An Official Junior Library Guild Selection, Adult Crossover Nonfiction
Justice Failed is the story of Alton Logan, an African American man who served twenty-six years in prison for a murder he did not commit. In 1983, Logan was falsely convicted of fatally shooting an off-duty Cook County corrections officer, Lloyd M. Wickliffe, at a Chicago-area McDonald's, and sentenced to life in prison. While serving time for unrelated charges, Andrew Wilsonthe true murdereradmitted his guilt to his own lawyers, Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz. However, bound by the legal code of ethics known as the absolutism of client-attorney privilege, Coventry and Kunz could not take action. Instead, they signed an affidavit proclaiming Logan's innocence and locked the document away. It wasn't until after Wilson's death in 2007 that his lawyers were able to come forward with the evidence that would eventually set Logan free.
Written in collaboration with veteran journalist Berl Falbaum, Justice Failed explores the sharp divide that exists between common sense moralityan innocent man should be freeand the rigid ethics of the law that superseded that morality. Throughout the book, in-depth interviews and legal analyses give way to Alton Logan himself as he tells his own story, from his childhood in Chicago to the devastating impact that the loss of a quarter century has had on his life.
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About the Author
ALTON LOGAN served 26 years of a life sentence in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was formally declared innocent on April 17, 2009. Alton currently lives with his wife, Terry, in Chicago.
BERL FALBAUM 's career includes ten years as a political reporter for The Detroit News , four years in state politics as administrative aide to Michigan's lieutenant governor, and fifteen years in corporate public relations. He also taught journalism part-time at Wayne State University in Detroit for 45 years. He is the author of eight books, including Shanghai Remembered , the story of how 20,000 Jews escaped to Shanghai from Nazi Europe during World War II, which received an award from the Independent Publishers Association.
Read an Excerpt
JUSTICE FAILED :
On February 7, 1982, when I was twenty-eight years old, I was arrested on Chicago's south side and charged with murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery, crimes I didn't commit. I was tried, found guilty in two trials, and served more than twenty-six years in prisonincluding about three and a half years in solitary confinementbefore I took a breath as a free man again on September 4, 2008, at the age of fifty-five when the state declared in court that it was dropping all charges.
I had spent almost half of my life behind bars despite my protests throughout those many years to defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and juries that I was innocent.
I might still be in a cell if the real killer had not died in prison, thereby paving the way for me to have another shot at walking out of prison a free man.
I was also told that I was "fortunate" because when the facts came out the case was assigned to Cook County (Illinois) Circuit Court Judge James M. Schreier, described by all as an honest and courageous jurist who worked hard to do the right thing. Other judges, I was advised, might just have affirmed my conviction, without examining the new evidence. Most wouldn't have wanted to challenge the system that put me behind bars for more than a quarter of a century.
I might start this story with the question I'm asked all the time: Am I angry or bitter? Well, I was angry for a long time and kept it inside of me. I'm still somewhat angry at some police officers, lawyers, and judges. Most of all, I am angry at the system, and I am very angry at one person, Richard Daley, who was Cook County state's attorney when I was charged, tried, and convicted. I wanted an apology from him. I knew he wouldn't do it, and he didn't. I will write more about my feelings in this book.
Why did this happen to me? I will not try to explain the unexplainable or why God chose me for this fate. In this book, I will touch on the mistakes made and the gross inequities that are all too common in what we call our justice system in this country.
Of course, I'm not alone in having been imprisoned while innocent. I believe there are manyone is too many.
The good news is that more prisoners are being exonerated, primarily because of advances in technology and science, and particularly in the development of DNA evidence. My experience had a very unusual and, I might add, terrible twist.
That twist involved two attorneys who knew I was innocent because their client fatally shot the security guard at a McDonald's on Chicago's south sidefor which I was convicted. They kept silent because they would not breach lawyer-client confidentiality. Two other attorneys, indirectly involved, also knew I didn't commit the murder or robberies. They too chose not to come forward because, like their colleagues, they wouldn't break the lawyers' code of ethics that demands adherence to lawyer-client privilege.
I was a victim of unfair imprisonment for other reasons as well. Police and prosecutors withheld crucial evidence from my defense lawyers, and the police intimidated witnesses. With their only interest in winning a conviction, police shamelessly lied about many facts, knowing all too well they wouldn't suffer any consequences or be held accountable. I strongly believe prosecutors knew all along of many, if not all, of the police's fraudulent actions in my case.
Before I discuss my ordeal, I thought I would begin this book by providing a brief summary of my background.
My family's roots were in the South, specifically in Jenkins, Kentucky, a coal mining town with a population of only about 5,000. My grandmother, Pauline Gordon, had six children: my mother, Mary E., her three sisters, Barbara, Matilda, and Zella, and two boys, Lind and Arthur. My grandmother never married; the man with whom she had the children lived nearby. He wasn't involved with the family.
I loved Jenkins. It was quiet with lots of farmland. I still have warm memories of climbing "certain" trees in the backyard. I mention "certain" trees because there were several that my grandmother said were off limits. We could expect a beating if we disobeyed her. I made sure not to climb her favorite trees.
All six of her children moved from Jenkins eventually, seeking better opportunities in larger cities. There wasn't much work in Jenkins, nor much to do.
