time, and ’cause he was such a real jovial man we really enjoyed him.” Perkins invariably came around the third of each month, when the elderly receive and cash their social security checks, and every Friday, payroll night, Perkins would bring in pizza and share it with the workers back in the cage.
When Perkins stopped at James T. O’Neal & Associates, a real estate firm, he had chips or cookies for the daughter of Carlotta Walker, a clerk, and he always asked how the girl was doing with her homework. At Saint Columbanus, kids being disciplined frequently occupy a “hot seat” outside the principal’s office. Perkins, who came in daily, would chat with the offender of the moment. “Next time I’m going to check up on you,” he warned one ten-year-old, “and I better get a good report.”
Stanley Davis began seeking parole in 1981. He went before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board 11 times, and each time a Cook County state’s attorney came forward to characterize him as a gang enforcer unworthy of release. Davis always maintained that he had nothing to do with Merriweather’s murder. Finally, says Davis, a prison counselor told him that if he wanted out of prison he should take responsibility. “From then on I spoke about Derrick Merriweather with tears in my eyes,” Davis says, “and I said I wasn’t a gang member anymore.”
Davis’s 12th parole hearing was held on April 24, 1991. “Why do you feel you should be paroled?” asked the review board’s Joseph Dakin. “What kind of assurance can you give us that you aren’t coming back if you are paroled?”
“This experience here has taught me a great deal,” responded Davis. “I been denied a great deal. Going out on the streets, going out on parole, is going to be a very trying time for me. I’m not going to positively, absolutely say I’m going to make it, because I don’t know what the future might hold. I have a basic plan that includes school and finding a job, but I don’t know if society is going to accept it ’cause I have 20 years in the penitentiary. I know I’m not going to find no easy job.”
“Things are a lot different than they were 20 years ago,” said Dakin. “And in some ways they are worse. The thing that will keep you out, of course, is obeying the law and finding something to do, some work.”
Dakin suggested Davis try an ex-offender program of some kind. He cautioned, “If you were to come back as a parole violator–if you got a parole and came back–it would be tough on you to get out of here ever again.”
“I think it would be the year 2028,” Davis offered.
“Pretty close,” said Dakin.
Davis said he had brothers and sisters in Chicago who might help him out. When Dakin observed that “Chicago is a rough place to live” and suggested Davis consider relocating, the inmate replied that he had a son Eugene living in Atlanta and a son Curtis in the navy just back in the States from Saudi Arabia. In truth Davis had lost touch with both sons.
Dakin reminded Davis of the parole procedure; the matter would now go to the full parole board, and he would need 7 of its 12 votes to leave prison. “I don’t think you’ve gotten any votes in the past,” Dakin said.
This time, by the narrowest of margins–seven to four, with one member absent–the review board granted Davis parole. Chairman James Williams says those members voting to parole Davis (he was not one of them) noted that Davis was 19 at the time of Merriweather’s murder and had no prior criminal record. His conduct in prison had been good, especially over the last four years.
Davis felt less happy than scared. “I had been jailed when I was 19 and now I was 39,” he says. “I was used to prison, going to my room, to the visiting room–it was home. I wasn’t sure what it would be like on the outside.” He thought of Chicago’s streets as “a war zone.”
On May 8, 1991, prison officials gave him $113 in severance money and put him on the bus to Chicago. His cousin Tony Darring picked him up at the Greyhound station. Two days later, Davis walked unannounced into JoAnn Sawyers’s apartment. Soon he was living with Sawyers, a security guard in her early 30s, and her four children. He was a father again.
“I was a regular Mr. Mom,” says Davis. He took the older children to school and tended the younger ones at home. The kids called him “Pappy.” Another child was on the way, and in August Davis helped Sawyers deliver daughter Jamcka at home. “The paramedic came just in time,” he says. “He was coming in the door when Jamcka was coming out.”
Davis reported to his parole officer, Vivian Thomas, every month. “We were about the same age, and knowing that he’d been incarcerated I knew about all he’d missed,” Thomas says. “If you were locked up for 20 years, what do you think would happen to you?” But soon the state laid off Thomas and other parole officers, and from then on Davis checked in by phone to a message center.
During their short relationship, Thomas had referred Davis to a day-labor office, but nothing came of the referral. He applied for a job at a McDonald’s, but says “teenagers have all those jobs.” He talked to Sawyers about his state of mind–he felt unstable, lacking in self-esteem. But Sawyers had a new baby and four other children to take care of; she had enough problems.
There was an incident in which a neighbor’s son hassled Sawyers over a dog she owned, and when Davis came to her defense the man pulled a gun. He decided he needed a gun of his own, and his mother gave him a .357 magnum Ruger purchased for her by her husband Albert Collins in 1982.
There was no way Davis could obtain an Illinois gun permit. Simply carrying a firearm violated his parole. Davis’s gun was so troubling to Tony Darring that twice at family gatherings when Davis was drinking Darring tried to wrest it away. Each time Davis grabbed it back. “He got comfortable with the gun,” says Darring. “To him it was like, when you leave the house you put on your hat.”
Chicago seemed foreign to Davis. He didn’t know its streets and addresses. “If somebody wanted me to come over and gave me an address I wouldn’t even go because I didn’t know how to get there.” His brother Wallace, who tried to teach him bus and el routes, says, “He felt like he was being swallowed up because he didn’t know which way to go or what to say.” Tony Darring often chauffeured him around, taking him to his mother’s house in Roseland and to Wallace’s place in Altgeld Gardens.
