Chicago’s top lawyer defends vigorous, but losing, defense in Wrice civil case

As the Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago, I am compelled to correct the misleading record presented by Flint Taylor in his commentary.

City of Chicago

Mark Flessner is the Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago.

In May 1983, a jury found that the People of the State of Illinois had proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Stanley Wrice was guilty of rape and deviate sexual assault of a woman he and other men had encountered on the street late at night on September 8, 1982.

The crime was monstrous and sadistic. Among other things, the evidence showed that iron marks were burned on the victim’s breasts and buttocks and back, resulting in second and third degree burns, requiring skin grafting, and resulting in permanent scars. The victim was burned over 20% of her body, and beaten so badly that her treating physician testified to over 100 bruises.

Among other evidence presented at the criminal trial was eyewitness testimony that Mr. Wrice beat the victim with his fists in Mr. Wrice’s attic bedroom; Mr. Wrice took a hot implement off the stove and went to the attic, after which the victim said, “why are you burning me?”; and Mr. Wrice was one of two men present with the victim in the attic after the victim had been burned head to toe.

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Decades later, as a result of Mr. Wrice’s allegation that he was beaten by two police officers investigating the crime, a judge vacated Mr. Wrice’s conviction, but expressly refused Mr. Wrice’s request for a finding of innocence. A second judge denied Mr. Wrice’s petition for a certificate of innocence, finding that he was “most likely guilty” of the crime for which he had been convicted. Nevertheless, Mr. Wrice sued the City and defendant officers for tens of millions, claiming, among other things, that he would have been acquitted had the jury heard the evidence as he claims it should have been presented.

In the trial of those civil claims last month, defendants offered significant evidence of Mr. Wrice’s actual guilt, mostly from witnesses at Mr. Wrice’s original trial. That civil jury found in favor of the defendants on Mr. Wrice’s fabricated and suppressed evidence claims, rejecting his claim that there was a “reasonable probability” he would have been acquitted if his criminal trial had been prosecuted according to his specifications.

Mr. Taylor does not mention this finding in his article. Nor does he discuss the issue of Mr. Wrice’s actual guilt, although it was relevant to the matters this civil jury had to decide. And when Mr. Taylor expresses concern over taxpayer dollars, he fails to reveal that Mr. Wrice sought $31 million in damages from those same taxpayers, an amount the civil jury resoundingly rejected. Settlement negotiations, moreover, are confidential, and we give no credit to Mr. Taylor’s speculations about what he thinks the case should settle for, given his claim that he does not represent Mr. Wrice. He also says nothing about whether—if the City followed his advice to meet Mr. Wrice’s monetary demands—the City Council would have agreed to pay millions to a man who committed such heinous acts.

What is most insidious about Mr. Taylor’s article, however, is the assumption that when certain kinds of allegations are made—allegations, it should be noted, of the type that his law firm prosecutes—they cannot, indeed must not, be questioned. According to Mr. Taylor, certain types of people (such as police officers) are just not entitled to due process; they are presumed guilty or liable no matter what the facts, and there is no need for the truth-seeking function of a civil trial in these cases.

Thus, legitimate cross-examination, in Mr. Taylor’s view, becomes “slander.” Yet cross-examination in this case revealed massive contradictions between Mr. Wrice’s and his witnesses’ prior sworn testimony on a myriad of matters material to the veracity of their claims. That cross-examination undoubtedly contributed to the defense verdict on Mr. Wrice’s fabrication and suppression claims.

The Department of Law stands with due process and the rule of law. And it stands by its defense against Mr. Wrice’s claims.