December 12, 2017
Decades later, determining the truth is a much greater task.
Demond Weston has spent his entire adult life behind bars. He has spent the same amount of time insisting he does not belong there.
In 1990, shortly after his 17th birthday, Weston was arrested while walking near his home in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and indicted for participation in a series of gang shootings.
Prosecutors urged the jury to send gang members a message by punishing Weston, and he was eventually convicted based on a statement he gave police admitting participation in one of the shootings. The judge handed down a prison sentence of 75 years.
But beginning with motions filed months before his 1992 trial, and through his 25 years in Illinois state prison, Weston has consistently said that his confession was coerced by police and that he had nothing to do with the crime. He says he was never even in a gang.
Weston’s petitions for relief were routinely denied. But that was before the full extent of Chicago police torture under disgraced commander Jon Burge was known, and before the three Burge subordinates who questioned Weston were accused of torturing confessions out of suspects in a series of other cases.
Now Weston’s claims have come back to life, both in Cook County Circuit Court and before a special commission created by state law in 2009 to hear the claims of police torture. The commission will consider his case on Wednesday after failing to resolve the case when it first heard the claim in October. A circuit judge will hold a separate hearing on his claims early next year.
Weston is one of nearly 30 men still incarcerated who are seeking to make their case that their confessions were coerced by abusive Chicago police who worked under Burge. While Burge was fired in 1993, the underfunded commission and overcrowded courts are still hearing related cases three decades old, with more petitions waiting.
An Injustice Watch review of Weston’s case, based on interviews as well as a study of the voluminous record, shows how difficult it is to untangle the truth about allegations of abuse. The cases commonly come down to the word of a suspect against the word of police officers, and officers who abuse routinely take care to avoid physical marks. The passage of time only complicates the process.
There was never physical evidence tying Weston to the crime, and three men connected to the crime have given affidavits saying they did not know Weston and he was not in the gang. No medical records exist to document injuries inflicted by the police.
Then there are the issues exacerbated by the passage of years. The clerk’s office has lost the file of physical evidence presented at his trial, and the only eyewitness who picked him out of a lineup has since died.
While Weston has consistently maintained he was abused at the station, his abuse allegations have become more detailed, and sensational, over time. His lawyers insist he has had the same story all along, but that he was cautioned by his court-appointed attorney at the time not to over-emphasize his torture claims for fear the judge and jury would not believe the word of a black defendant from the South Side against white detectives.
As it reckons with the years of police torture, the city has paid $5.5 million in reparations to 57 torture victims, and has paid out millions more in individual settlements. This year, schools around Chicago will begin teaching a new curriculum about Burge and police torture, and the Chicago Torture Justice Center has opened its doors with resources for torture survivors and their families. When City Council created the reparations payments, curriculum, and Torture Justice Center in 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proclaimed that it was “an essential step in righting a wrong, removing a stain.”
But the cases of Weston and his fellow inmates with torture claims are a reminder that the city has still not put the Burge scandal to rest.
A shooting spree, then arrests
The date that would end up casting a shadow over Weston’s life was May 29, 1990. That spring, the Hubble Space telescope was launched and Microsoft released Windows 3.0. In Chicago, Richard M. Daley was still in the first year of his two-decade reign as Chicago’s mayor.
That January, the Chicago Reader had published “House of Screams,” a lengthy article that described a prisoner named Andrew Wilson’s allegations of torture against Burge, who at the time of Weston’s arrest was the detective commander at the Area 3 Violent Crimes Unit, on 39th and California in Brighton Park. But it would be years before officials publicly acknowledged widespread abuses by Burge’s squad.
Weston, then 17, lived with his mother, grandmother and three sisters in the Englewood neighborhood, where he was a high school student at Andrew Jackson.
Decades earlier, Englewood boasted a thriving commercial district on Chicago’s South Side. But over the years it fell prey to white flight, redlining, disinvestment and declining population. Resources for youth were scarce and drugs flowed into the neighborhood, making street gangs powerful. In 1990, Englewood recorded the most homicides of people under 21 in the city.
That year, four shootings occurred on May 29 between 10 and 11 p.m. in West Englewood that police attributed to disputes between the Gangster Disciples and the rival Vice Lords. Timothy Jones, 14, was shot in the legs by a group of three men as he rode his bike. Down the block, Joseph Watson, 19, was shot and killed.
Nearby, three men who had been sitting on a porch were wounded as they fled into the house, as a group of men across the street opened a volley of bullets. Several blocks away, Deneen Coats, 20, was also sitting on her porch, and was talking with two friends when she noticed a group of young men across the street. The young men started shooting at Coats and her two friends; she was wounded in the back and leg as she fled inside.