Christmastime found Davis spending more money than he or Sawyers could afford on presents for the children. “This was my first real Christmas in 20 years,” he explains, “and I was like a kid, too.” Sawyers bought Davis a winter coat he had admired in a store–a three-quarter-length black leather number with a fur collar and leather patches at the elbows.
But she’d fallen behind in the rent, so in January she and Davis and the kids moved in with April Kuykindall. They didn’t get along, and by March Davis and Sawyers were making plans to leave.
This is how Davis spent his few months of freedom. There were some moments of sheer happiness. “I felt good when JoAnn and I and the kids would go to the beach,” says Davis. “Our destination was usually 31st Street. I’d look out at the lake and feel at peace. I spent many, many days looking at the lake.”
In October 1991 Bob Perkins moved from Lake Meadows into a two-bedroom in the Prairie Shores high rise. The high-rise apartment faced west toward Comiskey Park, and Perkins loved to watch the scoreboard going off. He was in mid-life, feeling both satisfaction and distress.
Years earlier he’d told Mattie there was nothing to compare with “having a little person look up and call you daddy.” “He was very unhappy that he never had a father,” says Renee. She and her father became less comfortable together as she got older, and after she went off to college in Alabama they didn’t communicate. But Ramona followed Perkins to Prairie Shores. “My mom and I weren’t getting along,” Ramona says. Dad was different. “He was one of my best friends. He cracked so many jokes that we’d always be laughing.” They watched Star Trek reruns together every evening.
Neither Mattie nor Bob filed for divorce. “I wasn’t planning to remarry, and so there was no rush,” Mattie says. “Bob would say he was going to have only one wife, and that was me.” They stayed friends, and after trouble erupted between Ramona and Mattie, all three of them went into counseling. “We learned how to communicate even though we weren’t living together,” says Mattie. “The funny thing about it was, Bob and I got to know each other better than when we were together.” And Ramona began to do better in school.
In 1987 doctors diagnosed Perkins with diabetes. He trimmed down from 275 pounds to about 210. He bowled on Wednesday nights and jogged occasionally. He kept his cigars.
He stayed close to childhood friends like Richard Thomas. Like everyone else, Thomas enjoyed his humor, “but what I liked about him more than anything was that he wasn’t phony,” Thomas says. “If he said something, he meant it. He would do for you. I can recall when my car broke down, and I called him. Bunky was getting ready to take his family out, and yet he came to see about me first. He was the best friend I ever had.”
In the early 1970s Thomas lived in Altgeld Gardens and, as it happens, his next-door neighbor was Stanley Davis’s brother Wallace. “Wallace and I were friends, and Bunky met him through me,” Thomas recalls. “They liked each other, too.” Once Wallace and Perkins pitched in to help Thomas move. Thomas remembers Perkins hearing about Wallace’s brother in prison.
Perkins and Thomas and some other old pals often got together for bid whist. Willie Thomas, Perkins’s partner, was sometimes invited to these gatherings and he was amazed at the high spirits. “There were all Bob’s buddies, getting loud and signifying. There’d be 10 or 20 bucks in the money pot, and when one of ’em won it they’d fall over hysterical, like they’d just broken the bank at Caesar’s. You’d be hoarse when you left.”
Beyond anything else, Perkins loved the track. “We did pretty good with the horses,” says Richard Thomas. “If Bunky won, he would always put some money in my pocket, and vice versa.”
Six or seven of the foot patrolmen gathered for breakfast each morning at Daley’s Restaurant, 63rd and Cottage Grove. “If we were a wheel Bob was the hub, always carrying on,” says patrolman Eldridge Smith. Perkins liked to pester Gus Harvey, a member of the breakfast club who was single. “You better get married and have kids,” Perkins told Harvey, “because when you get old who’s going to take care of you?”
In 1990 Perkins took a second job as a security officer at the new South Side YMCA. “Bob was so much fun and had such a good nature that I was surprised he was a police officer,” says Selena Bradley, a data-entry operator at the Y. “He didn’t fit the stereotype.” He startled her every time he raised his voice–which he might to persuade a gang member to remove his hat. Often Ramona dropped by to play volleyball or do her homework.
A few days before Thanksgiving of 1991 Bradley was complaining to Perkins about her family. He stopped her short. “I wish I had a family to be with this Thanksgiving,” he said. Bradley grows wistful at the memory. “I was scared to tell Bob I was in love with him.”
In early ’92 Ramona received a school assignment to write a riddle and read it aloud in class. Perkins took a stab at helping her. His riddle was a poem.
I look to the sun with unseeing eyes.
I walk upon the earth and never gain a prize.
I long to end my solitude and mingle among the masses,
For I cannot distinguish between royalty, title and classes.
Everywhere I go peace will surely follow,
But when I am seen, the feeling is only terror and horror.
I have but only one gift to share,
And it is rejected and avoided with care.
But run as you may, hide and pray,
The gift that I bear you must ultimately share.
Perkins’s last week alive, he left a message on Mattie’s answering machine telling her he had a coffeepot for her that he’d ordered through a coffee club. Renee called to ask if he’d received her Valentine’s Day card and to speak to Ramona. She hadn’t spoken to her father since Christmas. He told Renee he loved her and that he had something for her, though he didn’t say what. “He was trying to tell me something,” says Renee. “It was definitely the tone in his voice. He seemed glad to hear from me.”