After graduation from high school, my mother first moved to Dayton, Ohio before going to Detroit to live with her godfather, Tom King, a former neighbor in Jenkins who, years earlier, had moved to the Motor City to join his brother.
I don't know how my mother met my father, Alton Logan, Jr. They married and I was born in Detroit on August 22, 1953. My parents and I moved to Chicago's south side to live with my father's mother, Melissa Logan, when I was about six months old. My family was Baptist and attended church every Sunday. My brother, Tony, two years younger than me, was born in Chicago on May 21, 1955.
My mother was sweet and caring. She was a God-fearing woman, very religious, and active in her church. She belonged to the church-sponsored Beautifying Club, which was dedicated to organizing events to improve the community. I was very close to her.
On September 15, 1955, my father, a steel mill worker, was shot to death in a robbery in an alley behind Pappys Liquors on S. Cottage Grove at East 47th Street on the south side of Chicago. He had just cashed his paycheck. The crime was never solved.
Since I lost my father at an early ageI was just twoI have no recollection of him. I was always told that he was a kindhearted man who liked to laugh and was very sociable. My Uncle Milan Cannon, my father's brother-in-law, was the closest thing I ever had to a father. He and his wife, Aunt Barbara, my mother's sister, spent a lot of time with me.
My mother was working long hours in a liquor store to pay the bills. Raising two boys by herself was too much for her so she sent Tony and me to live with my grandmother in Jenkins. My grandmother was very strict and, like my mother, very religious. She made me go to church four times a week. While I was in Jenkins, my mother had another child, Eugene, who was born November 19, 1960.
I attended elementary school in Jenkins, and it was a five-mile walk to school. Right from the start, I was always causing trouble. I had lots of problems with discipline, although I was never violent. My grandmother used "the switch" on me many times. It didn't help much. I didn't change my ways.
I was about eleven when the three of usTony, my grandmother, and memoved back to Chicago because my grandmother was having more health problems as she aged. She needed help, and she wanted to be with her childrenmy mother and her sister, Barbara. I didn't mind moving back because we visited Chicago each summer anyway.
My family and friends called me "Lind" which is my middle name, the name of my uncle. I acquired the nickname "Head" when I was in my early teens because I used my head in fights. That name stuck, and I was called "Head" on the streets and in prison.
I had lots of run-ins with teachers, yet made it through my sophomore year, the 10th grade, at the Christian Fenger Academy High School before I quit and looked for work. I really didn't quit school; I was asked to leave because I never attended classes. I looked for work, but I wasn't very successful at even finding odd jobs.
I started drinking when I was about fifteen, and drank into my adult life. I ultimately sought help and joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) when I was in prison in the late 1980s. Periodically, however, I fell off the wagon. I smoked pot. I never used hard drugs.
I was rambunctious, hotheaded, and had frequent encounters with the police. Once when I appeared before a judgeI don't even remember for whatthe judge gave me a choice: either go to jail or sign up for the military. That, of course, was an easy decision for me. I chose the military and joined the Army.
I messed up again. After about nine months at Ft. Lewis, Washington, the Army threw me out because I was drinking and didn't follow orders. I received an undesirable discharge.
I returned home and found a job with the Neighborhood Youth Corps. I also started running in the streets, and got mixed up and made friends with the wrong people. We committed a bunch of robberies on the streets.
I had three crimes on my police record as an adult. In the early '70s, I was put on probation for stealing a car. After that, I was arrested and convicted for an attempted robbery at knifepoint in our neighborhood in front of a floral store. I was placed on probation for that as well.
I went to prison for the third crime:
In January 1974, I robbed an elderly white man of everything at knifepoint at 118th and Halsted. When I write "everything," I mean it; he was naked when I left. I also stuffed him, upside down, into a fifty-five-gallon garbage can. I thought that was funny when I did it. I stole his car as well. I was drinking when I committed this crime.
I was driving away when a cop named Jon Burge, in a scout car coming the other way to investigate the robbery, spotted the car I had stolen. Burge crossed the median and rammed into my car at 114th and South Halsted where the McDonald'sthe site of the murder for which, while innocent, I would go to prisonwould be built a few years later. I confessed to the robbery, and named others involved. I was convicted, and sentenced to three to nine years. I did five years from 1975–80 in four different prisonsStateville, Pontiac, Joliet, and Sheridan. I was moved around quite a bit.
In one of those weird coincidences, Burge would be the command officer overseeing the McDonald's murder investigation. By that time he had moved up the ladder and was a lieutenant who headed a violent crime unit in a district known as Area 2. He had acquired a notorious reputation in the community for using any means to get confessions, including beating and torturing suspects.
Burge also was in charge of a case, about a month after my arrest, which involved the fatal shootings of two police officers by Andrew "Gino" Wilson. That crime would prove extremely important to me because it provided vital evidence in my case that Burge and his men covered up.
I was released from prison on January 7, 1980. I realized the lifestyle that sent me to prison wasn't for me. I went job hunting, and I was hired at a book bindery. The job lasted only about a year before I was laid off because things were slow. I couldn't find another job, so I roamed the streets picking up cans, glass, and other stuff that I could sell. I collected anything that might get me a dollar. I was still living with my mother. I wanted to get out of the house. However, I failed in everything I tried to do.
Then it happened.