Firearms evidence collected by the police at the time showed that the same gun, a 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol, was used in all of the shootings. A .22-caliber gun also was used in the shooting of Joseph Watson.
A week and a half later, on June 9, 1990, Demond Weston was walking near 60th and Union when he encountered Detective Michael Kill. Kill, according to his pre-trial testimony, was investigating a separate murder that had happened the day before—the murder of Curtis Sims. Sims was shot by the same 9 millimeter gun that was used in the May 29 shootings.
Weston would later say that Kill mistook him for a gang member named Cortez “Vic” Brown, who eventually was convicted in the Sims murder. Brown and Weston had similar physical characteristics: Brown was described in police reports as 19 years old, 5’10” tall, and weighing 140 pounds, with black hair, brown eyes and a medium brown complexion. Weston was described as 17 years old, 5’8” tall, and weighing 145 pounds, with black hair, brown eyes and a medium brown complexion.
Kill did not prepare a police report of his encounter with Weston. At a pretrial hearing, Kill testified that as he investigated Sims’ murder, a man named Dwayne Macklin, whom Kill identified as a gang member, told him that Macklin had provided the 9 millimeter gun used in the shooting spree. Kill said that as he took Macklin on a tour looking for suspects in the shootings, Macklin pointed out Weston, who was standing on the street.
Kill said he then left his car, handcuffed Weston, and drove him back to Area 3, where Kill said he read Weston his Miranda rights. Weston then admitted his participation in the shootings.
Weston offered a different version when he testified at the pretrial hearing: Four officers, including Kill, approached him in plainclothes on June 9. They searched him, circled the block, and came back to handcuff him. He also testified that he was not read his Miranda rights when he got to Area 3.
After he was taken to the station and questioned for hours by detectives Anthony Maslanka and William Moser, Weston gave a statement in the early morning hours of July 10. He answered questions from Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Sabin while a court reporter recorded their exchange and Moser watched.
In that recorded confession, Weston said that he and fellow Gangster Disciple members laid plans to go on the shooting spree to “scare” members of the Vice Lords. He said he brought a .22-caliber gun that he fired at a man lying on the ground saying “Don’t shoot.” At one point, Weston said he shot twice at the man; later, he said he shot “over” the man. Prosecutors later would contend the victim was Joseph Watson.
The transcript ends with Sabin asking Weston a series of questions about his treatment. Weston responds “yes” to whether he was fed and could use the bathroom and to whether he agreed that force was not used and no threats were made.
Soon after giving the statement, Weston was transferred to Cook County jail. He has been in custody ever since.
Accusation of abuse arises
Before Weston’s case went to trial, his court-appointed attorney, Paul Katz, sought to suppress the confession that Weston made at the police station. Katz’s motion contended Weston had been slapped in the face several times by a white, male, heavyset detective with a moustache. That officer would turn out to be Moser.
Moser, Maslanka, Kill, and Assistant State’s Attorney Sabin all took the stand to refute Weston’s claims.
The officers testified that Weston was read his constitutional rights and allowed to use the bathroom. Moser and Maslanka denied using any physical force against Weston or threatening him. Sabin testified that he made sure the detectives brought Weston food and that he checked on Weston multiple times after he arrived at the station this evening.
Cook County Circuit Judge Edward Fiala ruled the statement was voluntary, not coerced, and found no evidence of physical abuse. Prosecutors could use the statement as evidence at trial.
Weston went on trial in April 1992, charged with the murder of Joseph Watson and the attempted murder of several other people shot at that night: Timothy Jones, Deneen Coats, and a friend with Coats named Ronald Nesbit.
Assistant Cook County State’s Attorneys Bernie Murray and James McKay argued the shootings that night were committed by a Gangster Disciples “wrecking crew” seeking to retaliate for one of the Vice Lords shooting out a Gangster Disciple’s car window.
There was little evidence to tie Weston specifically to the “wrecking crew,” however. No witnesses, besides the arresting police officers, even named Weston as a Gangster Disciples member.
The night that Weston was interrogated, the Area 3 detectives had also taken a statement from Dwayne Macklin, the man who, according to Kill, had pointed out Weston earlier that day. Macklin said in the statement that Weston was a participant in the wrecking crew.
But that statement never was introduced at trial. Macklin gave an affidavit in 1997, and a second one in 2007, contending that his statement implicating Weston was false. He said he never pointed out Weston to Kill, and said that the Area 3 detectives had beaten him until he named Weston in the statement.
