Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Atrocity: Man wrongfully convicted of rape released because prosecution withheld evidence casting significant doubt on accuser's credibility; then, police wrongfully arrest him again in sex offender sweep

This is a bona fide horror story, an egregious case of injustice that few people have heard about. While media pundits are obsessed with finding wrongdoing when inebriated college kids willingly participate in  drunken sex acts, people like Carl Chatman are enduring a hell few of us can even imagine.

In 2004, Carl Chatman was convicted of raping a woman and was sentenced to serve a 30-year prison sentence. After hearing how Chatman still supposedly haunted his putative victim's dreams, a Cook County judge sentenced him to the maximum sentence and said, "What you took, she will never recover." The judge said he believed the "depravity" of the attack showed Chatman needs to be removed from society for a long time. His victim showed courage when she testified about what happened and when she addressed the court Thursday, he said. In a victim-impact statement, the woman told the court Thursday that the incident has profoundly damaged her life. "My feelings are consumed with fear, anger, humiliation, shame, sadness and grief." She said she feels "dirty and disgusting" and is fearful of even routine activity. The attack, after all, happened in a courthouse filled with armed deputies. "My screams were not heard, and the security measures failed," she said.

But that's not the end of the story. The National Registry of Exonerations explains that in 2011, a post-conviction motion for a new trial was filed on Chatman's behalf that cast considerable doubt on the woman's credibility:
The motion claimed that the prosecution had failed to disclose, and Chatman’s defense attorney had failed to discover, that in 1979 the victim had made a similar report of being raped in an office building. She claimed that early in the morning, before other office workers arrived, she was raped by an English-speaking maintenance worker. The suspect she identified was a Polish immigrant who spoke no English and who fled back to Poland before he could be arrested. The woman later sued the building management and settled for an undisclosed, but substantial, sum. 
The motion alleged that at the time the woman accused Chatman of raping her, she was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service and owed more than $100,000 in unpaid taxes due to gambling debts and fraudulent business practices. Within days of the alleged rape by Chatman, the woman had sued the County and later settled the lawsuit for more than $400,000. 
The motion also said that new evidence had been discovered that . . . two witnesses reported that . . . detectives coached Chatman and fed him details about how he had committed the rape. The building manager had filed a report at the time—never disclosed to the defense—that the officers had fed the confession to Chatman and that Chatman was “pretty incoherent.”
Chatman’s new defense lawyers discovered that a half hour before Chatman confessed, a detective had called the state police crime lab and was told the victim’s skirt was burgundy and that she was wearing thigh-high stockings—both details that Chatman was said to have spontaneously volunteered during his confession. 
The motion also alleged that Chatman’s trial attorney had failed to request a mental competency examination prior to his trial. Chatman, the motion said, had been diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1981, more than two decades prior to the alleged attack, and been repeatedly hospitalized. 
Chatman’s lawyers also discovered that police had failed to interview a sheriff’s deputy who said he was sleeping in the courtroom adjacent to the courtroom where the victim said she was attacked. When the deputy was interviewed years later, he said he heard nothing, despite the victim’s claim that she repeatedly screamed for help. 
After the motion was filed, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit re-investigated the case and concluded that Chatman was wrongfully convicted. On September 10, 2013, at the prosecution’s request, Chatman’s conviction was vacated, the charge was dismissed and he was released.
But Chatman's nightmare wasn't over. One Sunday morning earlier this month, Chatman and his sister, Theresa, were getting ready for church when police officers knocked on her door a little before 8 a.m. They were doing a sex offender sweep, and they told Theresa they were looking for Carl Chatman. Theresa said they busted past her and walked through the home to the kitchen. Carl Chatman was drinking his coffee when police handcuffed him, ignoring Theresa's explanation that her brother's conviction had been vacated and that she had the paperwork to prove it. They arrested him anyway. So much for believing the victim.

Carl was released later that morning and authorities blamed a clerical error.

Theresa said, "We didn't think that every time we turned around and opened our door, there were going to be police there. I mean, come on, when is it going to be over?"

When, indeed, Theresa.