Illinois

U.S. request could block evidence in probe of Chicago cop’s murder

In back-to-back hearings at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday, two judges expressed impatience with delays in the cases of three men charged in the decades-long murder of Chicago Police Officer Clifton Lewis.

Judge Erica Reddick scolded the department’s attorneys after they claimed federal prosecutors effectively blocked the release of a variety of recordings subpoenaed by attorneys for alleged gunman Tyrone Clay and getaway driver Edgardo Colon.

Minutes later and a few floors up, Judge James Linn reversed similar subpoenas out of deference to federal prosecutors and warned attorneys seeking a new trial against convicted gunman Alexander Villa to prepare to argue their case with evidence they have already uncovered.

The files at issue related to Operation Snake Doctor, a wide-ranging takedown operation against Villa and other members of Spain’s Cobra gang that was launched by Chicago police and federal law enforcement agencies after Lewis died during a grocery store robbery in Chicago Austin had been gunned down.

Villa’s lawyers learned about the operation earlier this year by combing through about 35,000 pages of emails handed over by the department in response to a request for public records. Those emails, they say, showed that CPD and prosecutors never shared information about alternate suspects, arrests and interrogations of Cobras with defense attorneys.

Christina Hake presented Reddick with a letter from the US Attorney’s Office warning that releasing information about the investigation, which began in 2012, could violate federal law. City attorneys and the defendants are expected to file a joint request for a federal judge to review the case files to release additional documents.

Reddick insisted that the city make available any files related to the Lewis murder — but not the Snake Doctor investigation — until Monday. When Hake asked for more time, Reddick, who six weeks ago had ordered CPD and the prosecutor to go “to the utmost limits” to retrieve nearly all records related to the Lewis case in November, was curt.

“We just got the exact records [request] today, to be fair,” Hake said.

“We don’t mean to call ‘fair’ for all the time that has been spent here,” Reddick said, noting that Colon and Clay had been indicted nearly a decade ago.

Judge James Linn, who was presented with the same letter from the US Attorney, quashed more than a dozen subpoenas from Villa’s attorneys on Wednesday.

Villa’s lawyers are seeking to have his 2019 conviction overturned and claim to have uncovered critical pieces of evidence they say were not included in police files turned over by prosecutors ahead of Villa’s trial, including a cellphone analysis , which showed the three men’s phones were nowhere near the shooting scene when Lewis was shot, and police interviews that showed alternative suspects — one of whom failed a lie detector test when questioned.

Linn decided that a final hearing on Villa’s request for a new trial would be held in February, without waiting to see what records might emerge in the Colon and Clay cases. Villa has not yet been sentenced.

Colon was found guilty in 2017 and sentenced to 84 years in prison – but he is now out on bail after an appeals court ruled he was being questioned by police after he had repeatedly requested a lawyer. Clay’s trial was stalled by a legal battle over his confession, which an appeals court overturned after finding it was obtained after he asked for an attorney.

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