He surprised Dorothy Campbell by stopping by to see her at police headquarters, where she was now an administrative assistant to Superintendent Leroy Martin. They walked from 11th and State to Carson’s and back, and Perkins had a lot on his mind. “Bob talked about Mattie, Ramona, and we talked about his illness,” says Campbell.
He dwelt on mistakes he’d made in his life; he seemed to think he could have been a better husband and father. He said he was going to write letters to the people he loved. He asked Campbell if he should follow her example and become a regular at church. “Why are you asking me this?” she inquired. “I was just wondering,” he said.
Bob Perkins was switched to regular patrol to replace an absent beat officer on Saturday, March 7. Rather than walking 71st Street he’d be driving solo, and instead of reporting at 10 AM he had to be in at 7. He was pleased because he’d be home early; he’d been given permission to leave at noon. “Don’t stay out too long today,” he told Ramona as he left $40 shopping money on the ironing board.
Stanley Davis got up in April Kuykindall’s apartment, fixed cold cereal for the kids, and took a bath. He called Tony Darring to say he was coming over. “I got to get out of here,” he told Darring. “These kids are driving me crazy.” Davis wanted a ride, but Darring’s wife had the car so he told Davis to take the bus.
In mid-morning Davis went out to fetch Sawyers a pack of cigarettes. When he got back Sawyers told him she thought a confrontation with April Kuykindall was brewing, in part because she and Davis were behind in their rent. “Don’t go,” she said, but he shrugged her off. He stuck Albert Collins’s gun in his waistband–he says he was intending to return the Ruger to his mother–and grabbed a bottle of Wild Irish Rose as a gift for Darring. Heading for the 59th Street bus, he walked east toward the lake, then decided this was a mistake and reversed direction.
Bob Perkins pulled his car up at 60th and Saint Lawrence, the edge of Washington Park, and chatted with Eldridge Smith, a fellow foot patroller also redispatched. “We must have BS’ed for 15 minutes, until I got a call,” says Smith. Perkins swung by the 71st & Indiana Currency Exchange to tell owner Bill Miller he wouldn’t be on the street.
At 10:15 Perkins was sitting in his parked car at 60th and Wabash. Robert Rogers, a retired factory worker, came up and told him that a couple of nights before a man had taken a TV from his apartment. Rogers had been asleep at the time, but his wife saw the burglar and could identify him by name. He’d been wearing a three-quarter-length black coat. Rogers had already notified the police, but now he repeated the story for Perkins, who listened attentively and promised to be back in touch. “He was so nice,” recalls Rogers. Perkins wrote down on a napkin the suspect’s name and description–six feet tall, 170 pounds, 28 to 30 years old–plus Rogers’s name, address, and phone number.
“I saw Perkins and the old man talking, and I walked right past,” Stanley Davis remembers. He was on the north side of 61st Street, heading west, when Perkins noticed him. At least he noticed the three-quarter-length black coat. Nothing else about Davis fit Rogers’s description: Davis was ten years too old and only five-foot-three.
Nursing a cigar, Perkins slowed his car and shouted out the window, asking Davis his name. Davis replied but kept walking, and he claims Perkins screamed at him, “Motherfucker, didn’t I tell you to stop!” Perkins jumped out of the car at the corner of 61st and Wabash, next to the fenced parking lot of the Betsy Ross School.
Perkins moved in close, ordering Davis to put his hands on the hood. Davis obeyed. He put down the liquor bottle on the hood and placed his hands wide.
Terry Thomas, who was driving by with his girlfriend, saw the encounter. Later, in a statement to Davis’s defense attorneys, he said that when Perkins ordered Davis onto the car hood, the suspect “appeared to resist.” According to Davis, Perkins was the one being confrontational. “What’s happening, officer?” Davis says he asked as Perkins forced him onto the hood. “Motherfucker, that’s an order,” Davis says Perkins shouted. Terry Thomas said he saw an object “that appeared to be a flashlight or a nightstick” in Perkins’s hand and that Perkins “was being very aggressive.” Davis claims Perkins beat him with a nightstick. He grabbed for the stick, and he fell to the ground.
Frank Starke, another eyewitness, says Davis reared off the hood three times, and each time Perkins tried to force him back. “Get down, get down, goddamnit!” Perkins ordered, according to Starke’s statement. Today he says, “It was like with a dog, he was telling him to sit, sit, sit.” Finally, says Starke, “Perkins reached all the way in back for something–whether it was his gun or nightstick or handcuffs I couldn’t tell–and that’s when I heard the gunshots–pow, pow, pow! Then the guy took off.”
Davis’s account has Perkins drawing his gun. At that moment, Davis says, “I felt fear, total fear.” Davis fired four times and ran.
The first person to be picked up for the murder of Bob Perkins was a man in his 30s identified by a woman eyewitness. “It looked very promising,” says Area One’s Stanley Zaborac, a homicide watch commander. The man had a long criminal record, a drug history, and gang associations. The clothes the killer had been wearing were found in a gangway alongside the apartment where the suspect lived. But he was adamant. “Officer,” he told one interrogator, “I’ve done just about everything, but I didn’t do this.” Finally the woman’s story broke down. According to Zaborac, the woman said she’d been put up to it by rival gang members.
On Sunday the police crime lab finished testing the fingerprints found on Perkins’s squad car. A computer searched for identical prints on file, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Stanley Davis.
