Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn under Fire Again
“I think Eric Zorn didn't have any understanding of the facts of that case and did not have a basis to be writing the things that he wrote”
It’s a bombshell.
Once again, Eric Zorn and the Chicago Tribune are under fire for their writing about the exoneration of convicted killers.
The basis for the recent attacks on Zorn are rooted in an incendiary 2017 column Zorn authored, titled “Foot-dragging Foxx doesn't look much like a reformer.” The piece is about two men, Nevest Coleman and Darrel Fulton, both of whom were convicted for their role in the 1994 rape and murder of Antwinica Bridgeman in the basement of Coleman’s two-flat. Police were called to the scene by Coleman, where they found Bridgeman’s badly decomposed body. A macabre scene, Bridgeman had been battered so badly with a brick, remnants of the brick were found in her stomach. Bridgeman’s killers had also thrust a pole into her vagina.
An unimaginably cruel and painful execution, Coleman and Fulton’s culpability soon became clear to detectives investigating the murder. Last seen leaving a party accompanying Coleman, Bridgeman’s remains were found in Coleman’s basement and she was discovered wearing the same clothing she had worn at the party.
Police records indicate that the witnesses told detectives:
“They were extremely afraid for their safety and that this is the reason that they never told anyone that Coleman had left the party with the victim. They both were afraid they that would be the next victims.”
But in yet another sign that the criminal justice system in Chicago is, at best, a cruel farce, Coleman and Fulton were able to earn their freedom in two ways. First, subsequent DNA tests on samples from Bridgeman’s undergarments revealed semen from another individual, a serial rapist. Ignoring the myriad explanations that could account for the presence of the semen that in no way vindicated Fulton and Coleman, a second key factor in the case emerged: A media campaign claiming the detectives who investigated the case had a history of coercing confessions and did so in this case as well.
Perhaps no media outlet pushed the pattern of police misconduct narrative against the detectives more than the Chicago Tribune, and no one at the Tribune more than columnist Eric Zorn and reporter Gregory Pratt. Nevertheless, neither Zorn nor Pratt were able to obtain their “exoneration” while Anita Alvarez served as Cook County state’s attorney.
All that changed with the 2016 election of George Soros-backed Kim Foxx. With Foxx, a new dawn arose for prisoners to claim their innocence from behind bars. Zorn pretty much made this announcement in a bizarre, portentous column shortly after Foxx entered office.
“If we’d wanted a top prosecutor who dragged her feet on apparent wrongful convictions and stubbornly refused to heed the demands of justice, we would have re-elected Anita Alvarez,” Zorn thundered in his November 9, 2017, column.
Zorn seemed to express frustration that Foxx was hesitating on freeing Coleman and Fulton.
“Yet you’re allowing Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton to continue to rot in prison in the face of overwhelming new evidence that they are innocent of a 1994 rape and murder in the Englewood neighborhood,” Zorn lamented.
Sure enough, Foxx soon let the two men out of prison. However, that wasn’t the end of it. Tribune reporter Greg Pratt took up the advocacy on behalf of Coleman in a manner that was little more than public relations masquerading as journalism:
“Before Coleman was arrested in 1994 for a rape and murder in Englewood, he was a well-liked and respected 25-year-old groundskeeper at Comiskey Park with two young children. . . .”
Pratt bloviated in a Tribune article, once again ignoring the evidence that even witnesses were so terrified of Coleman they “were afraid that they would be the next victims.”
Pratt’s puff piece seemed to work, as the Chicago White Sox, betraying the police and the public in a manner never seen before in a city by a professional sports organization, shrugged off questions about the validity of Coleman’s innocence and celebrated his return to the White Sox as a groundskeeper with a ceremony at one of the games.
Zorn and Pratt’s pro-Coleman-Fulton narrative didn’t last long. City attorneys employed a new tactic in defending former detectives and prosecutors accused of falsely convicting offenders. In the sober confines of the federal courts, an arena avoided by Chicago journalists as if it were the center of an epidemic, city attorneys have called former top prosecutors under Kim Foxx, Eric Sussman and Mark Rotert, to testify about the reasons why they vacated convictions like Coleman and Fulton’s and opted against retrying the offenders.
In testimony that makes Foxx’s misconduct in the Jussie Smollett case appear little more than a jaywalking violation in comparison, defense attorneys got on record the fact that even these top prosecutors did not believe the men, including Coleman and Fulton, were innocent, casting a dark shadow on the inner workings of Kim Foxx’s office. The excuses for not retrying the offenders raised eyebrows, including the vague claim that prosecutors lacked the resources for a retrial.
Certainly there seems to be no lack of resources in the Foxx administration to indict police officers on the most frivolous cases, many of which Foxx has already lost.
The attorneys are not only amassing statements that top prosecutors thought the men were guilty, they are specifically citing media pressure as playing a role in the Coleman-Fulton exoneration:
“The CCSAO (Cook County State’s Attorney) suddenly reversed course and dropped the charges in the midst of intense media pressure, primarily from the Chicago Tribune,” defense attorneys wrote in a motion.
Until the last few months, condemnation of the media in the exoneration cases was leveled by attorneys defending detectives and former detectives who worked the cases. But not anymore.
In another federal lawsuit being challenged by attorneys representing Chicago, this one an arson case that killed two people in which Arthur Brown was convicted and then “exonerated,” the same former prosecutor, Eric Sussman, was specifically asked about Zorn’s controversial 2017 article on the Coleman-Fulton case. This would be the column in which Zorn wrote there was “overwhelming evidence” both Coleman and Fulton men were innocent and virtually demanded Foxx let the men out of prison.
Commenting on the content of Zorn’s article, one prosecutor stated:
“I think Eric Zorn didn't have any understanding of the facts of that case and did not have a basis to be writing the things that he wrote.”
This was a horrific rape and murder of a young woman.
But it gets even worse for Zorn, Pratt, and the Tribune. City attorneys are suggesting that Zorn’s article influenced decision making at the prosecutors’ office in other exoneration cases, including the Brown arson case that claimed the lives of two people.
“It is beyond dispute that the negative press coverage of the CCSAO from the Zorn article was part of the surrounding circumstances of the evaluation of Brown’s case,” defense attorneys said in a motion.
“Defendants expect the evidence to show that after the Zorn article was published, CCSAO decision makers, including Sussman, were aware of it, Brown’s counsel spoke to Sussman and Rotert about the article, and twice offered to speak positively to the press to rebut the attacks on the CCSAO contained in the Zorn article if the CCSAO dropped Brown’s case. Merely three days after the Zorn article came out, the CCSAO agreed to drop charges and as a result, Brown’s counsel spoke glowingly to the press about the CCSAO. As such, Defendants should be allowed to question Sussman and Rotert about the Zorn article.”
These are chilling claims being made in federal court about the Chicago media, but not one mainstream outlet in Chicago is willing to report on it or pursue the evidence that some exoneration cases in Chicago are being driven as much by media activism as any evidence. This would be same media talking heads regularly demanding “accountability,” “transparency,” and alleging a “code of silence” exists within the police department in one mind-numbing article after another, articles repeated time and again in a city imploding from violence by offenders who clearly have little fear of the police at all.
Isn’t it time Chicago media, in particular the Tribune, was held accountable for their coverage on so called exoneration cases?
A good starting point might be Eric Zorn and Greg Pratt.