Cook County Judge’s Ruling Could Allow Cop Killer to Evade Justice

April 2, 2019
Florian Sohnke

Did anti-police passions induce a judge’s decision to cast aside suspect’s confession?

Tamara Tucker holding a photograph of her late fiancé, Officer Clifton Lewis
Tamara Tucker holding a photograph of her late fiancé, Officer Clifton Lewis

When the M&M Quick Foods in Chicago’s crime-infested Austin Neighborhood was robbed in late 2011, Officer Clifton Lewis experienced more than a pang of sympathy for its owners: Lewis felt obliged to accept a part-time position extending security to the store. An eight-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department serving in the 15th District, Lewis had been employed at the convenience store for only weeks before it was again attacked by armed robbers, this time while he walked the aisles. Shortly after 8:30 p.m. on the evening of December 29, 2011, as Lewis kept a watchful eye over the store, two masked men entered M&M with the aim of committing armed robbery. Moments later, after Lewis had announced he was a Chicago police officer, gunfire erupted, Lewis was slain, and the villains fled the scene with the store’s cash and Lewis’ sidearm.

Although Lewis’ name will forever be commemorated on the Gold Star Families Memorial, his death left a family grieving, a daughter fatherless, a fiancé in mourning, and a city and its police department demanding his killers face the blunt instruments of criminal law. While justice in Lewis’ death has moved at a sluggish pace, two of the rogues have been found guilty. However, a third man, one of two believed to have been directly culpable in taking Lewis’ life, could escape punishment altogether if a Cook County court sustains a judge’s ruling discarding the suspected gunman’s full confession.

Life meant nothing to these four.

As a chill had settled over Chicago’s west side on Thursday, December 29, 2011, four men arrived at 1201 North Austin Boulevard to rob the M&M Quick Foods. The glittering cast of scoundrels comprised: Alexander Villa, a sewer rat and notorious member of the Spanish Cobras street gang for whom criminality was a consistent kind of behavior; Tyrone Clay, a lifelong wastrel who was grimly magnetized to violent crime; Edgardo Colon, a man often afoul of the law who was at the wheel of the getaway car; and Melvin DeYoung, a besotted admirer of Villa, Clay, and Colon who was a passenger also seated in the car. Whether a signator, plotter, leader, or otherwise significant contributor to the crime, all four men bear responsibility to some degree for Lewis’ murder. A crime committed with eccentric flamboyance, Villa is alleged to have entered the store, blurted out his intent hold up the business, and flung open his coat with comic flair to reveal a TEC-9 semi-automatic pistol to commit the crime. With Clay thought to be at his side, Villa was greeted with Lewis shouting “Police!” in response to the pair’s grand entrance. Countering with his characteristic indifference, Villa immediately opened fire, wounding Lewis in the torso, and causing Lewis to fall behind the store counter. While Lewis lay mortally wounded on the floor, in a final stroke of obscene cruelty, Clay is reputed to have arched over the counter and fired three times into Lewis’ body. Following the policeman’s murder, both Villa and Clay fled from the store into the welcome arms of Colon and DeYoung and vanished into the dark of night.

The conspiracy unravels.

Days after Lewis was slain, in a remarkable stroke of good fortune, Chicago police stumbled across Mr. Colon, who was arrested on an unrelated weapons charge. Disproving the theory there is honor among thieves, Colon broke down during an interview with police and confessed his odious secret. While pleading his partial innocence, conceding he was both the driver of the car and a lookout, Colon betrayed both Villa and Clay by name and outlined in excruciating detail the role each man played in Lewis’ slaying. Charged on January 7, 2012, with first-degree murder of a peace officer, Colon was indicted alongside Tyrone Clay, who had been captured in the same police dragnet, and who also fully admitted his part in the crime during an interview with police. At the time Colon and Clay first appeared in court, Villa had been briefly held in custody, but had been released by virtue of insufficient evidence.

At trial in 2017, Colon was judged by the Honorable Erica L. Reddick. Despite the public defender’s courtroom theatrics and idiotic attempts to portray Colon’s confession as the harrowing consequence of police intimidation and threats, Colon’s defense was undone by his own admission of guilt in a videotaped interview with investigators played at trial. Following Colon again imputing both Villa and Clay in the grisly slaying in open court, Judge Reddick was unmoved by passionate appeals for charity from the defense and sentenced Colon to 84 years behind bars.