But where was he?
Saturday night, Davis was asleep on the couch of his brother’s row house in Altgeld Gardens. Wallace woke him and begged him to turn himself in. Wallace said later that Stanley looked at him like he was “crazy,” then disappeared. Stanley says he wandered the Gardens, finally crashing at his sister Sharon’s. The next afternoon he moved again. He slipped into the Gardens home of an acquaintance’s girlfriend, someone who didn’t know what had happened.
He was sitting in an upstairs bedroom there when his mother came in and begged him to surrender. “Mama,” Davis said, “you ever do time in prison for something you didn’t do? I’d rather die a free man than die in prison.” But to calm her he eventually said he’d do it; she saying she would contact Channel Seven’s Russ Ewing, who’s often called for this sort of thing.
At three o’clock the next morning, Davis went out the back door and climbed into the backseat of a friend’s car.
By now Davis’s mug shot had hit television and the police were swamped with calls. He was over in the Robert Taylor homes; he was at someone’s house in Woodlawn; he’d gone to Minnesota. Police raided a row house in the Gardens and Zaborac himself wasted 18 hours following a tip in Indiana. When a gang-crimes investigator called Isaac Cotton, Davis’s old coach, and asked if he knew anything, Cotton was stunned–he hadn’t even known Davis was out of prison.
“Authorities believe Davis is possibly residing in California,” said an FBI statement issued Monday. On Tuesday, Fred Miller, commander of Area One detectives, said the search was concentrated in Roseland, near Dorothy Collins’s house. On Wednesday Third District tactical officers searched the gym of a Catholic school at 60th and Indiana after receiving a tip that Davis was trying to buy drugs in the neighborhood.
Police moved in on Davis’s family. They all gave statements. Wallace insisted he had no idea where his brother was, but the police camped out at his house each day and followed him. Today Wallace calls the officers who blanketed the Davis family “those ignorant sons of bitches who think they can just go through people’s houses.”
Richard Thomas, who was Perkins’s friend and Wallace’s former neighbor, dropped by. Wallace apologized for Stanley and Thomas told Wallace he didn’t hold his brother’s deed against him.
In Roseland, Dorothy Collins was overcome. “I couldn’t eat or sleep, and my blood pressure just shot up,” she says. “My poor baby was going back to jail.” When the cops came to call, Dorothy offered them coffee but she said she didn’t know where Stanley was.
“This was a ‘heater’ case, but not because there was any pressure from above,” Zaborac remembers. “The pressure came from us. When someone guns down a cop he needs to be arrested, because you think to yourself, if an armed officer had no chance against such a person what chance does the average citizen have?”
Davis, called “armed and extremely dangerous” in fliers distributed by the police, was now holed up in a two-bedroom house in Harvey. Family friend Will Jones shared the place with his girlfriend and her two boys. The kids, two and five years old, who called him “Uncle Stan,” and crowed, “Hey, Uncle Stan, I saw you on television!”
Davis slept in the kids’ bedroom the first night, then moved to the living room couch, where, Jones later said, Davis kept a butcher knife under the cushions. There was one moment of extreme tension. The day Perkins died Jones had reported the theft of a VCR and a handgun from his house. On Monday a police detective came to investigate and Davis hid upstairs.
Davis decided at one pont to turn himself into Russ Ewing. Ewing arranged to meet Davis on the corner of 87th and Cottage Grove, but the reporter was noticed by a police officer inside a Walgreens and soon squad cars swarmed the area. Ewing left, Davis never showed up, and there was no further discussion of a surrender.
Inside Will Jones’s house, Davis’s mood swung between anger and depression. He says he saw before him only “death, death, death”–death by suicide, death at the hands of the police, death in the electric chair. At one point he begged Jones to take him outside and kill him.
Davis penned several suicide notes. One, addressed to Sawyers, said he’d “rather die on the street than die in prison or suffer for the rest of my life in there.” It continued, “I was a walking time-bomb. Now I going to make it right by ending mine. Don’t be alarmed. I have the strength of my convictions and the courage to do it. I live the way this society made me. . . . They took my life 21 yrs. ago for something I didn’t do. For 21 yrs. I suffer. I die then. I was just on borrow time. Give my mother your support. She will need it. I want everyone to celebrate my peace because right now thats what I feel, an inner peace. I know when a life taken, another is born. I hope it’s a boy. Tell the kids goodbye for me. That is the most painful thing I feel, leaving my babies. . . . But I will always be with you, JoAnn, in spirit. You will know I’m there because you feel my inner peace to a trouble soul. I love you. Stanley Curtis Davis.
Perkins’s funeral, at Emmanuel Baptist Church at 83rd and Damen, drew upward of 1,500 mourners, many of them police officers. Perkins’s daughter Tiffany sat with Mattie and her family while Tiffany’s mother sat separately. Glover Jones and Leroy Martin spoke, and so did Mayor Daley. “A police officer like Robert Harris Perkins is a role model,” said Daley. “His life was a responsible life. As a husband, a father, a friend, and a police officer, he is what Chicago is all about. His life is a statement he is making to all of us. His service should be an inspiration and a guiding light.”
By week’s end the three homicide detectives leading the search for Stanley Davis–James Cassidy, Edward Winstead, and James Redmond–were at a loss. They decided to start over. When they revisited Tony Darring, he mentioned a “Cousin Will”; he gave the detectives a name–Jones–and the make of his car, but not an address. The detectives pored over state registration lists until they unearthed a Will Jones attached to a Pontiac Grand Am: the record gave an address in Morgan Park.
