Chicago Tribune Under Fire, Again

October 20, 2020
Martin Preib

New legal motions contend Foxx prosecutors bowed to Tribune pressure in anti-police claims.

Already facing allegations the paper’s biased coverage played a key role in the decision by elected officials to release convicted killers, the Chicago Tribune has been hit with another round of allegations, this time in the vicious rape and murder of a young woman.

In a motion filed in federal court October 16, attorneys with Chicago’s Department of Law suggested that media pressure compelled prosecutors to release and not retry two men, Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton, for the 1994 rape and murder of Antwinica Bridgeman in an Englewood basement:

“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,” city attorneys stated in their motion.

The October 16 motion adds to a growing body of claims that the mythology of a pattern and practice of police misconduct against several detectives who worked the Bridgeman murder case and others is false and that the offenders should have neither been released nor re-tried.  

The motion is also another instance in which defense attorneys are attacking the decisions by elected officials in releasing convicted killers in the wake of the media pressure. Indeed, the aim of Friday’s motion was for defense attorneys to depose top prosecutors in Kimberly Foxx’s administration for their decision to release Coleman and Fulton and not re-try them.

The defense attorneys allege that two top assistant prosecutors formerly with Foxx’s office, Eric Sussman and Mark Rotert, both initially wanted to re-try the men for the murders, even after DNA tests on the victim’s undergarments came back to another offender.

A motion from city attorneys read:

"Eric Sussman is the former First Assistant to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (“CCSAO”).  Mark Rotert is the former Chief of the CCSAO’s Conviction Integrity Unit (“CIU”). Both played a pivotal role in the CIU’s re-investigation of the cases against  Plaintiffs  and the  decisions by  the CCSAO  to  vacate Plaintiffs’  convictions  for the  brutal  rape and  murder  of Antwinica Bridgeman and dismiss the charges.  Following a thorough re-investigation by the CIU of the 1994 homicide investigation, Rotert recommended that Plaintiffs’ convictions be vacated and that Plaintiffs be retried for the same crimes.  Sussman appears to have initially agreed with this recommendation."  

If the claims by the city attorneys are true, what, apart from media pressure, compelled the prosecutors to change their minds? The answer to that question may lie with Sussman and Rotert’s boss, Kimberly Foxx. Certainly Sussman and Rotert could not have made the decision to vacate the convictions without the approval of Foxx. Likely Foxx’s decision-making role in the case is something city attorneys are attempting to explore.

Similar allegations against the media are emerging in another case. City attorneys are alleging media pressure was the primary factor in a decision by former Governor Pat Quinn to release Tyrone Hood for a 1993 murder:

According to court transcripts:

"Mr. Quinn’s decision set in motion a chain of events that led directly to the reversal of Plaintiff’s convictions and these lawsuits, but the decision was not based on the discovery of any new evidence exonerating Hood . . . , such as DNA or eyewitness testimony excluding [him] from the crime—that evidence does not exist. Rather, it was the product of an intense media campaign by Hood’s attorneys involving local and international celebrities, NBC Chicago, Peacock Productions, the Chicago Tribune, and the New Yorker Magazine."

Not only is the media’s role in advocating for these exonerations suspicious, so too is their silence, for no media outlet has reported on the fact that Foxx’s key prosecutors are being subpoenaed for deposition, nor have they reported on the fact that a former governor has been subpoenaed on another case.

If the media did cover the cases, they would be forced to ask challenging questions: Why is Foxx’s administration fighting the subpoena issued to Sussman? If Foxx stands by her administration in these exonerations, weeks before an election, why would she demur from having her underlings testify about them? To this point, the same goes for former governor Pat Quinn:  Why is Quinn fighting a deposition in which he would explain the reasons he concluded Hood is innocent? If either Foxx’s prosecutors or Quinn truly believed they had exonerated innocent men, wouldn’t they be bragging about their commitment to justice?

The silence of the Chicago Tribune in the face of the latest accusations by defense attorneys is particularly deafening. The detectives in both the rape and murder of Ms. Bridgeman and the Tyrone Hood case have been in the crosshairs of the paper for almost two decades, yet each week another court proceeding points to the detectives being falsely accused in one case after another.

The motion in the Coleman-Fulton case Friday citing media pressure puts yet another spotlight on Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who is among the most vocal advocate for exonerations. Claiming in a 2017 column there was “overwhelming” evidence that Coleman and Fulton were innocent, Zorn virtually demanded Foxx release the men from prison:

"Yet you’re [Foxx] 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."

Apparently, city attorneys are alleging, prosecutors Sussman and Rotert didn’t get Zorn’s memo about “overwhelming” evidence. According to city attorneys, they still doubted the innocence of the men, even with the new evidence of the DNA.

By now the record of suspicious exoneration claims by Zorn is ominous, going back to Zorn’s earliest years as a columnist. Zorn, for example, wrote many columns claiming that Anthony Porter was innocent of a 1982 double murder, yet to this day he has not even interviewed the investigating detectives. The motion by city attorney adds to a growing body of allegations that the exoneration of convicted killers and rapists have moved out of the courtroom and the rules of evidence into a bizarre, dangerous world of media manipulation and activism, with police officers caught in the crossfire.

As the defense motion Friday suggests, that media manipulation includes a powerful influence over the decision making of elected officials.

The public, and the police in particular, deserve an explanation from prosecutors in both the cases concerning Tyrone Hood and Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton, and the media should be covering the attempts by attorneys to obtain them, as well as the allegations.  

Note: Eric Zorn did not respond to e-mails from the Contrarian asking for comment about Friday’s motion.

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