Two years after police achieved the first breakthrough in the case, Alexander Villa was plucked by authorities from the population of Cook County jail, where he had been confined for leaving the scene of a 2012 fatal accident. Long suspected by police as the primary antagonist in Lewis’ death, Villa was charged with first-degree murder in November 2013, almost two years after Colon and Clay had been apprehended. Finally facing a judge for his part in Lewis’ slaying, in a four-day trial in 2019 overseen by the Honorable James Linn, Villa’s defense relied on a strategy revolving around discrediting key witnesses and maintaining police overzealousness had led to the arrest of the wrong man. Imploring the jury to absolve his client, Villa’s defense attorney absurdly claimed intense pressure to solve Lewis’ slaying led police to arbitrarily select Villa for prosecution, and two witnesses testifying against the accused who maintained Villa boasted of his role in the murder were disreputable. In defiance of Villa’s attorney’s glib equivocations, attempts to sow confusion among jurors, and portrayal of Villa as a model of human kindness, a jury disregarded the lawyerly bulldust and convicted Villa on the strength of witness statements and video evidence capturing the crime in which neck markings exposed on store surveillance cameras resembled Villa’s visible neck tattoos. Villa now awaits sentencing.

A judge outflanks police.

While two pages in this grim chronicle have been turned, a third remains unsettled and the book is far from being closed. Although Tyrone Clay was taken into custody within days of Lewis’ murder, his case has lingered in legal purgatory for seven years. A case far from complicated, Clay’s trial has faced repeated statutory hurdles, the most recent a crushing legal decision from the Honorable Erica L. Reddick, who quashed Clay’s confession, ruling in early 2019 Clay did not wittingly waive his Constitutional rights prior to admitting his involvement in the crime to police.

An astounding judgement of the court, Reddick’s ruling is grounded in a 2017 defense motion petitioning the court to withdraw Clay’s confession from evidence over the accused’s counsel contending Clay’s mental impairment precluded him from fully beholding his rights when Mirandized by police. A transparent legal evasion on behalf of an accused killer, Clay, a central player in the ghastly crime, was properly and iteratively Mirandized upon his arrest and during succeeding interviews with investigators. Question-and-answer sessions meticulously captured and preserved by police audio and video tape, Clay is seen and heard explicitly acknowledging his rights, voluntarily providing a candid and broad account of the crime, and incriminating both himself and his accessories in Lewis’ murder.

While a defense attorney’s theatrics or subterfuge in the courtroom are hardly new gambits to thwart the law and there are many cases on record in which plain guilt prevails in court through the mercy of a lenient judge, Reddick’s ruling regarding Clay’s confession is baffling for a myriad of reasons. First: Clay fully admitted his responsibility for Lewis’ slaying. In extensive interviews with police investigators, all captured on audio and video tape, Clay gradually disclosed his role in the felony murder and furnished to police details of the crime known only to its participants. Prior to the 2017 motion lodged by the defense, not once was there any indication Clay’s confession was improperly obtained by police, nor was there any hint the essential elements of Miranda Warnings issued to Clay during interviews were misconstrued by the accused. Furthermore, no evidence exists to suggest investigators applied coercive techniques to harvest an involuntary confession, deprived Clay of sleep or the bare human necessities to sustain himself, threatened him with bodily harm, or deceitfully offered leniency in return for a false admission of guilt.

Second: Judge Reddick tended to the 2017 trial and sentencing phase of co-conspirator Edgardo Colon, upon whom she imposed a prison term of 84 years for fulfilling the role of getaway driver in the crime. As the final arbiter determining Colon’s fate, it is a virtual certainty Reddick observed the cache of evidence presented by Cook County prosecutors in his trial, including audio and video evidence of Colon’s confession, witness testimony against the accused, surveillance footage from security cameras at the M&M convenience store, and Colon’s own statements to police in which he implicated both Clay and Villa in Lewis’ murder. When weighing all the indisputable truths of the Colon case, particularly the fact Judge Reddick presided over the Colon trial, it is deeply perplexing to perceive how the same jurist who inflicted an 84-year sentence on Edgardo Colon for the role of driving the getaway car in the crime came to rule in favor of a defense motion to dismiss Tyrone Clay’s confession and hollow out a copper-bottomed police case against an acknowledged killer.