The apartment building turned out to be the home of Jones’s mother, and no one was around; but someone sweeping the building’s parking lot said Jones had moved the previous summer. The Morgan Park post office provided Jones’s change-of-address form, which listed an address in Harvey.
At 2 PM on Saturday, exactly a week after Perkins was shot, Jones’s girlfriend heard a knock on the door. “When she looked outside and saw several white men standing there, she knew they weren’t friends of hers,” says Stanley Davis. The officers took one look at the expression on the woman’s face, Cassidy would later say, and they knew they’d found their man. “You want him, you find him,” she said.
Davis, who’d been sleeping shirtless on the couch, disappeared into a closet in the back bedroom. When one of the officers entered the bedroom Davis stuck his hands out of the closet. “Here he is! Here he is!” the officer yelled, and Davis walked out with his hands raised. In his pocket was the phone number of Russ Ewing and the suicide note to Sawyers. Davis says, “It was like they’d just taken in John Gotti.”
In a second-floor interview room back at Area One headquarters, detectives told Davis they had plenty of evidence against him–his fingerprints on Perkins’s squad car, a murder weapon linked to him, admissions made to family members, eyewitnesses. Even so, they were astonished at how quickly a confession flowed from his lips. Says Davis, “I just didn’t care anymore.” Late in the afternoon Davis, weeping steadily, repeated his confession in the presence of Assistant State’s Attorney Shauna Boliker and signed it.
Charged with killing a police officer, Davis, already a convicted killer, stood in clear peril of execution. Yet aside from the murders of Derrick Merriweather and Robert Perkins, he had no criminal record. “Usually if somebody kills even once, there are secondary offenses along the way,” says Zaborac. (Domestic homicides provide most of the exceptions.) But two murders and an otherwise a clean slate? Zaborac says that in his two decades as an officer he can remember only one police record resembling Davis’s.
After he was captured, Davis was hospitalized for depression. Patricia Favia, a clinical psychologist who examined him at Cermak Hospital, would testify that Davis’s voice slowed “almost to the point of being incomprehensible,” and that he was often on the verge of tears. He had no appetite and slept poorly. He spoke of suicide, “and he had a plan to carry it out.” He was tied to his hospital bed with leather restraints.
A destitute defendant in a high-profile death-penalty case, Davis was assigned two experienced Cook County public defenders. Michael Morrissey directs the office’s murder task force, and Robert Isaacson is the public defender’s capital-case coordinator. Up against them were veteran prosecutors Thomas Epach Jr. and Peter Fischer. Epach was a felony trial supervisor and Fischer a deputy appeals supervisor, but “specials”–big cases that draw media attention–often brought them back to the courtroom. The Stanley Davis trial was a special.
Epach believed Stanley Davis should die. He and Fischer prepared meticulously for trial, taking nothing for granted. “Seventeen per cent of America still thinks Elvis is alive,” he says. “You can never think you have anything in the bag.”
Davis’s attorneys tried to hearten him with the same argument. “There’s no such thing as an iron-clad case,” Morrissey told him early on, “and this one’s too pat.” But last May, Morrissey asked Davis if he’d plead guilty in exchange for life in prison. “I would rather sit on death row than admit to killing this man in cold blood,” Davis replied. “Whatever actually happened needs to come out.”
“On the morning of March 7, 1992,” said Thomas Epach exactly 15 months later, in Judge Michael Toomin’s courtroom, at 26th and California, “Robert Harris Perkins lay on the street, at the corner of 61st and Wabash, Chicago, Illinois. He was lying there unconscious. He was lying in his own blood. His eyes were rolled back in his head. His eyes were fluttering. His last measure of devotion was dripping onto the street that he had spent his lifetime protecting. He was assassinated while doing his job. He was assassinated for doing his job.” Davis, said Epach, was on parole from prison when Perkins stopped him, and he was carrying a concealed weapon. “He couldn’t risk that a police officer find that gun or he would be returned to prison until, as you will hear he said, the year 2028.”
Mike Morrissey interpreted the shooting differently. “A sudden and emotionally charged confrontation took place between two men on a street corner on the south side of Chicago,” said Morrissey when he opened. “It happened suddenly, with no plan and little thought. It was the result of obsessive anger by Robert Perkins and defensive fear on the part of Stanley Davis.” After 15 years as a police officer, Perkins “had become hardened, he’d become mean, and he’d become abusive.” When Perkins got out his nightstick, “Stanley Davis instinctively pulled out his gun, fired shots, and ran,” said Morrissey. He stayed on the lam because “he was afraid nobody would believe him, support him, or defend him.”
Mattie Perkins, the first prosecution witness, spoke briefly of her estranged husband. She recalled their final phone chat about the coffeepot and described identifying his body. After testifying, she took a seat in the courtroom and remained there throughout the trial, often joined by Renee, other family members, and friends. Ramona couldn’t bear to come. Across the aisle sat a tiny and composed Dorothy Collins, accompanied by Wallace Davis and other family members. Mattie and Dorothy never spoke or exchanged glances. Each morning as Stanley took his seat at the defense table, he would look at his mother and nod once.
