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January 01, 2009

Good God: Blago's Bud Burriss Sought Death Penalty for Obviously Innocent Man

It's hard to explain how egregious this is without the details -- someone sent me the headline hours ago and I took no interest.

Not a big deal, I thought, if Burris wrongly sought the death penalty for an innocent man. Mistakes do happen.

But that's not really what happened here. His own prosecutors kept telling him the man he wanted the death penalty for was innocent, and even resigned in protest.

Burris didn't care.

While state attorney general in 1992, Burris aggressively sought the death penalty for Rolando Cruz, who twice was convicted of raping and murdering a 10-year-old girl in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. The crime took place in 1983.

But by 1992, another man had confessed to the crime, and Burris' own deputy attorney general was pleading with Burris to drop the case, then on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Burris refused. He was running for governor.

...

Burris' role in the Cruz case was "indefensible and in defiance of common sense and common decency," Warden said. "There was obvious evidence that [Cruz] was innocent."

Deputy attorney general Mary Brigid Kenney agreed and eventually resigned rather than continue to prosecute Cruz.

Once Burris assigned Kenney to the case in 1991, she became convinced that Cruz was innocent, a victim of what she believed was prosecutorial misconduct. She sent Burris a memo reporting that the jury convicted Cruz without knowing that Brian Dugan, a repeat sex offender and murderer, had confessed to the crime. Burris never met with Kenney to discuss a new trial for Cruz, Kenney told ProPublica.

"This is something the attorney general should have been concerned about," Kenney, now an assistant public guardian in Cook County, said in an interview. "I knew the prosecutor's job was not merely to secure conviction but to ensure justice was done."

Kenney was not alone in her beliefs. Prior to Cruz's 1985 trial, the lead detective in the case resigned in protest over prosecutors' handling of the case, according to news reports at the time.

And rather than argue Burris' case before the state supreme court, Kenney also stepped down.

"What I took away was that [Burris] wasn't going to do anything to seem soft on crime," Kenney said. "He didn't have the guts."

In her resignation letter, Kenney claimed Burris had "seen fit to ignore the evidence in this case."

"I cannot sit idly by as this office continues to pursue the unjust prosecution of Rolando Cruz," she wrote. "I realized that I was being asked to help execute an innocent man."

Burris' response at the time: "It is not for me to place my judgment over a jury, regardless of what I think." (We have also left a message for Burris at his office and will post an update if we hear back.)

State prosecutors carried on with the prosecution, even after DNA evidence in 1995 excluded Cruz as the victim's rapist and linked somebody else, sex offender Brian Dugan, to the crime.

DNA exoneration, and implication of another man. That other man confessing. A lead detective and top prosecutor resigning in protest.

I believe they call these "red flags" in the legal business.


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posted by Ace at 05:53 PM

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