Lastly: Clay is a career criminal offender who marauded between brushes with police. A man with wildness in his blood, Clay’s life of freebooting comprised 30 arrests by age 29 and granted him a rare wisdom over how to manipulate or exploit legal loopholes to suit his interests. His arrest in connection with Lewis’ slaying only symbolized how Clay’s world grew darker in later years to embrace armed robbery and murder. In consideration of the avalanche of conclusive evidence against Clay, it is mystifying Judge Reddick would rule in favor of a defense motion arguing Clay, one of the accused gunmen, was of inferior mind during his confession following his arrest for Lewis’ murder when he was of sufficient health and soundness of mind during previous encounters with Chicago police and the courts in which he was Mirandized, charged, appeared in court, and judged.

What inspired Reddick to sanction such a gauzy legal counterattack?

Officer Clifton Lewis’ murder was so chilling, it was almost unnatural. However, the conflict between Judge Reddick’s sentence handed down to Edgardo Colon and her ruling nullifying Tyrone Clay’s confession strains credulity and legal decorum. While it appears the defense motion to suppress Clay’s confession is an explicit example of a defense attorney massaging the law to spare a defendant from the gallows, Judge Reddick’s approval is antithetical and its cornerstone may be found in the poisonous influence of the anti-police movement which has engulfed the nation over the last several years.

Although the offensive undertaken by opponents to law and order to weaken police traces its pedigree back decades, Chicago’s anti-police cabaret was invigorated three years after the murder of Officer Lewis with the 2014 death of an armed teen, Laquan McDonald. Mobilizing after McDonald’s death, the Windy City’s anti-police troupe created a hothouse environment in which conspiracy theories depicting Chicago police stalking and gunning down unarmed black men for amusement thrived and helped shape a false and malicious narrative of a police department plagued with systemic corruption, abuse and racism. A movement marked by spasms of violence and incendiary sloganeering, Chicago’s anti-police agitators formed a pitiful spectacle, rarely expressing all relevant facts to police activity, and only glancingly mentioning violent crime elsewhere in the city.

Despite the fact Chicago’s anti-police junta have virtually no core focus, no hierarchical structure, and prefer street-level thuggery over tangible political goals, its persistent and overheated rhetoric ultimately shifted the political winds to their favor and gained notice from so-called civil-rights law firms, some of which had long been preoccupied with tabling vexatious litigation against police and the city. As the louder voices within the anti-police posse amplified their blather, the movement reaped the reward of attention and admiration from local clergy and Chicago’s gullible pundits. Shortly thereafter, some members of the Chicago City Council paid heed, adopted and advanced blatant falsehoods and myths surrounding modern policing in Chicago, and jumped on the anti-police bandwagon.

The result of a deliberate strategy to demolish law and order in Chicago, a grassroots organization which deserves effectively no serious recognition triumphantly matured into a fully-fledged revolution with the assistance of journalists, quack clergy, and elected officials, all of whom were unreserved in their fervor to advance utter fabrications, hyperbole, and libels against Chicago police. Although the results have been gratifying for opponents of law and order, it has been far from satisfying the law abiding: So profound is the anti-police revolution’s influence in Chicago, it has furtively tiptoed into the Cook County court system. As evidenced by attorneys resorting to alleging police misconduct to mount a defense of two sinister goons accused in the slaying of Officer Clifton Lewis, it is not scandalous to postulate Judge Reddick’s ruling withdrawing Tyrone Clay’s confession was, in part, persuaded by the toxic political climate fabricated by Chicago’s anti-police movement.

While some fail to recognize the contradiction with Edgardo Colon’s sentence, Judge Reddick’s ruling in favor of a defense motion to withdraw Tyrone Clay’s confession admitting his role in Clifton Lewis’ murder should never survive appellate scrutiny. As a member of the bench, an important figure of public trust, Judge Reddick’s primary functions are to remain a high-minded steward of the law and judge those who appear in her courtroom in the totality of their acts. If Judge Reddick’s decision to set aside Tyrone Clay’s confession was born of the malignant footprint left by Chicago’s unprincipled anti-police movement, it is the law disgracing itself and will become a blot on the honor of an otherwise respectable jurist.

[Chicago Sun Times [Chicago Tribune] [Police One] [Photo courtesy austintalks]

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