Robert Rogers described stopping Perkins and telling him about the burglary. Frank Starke, from across the street, said he saw the officer reach behind his back just before shots rang out. Morrissey asked Starke whether he had told a Channel Seven news crew that he’d seen Perkins wielding a nightstick or a billy club (Morrissey had the videotape.) No, said Starke, I never saw that.
Terry Thomas, who had been driving by the murder scene, said he saw Perkins forcing Davis onto the hood of the car and Davis springing back several times then elbowing the police officer and shooting him. Clarence McCullough, a young auto refinisher, said Perkins never swung a nightstick or flashlight at Davis. He said Davis elbowed the officer, and as the two stood face-to-face shots rang out.
Carl Brasic, a forensic investigator with the police crime lab, said he found Perkins’s nightstick inside the squad car on the driver’s seat.
Perkins’s partner Willie Thomas, who did not testify, said outside the courthouse that he remembered seeing it there too. But Perkins’s fellow foot man, Gus Harvey, said in conversation that he’d seen it on the ground.
Davis stirred slightly and smirked when the prosecution called Will Jones. Jones looked uneasy, like someone who’d rather be anywhere but here testifying against the friend he’d hidden. But Jones was one of five persons charged with concealing and aiding a fugitive. He’d been suspended from his job at the post office and spent four and a half months in jail before deciding to plead guilty; he was now awaiting sentencing by Toomin.
Jones testified that Davis had told him he was afraid of going back to prison “to the year 2028.” On cross-examination, Morrissey got Jones to admit that in his first statement to police he’d said nothing about this.
“You cut a deal for yourself, didn’t you, Mr. Jones?” asked Morrissey.
“Yes, I did,” replied Jones.
“Well, you came up with this statement about 2028 just to get yourself out of jail, didn’t you?” said Morrissey.
“No, I didn’t,” insisted Jones.
The date is important because, as Isaacson later pointed out, “If you don’t buy that Stanley Davis is facing a long term in prison, then why would Stanley Davis commit a cold-blooded killing on the street?” (Toomin later gave Jones probation.)
Assistant state’s attorney Shauna Boliker, the final prosecution witness, read Davis’s suicide letter to Sawyers. Boliker said Davis told her that “he had a gun on him, he couldn’t take a search, he didn’t want to go back to the penitentiary, and that’s why he shot officer Perkins.”
Isaacson called Davis to the stand and brought him to the events of March 7. Davis said Perkins had become verbally abusive when he kept on walking–“Motherfucker, didn’t I tell you to stop?”–and had jumped from his car, “and slammed me against the hood of the car.” Davis testified that as Perkins continued his tirade–and Davis kept denying he was the thief Perkins was looking for–the policeman took out his nightstick. He said Perkins hit him on the arm, causing him to fall. Then he saw Perkins pull out his gun. “I thought he was going to kill me.” Davis took out his own gun and “started shooting. Then I ran.” Davis didn’t turn himself in because he was “scared, scared they were going to kill me.”
Under cross-examination, Davis told Epach he’d supposed the offense of being caught with a gun would send him back to prison for “two or three years,” not until 2028. He insisted Perkins had struck his arm with a nightstick. When he fired he was firing blindly, he said. He claimed he was never read his Miranda rights and that he signed the statement he made to Shauna Boliker because “I didn’t care.”
Isaacson concluded, “The prosecutors don’t know what happened at 61st and Wabash. But a police officer is dead, and somebody is going to pay. Stanley Davis is going to pay.”
Isaacson said Will Jones had lied about Davis’s fear of going back to prison until 2028. What actually happened was this, Isaacson said: “Perkins yells at him, “You’re a burglar . . . ‘ Then Perkins delivers some shots with the nightstick, with his 225-pound body, knocking Stanley to the ground. Stanley pulls out his gun and shoots because he fears for his life. He runs for his life, and he keeps running. . . . What happened on that street was an expression of anger that took a matter of seconds.”
If the jurors, Isaacson suggested, determined that Stanley Davis had acted in unwarranted self-defense or in the heat of intense, provoked passion they could find him guilty of second-degree murder.
The jury deliberated about four hours. Davis showed no emotion when he was found guilty of first-degree murder. His family was not in the courtroom.
The public defenders decided the jury, not Judge Toomin, should consider the death penalty. Arguing that Davis was incorrigible, the prosecution presented Robert Kuhlman, a lieutenant at the Logan Correctional Center. He recalled January 1985, when Davis was charged with threatening another inmate with a shank. Marshall Weinberg, who had prosecuted Davis for the murder of Derrick Merriweather, laid out the facts of that case. Cameron Forbes, a Department of Corrections record keeper, listed Davis’s 25 behind-bars infractions.
The defense offered two officials from the Cook County Jail who reported that Davis had had no blemish on his record since being incarcerated in March 1992. “He was a good prisoner,” said Elmer Jones, a recently retired guard in the maximum security unit. “I didn’t have no trouble out of him at all.”
Social worker Joanne Watson had been hired to examine Davis and his friends and family members, and prepare a “psychosocial summary.” “Stanley Davis is quiet, introspective, creative,” Watson told the court. “He impressed me as a very caring person, and I also feel he’s depressed.”
Watson described Davis’s immediate family as dysfunctional. Wallace Davis Sr. “was addicted to heroin,” said Watson. “He was minimally involved with the family because the mother did not want that influence on her children.” However, “Stanley felt that his father was responsible for the family’s poverty and every bad thing that happened to them,” Watson testified. “He would also see his father in a heroin-addicted state, and it would repulse him. In Stanley’s words, growing up he hated his father, and he hated the fact [that] when his mother was upset with him she would tell him that “You’re going to be just like your father.”‘ (The Davis family had lost touch with Wallace Sr. But Watson located him in a north-side nursing home, and now he made a haunting figure in court, a hunched man in his early 60s sitting near his former wife.)
According to Watson, Dorothy Collins worked so hard–during one period she was gone from the home from 3 PM to 3 AM–that “she had very limited contact with the children.” She was, however, quite a disciplinarian. “She was little, but she was stern,” said Watson, “and she would use ironing cords, her fists, anything she could get her hands on on them.” Worse, Dorothy’s common-law husband “was sadistic in the mother’s absence. He would hang Stanley and Wallace over the fourth-floor fire escape–the family lived on the fourth floor–and threaten to drop them.”
As a child, said Watson, Stanley liked to read and be by himself–“isolative” was her term for it. Until he was 12 years old Stanley wet his bed, a problem that was treated by placing him in a tub of cold water in the middle of the night. “I can’t tell what effect this might have had,” she said. The Davis family believed Stanley was the one who would succeed, “and at some point,” said Watson, “Stanley said that that burden became too great for him, that it was too much of a responsibility.” But she stressed Stanley’s accomplishments as an older child and as a young man: delivering papers in Roseland, cutting grass, working at the submarine shop, caring for his sons Curtis and Eugene.
“Stanley craves nurturing situations,” Watson said. “He wants to be close, and he [sought] over his life–prior to his going to jail and growing up–that closeness and that nurturing in female friends. He also had the sense of people not being there for him, of being let down, the sense of abandonment, and, of course, the prison experiences have exacerbated that.
“I’m impressed by how he wants to continue to live, to be around, even though he might be in prison, so that he can be available somehow to the little girl who was born in October 1992. Her name is Jasmine–that’s JoAnn Sawyers’s daughter.” Watson said Davis had been writing poetry in jail, and she introduced one poem, titled “The Inner Conflict,” into evidence.
Cross-examining Watson, Epach established that Watson had spent more than 70 hours with Davis.
“And during the course of that time, you found out some bad things about him?”asked Epach.
“Yes,” Watson said.
“Tell the jury what bad things you found out about Stanley Davis.”
“Stanley Davis gives up easily,” Watson said. “He finds it very difficult to stick to one thing. Stanley Davis lacks confidence in himself.”
“That’s 70 hours of bad things, Miss Watson?”
“In 70 hours, sir, those are the only negative things I can tell you about Stanley Davis.”
Dorothy Collins called Stanley “a good son” and was attempting to tell the Perkins family she was sorry for their loss when Judge Toomin cut her off.
Isaac Cotton recalled young Stanley as a pretty good pitcher. “I was surprised he didn’t play further. He was a good kid, always competitive.”
A surprise defense witness was Charles Robinson, a Chicago Housing Authority security guard. According to Robinson, late on the night of April 8, 1971, he, Stanley Davis, William Jones, and Albert Jackson had been sitting on a rail, sipping beer by an Altgeld Gardens parking lot, when Howard Collins drove up in a Volkswagen. Jackson was armed with a sawed-off shotgun. Jones and Jackson had approached the car, and one of them killed Derrick Merriweather and wounded Howard Collins. Robinson said he and Davis ran. When asked why he hadn’t spoken up before now, Robinson replied, “I didn’t want to get involved. I didn’t want to get shot up next.”
Joanne Watson had described Dorothy Collins’s older children as troubled. Sharon Davis, a daughter by Dorothy’s common-law husband, appeared on behalf of Stanley and identified herself as a cocaine addict. She said Stanley had acted like a father to her.
Davis’s younger brothers and sisters were something of a contrast. “He would help me when I was coming up education-wise,” said Brigette Collins, a college graduate who became a customer service-representative with the American Medical Association. When Dana Collins, the Navy diver, made his entrance, a hush fell over the courtroom. Dorothy Collins’s youngest child, 32 years old and wearing wire-rim glasses, his head dramatically shaved, strode confidently forward in dress whites, ribbons on his chest. “Stanley encouraged me to press on, to be the best that I can,” said Dana. “Looking through my eyes, he can act through me.”
Mike Morrissey told the jurors that if they spared the life of Stanley Davis, Judge Toomin would have no choice but to sentence Davis to life in prison. “There will be no parole for Stanley Davis.”
When Thomas Epach rose to respond, Toomin’s courtroom was full of spectators, most of them assistant state’s attorneys eager to see a pro at the top of his game. “You know, this courtroom, it’s a nice courtroom,” he said. “Nice wood, carpeting. Everyone is well dressed. We sometimes forget what we’re dealing with. The evidence is mounted, and there are tags on the gun, and we try somehow to move away from the stench of what happened here. But don’t forget, this is real live evidence. Let’s see it, ladies and gentlemen, as it really is, and attach the mitigation that they ask you to consider to it.
“Let’s picture for a moment. Let’s stand here and look at the body of Bob Perkins as he’s on the street, as he’s bleeding to death. Picture him as he was described, with his hands back, with his eyes rolled back in his head, with his eyes fluttering. Think about that picture.
“Put the officer in uniform down on the ground dying, before anyone gets there, and then attach mitigation to it: ‘He was a patrol boy.’
“Listen and hear the real evidence. You know, listen and hear Bob Perkins breathing heavily and the beating of his heart, or see the flash of the gun, or look into Bob Perkins’s eyes and see how big they got.
“Do you think when Bob Perkins saw Stanley Davis pull out the gun, Bob Perkins said, ‘Oh, a bedwetter’? No. See, the aggravation–the real live evidence–doesn’t fit the mitigation.
“Picture the emergency room at the hospital when Bob Perkins has his clothes cut off him, where he dies alone without any opportunity to say good-bye, and then think of the mitigation: ‘He reads encyclopedias.’
“Go back 20 years, and think about Derrick Merriweather sitting in that car when he saw Stanley Davis walk up to him, Picture for a moment, outside of these elegant surroundings, the flash of the gun, and how the spray must have hit the side of his throat. Listen to him gurgle. Listen to his breath escape through his neck, and then attach this thought: ‘He writes poetry.'”
Epach concluded, “Stanley Davis has earned the death penalty. He has done it over the course of his entire life. These weren’t murders where one happened at one o’clock and the other happened at two o’clock. These were deliberate acts that happened over the course of two decades. Despite a prison sentence, he was not willing to change, and now he’s asking for a prison sentence. That is not an appropriate sentence. Natural life is what he almost got for Derrick. Death is what he should get for officer Perkins. . . . If there is anyone more deserving of the death penalty than Stanley Davis, then God help us all.”
But few jurors agreed. Several had been moved by Joanne Watson. One believed Davis had never intended to kill Perkins. Another thought Davis shouldn’t have been released from prison in the first place. He would reserve the death sentence for mass murderers like John Wayne Gacy and he didn’t place Davis in that league. One juror figured “if he would be put away, he’d have a lot of time to think about what he’d done.” Dana Collins impressed the jury foreman, who said, “I have mixed feelings about the death penalty anyway.” she says.
The jury required less than an hour to decide against death; only three jurors favored it, all of them men.
Sentencing was a formality, since Toomin had no choice but to impose life. But it gave the judge a chance to make some remarks.
“We have here Stanley Davis and Robert Perkins, who were not that far apart in terms of years,” Toomin said. “They came from the same city, they grew up in the same city, but except for those two identical aspects their lives diverged.” Davis, the judge observed, had spent “his most productive years in prison.” Perkins had become a public servant. “I think this case presents a rather sad commentary on the state of society today. A police officer killed in the line of duty, a man killed serving society and the city. . . . We have a society where guns are all too prevalent, where violence has grown all too high and morality all too low, where killing has grown all too rampant and life all too cheap.” The judge concluded with the statement that life in prison constitutes “a just and fair sentence” for Stanley Davis.
Bob Perkins was honored by the City Council and given several posthumous awards from law-enforcement groups. His star was placed in a glass case in police headquarters. President Bush, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and FBI director William Sessions sent Mattie Perkins notes of condolence.
Mattie Perkins didn’t believe in the death penalty before Stanley Davis’s trial. Now, under certain circumstances, she supports it. Ramona can’t stand to watch Star Trek anymore.
Perkins’s colleagues think he died not because he got brutal but because he got sloppy. “On foot patrol on 71st Street, he was having a good time, stopping in at the barbershop and chewing the fat,” observes Willie Thomas. “When Bob got back into a car and saw this dude, his police awareness wasn’t all it had been. If he was a ten in terms of readiness when he was with me, he was a three when he died.” Eldridge Smith agrees: “Bob’d been on foot for so many years that he’d lost his sharpness. What he had to deal with were little altercations in stores, and he got too relaxed. He was probably deluded by the shorter stature of this guy. Being on foot, too, we’re used to handling things by ourselves. Bob should have called for help.”
Stanley Davis’s advocates regret that he’d had so little help in readapting to Chicago. “He was basically out after 20 years, and he had a hard time getting along,” says Morrissey. “There were no resources to help him.” Says Isaacson, “His old friends weren’t around. He had lost track.”
Isaac Cotton says the problems go farther back. “Kids in poor places do what I call “grow up,’ or they “graduate.’ If they grow up, the realize that there’s nothing around for them, and they leave. A lot of kids turn all the way around by joining the military. Other kids graduate–they decide to hang out with the crowd, with the drug dealers and stickup artists, and they go from doing petty things to doing serious felonious things.
“Stanley was one of those kids who couldn’t work up enough steam to get out,” he says. “He didn’t like it where he was, but by the time he realized it he was 20 years old, with a family. He wanted a better life, but he didn’t know how to get it. He just fell into a groove, a bad groove, and he didn’t know anybody with a ladder to help him up.”
To compound matters, Davis has always had what Cotton calls “buzzard’s luck–he couldn’t kill nothin’ and wouldn’t nothin’ die.”
Hubert Holton, the Third District commander, grew up two blocks from the corner where Perkins died. “I knew people like both Bob and Stanley Davis. My own cousin got killed by the Disciples when he was 17, in 1964. He was running with the gangs, and our backgrounds were similar. I could have turned out like him. Today I see people from the neighborhood who are now drug users or drug dealers and here I am a police commander. Who knows why all this happens? Is it fate? It’s hard to say.”
Last August 24, Davis was transferred from the county jail to Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. “When I first came back and heard all the noise–the people shouting down the galleries and the radios going–I wanted to die.” But he says, “I guess I never got prison out of my system. . . . Soon it seemed like I’d only been on vacation and I was coming back home.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.