According to Macklin’s 2007 affidavit, he was never asked to testify.
Instead, the state’s case against Weston relied on the confession, along with eyewitness testimony from Coats, the woman shot as she sat outside her home. Though it was dark and the men were wearing caps, Coats said she could see their faces in the light of a streetlight and her inside porch light as they came towards her and began shooting.
Ronald Nesbit, who was sitting with Coats, testified that he could not identify any of the attackers, because he could not see their faces from where he and Coats sat. He and Coats had been talking to each other and looking at each other as the men approached, he said.
None of the other witnesses and shooting victims were able to pick anyone out of a lineup.
Stressful situations can impair crime victims’ memories, and eyewitness identifications of strangers are often unreliable. Mistaken identifications are a factor in more than 29 percent of the cases of wrongful conviction included in the National Registry of Exonerations.
At trial, Coats testified that was shown a lineup at the police station in July 1990, and told to pick out any she recognized from that night. Coats picked out three of the men, one of whom was Weston.
That procedure is inherently flawed, said Nancy Steblay, a social psychologist at Augsburg University, in an interview. Steblay, an expert in eyewitness memory, said that Chicago police in 1990 used lineup procedures that have since been shown to produce false identifications.
Steblay found it particularly troubling that Coats picked multiple perpetrators out of the same lineup. “One of the first recommendations for lineup practices is you only put one suspect in a lineup and surround him with known innocent fillers,” Steblay said.
After the state concluded its case, Weston took the stand in his own defense and told the jury that the confession was coerced and that what he said in the statement was a lie to satisfy the officers. He said that Kill had ignored his request to call home, and that Moser had called him a liar and then slapped him ten times on the face with an open palm during the course of the interrogation.
“Then I just got scared, got tired of his hitting me,” Weston said.
On cross examination, Weston said he had been allowed to go to the bathroom if he wanted. He also testified that he had “had some McDonald’s food.” But he continued to insist that he was not in a gang, that he had not been on the scene of the shootings that night, that he knew nothing about a .22 caliber gun, and that the police had hurt him as they forced him to confess.
In closing argument, prosecutor McKay told the jury that Deneen Coats was the only “decent human being,” since she was a non-gang member willing to identify the perpetrator.
“You know it would be nice to take all of the gangsters, all of the gang members, put them in the middle of Soldier Field and let them do what they want to each other because they’re all despicable human beings, but you can’t do that,” he said.
It took the jurors less than five hours of deliberation to find Weston guilty. A month later, Fiala sentenced him to consecutive 45- and 30-year prison sentences—75 years total.
Months after Weston was convicted, two other reputed gang members had non-jury trials before Fiala on charges of attempted murder of Coats. Both were convicted after Coats’ lineup identifications were introduced, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Evidence of widespread abuse
At the same time that Weston’s prison sentence was beginning, so was the slow process of bringing Chicago’s police torture scandal to light. Following the allegations by prisoner Andrew Wilson—the case highlighted in the 1990 Chicago Reader article—community activists began staging regular protests against the squad headed by Commander Burge.
The Office of Professional Standards, an internal police division responsible at the time for investigating police misconduct, opened two separate investigations of torture at the Area 2 Violent Crimes Unit in Pullman that Burge commanded before he was transferred in 1988 to Area 3.
One report found that Area 2 police abuse was systemic, and the other recommended the firing of Burge and two other detectives for abusing Andrew Wilson. The reports were not made public until ordered by a judge in 1992, months before Weston went on trial.
The following year, Burge was fired and the two detectives were suspended.
In the late 1990s, Weston began filing petitions to overturn the conviction. He referred to Area 3 as “House of Screams,” the term used for Area 2 in the Chicago Reader article, and cited other accusations of misconduct that had more recently emerged against Maslanka and Kill. He also submitted the first affidavit from Dwayne Macklin, who swore that his statements incriminating Weston were false.
Judge Fiala was not persuaded. As he rejected relief in 1998, he said: “I read his petition very carefully and I find it completely without merit, frivolous, and petition for post-conviction relief is denied.”
As Weston remained behind bars, accusations against Burge and officers who worked with him continued to pile up.
Because the Cook County State’s Attorney had defended Burge in Andrew Wilson’s lawsuit, Cook County Circuit Judge Paul Biebel, then chief of the criminal division, appointed Edward Egan and Robert Boyle in 2002 as special prosecutors to determine whether Burge and his subordinates should be criminally charged.
Egan and Boyle investigated 148 cases of men with torture claims and concluded that Burge was “guilty of abusing persons with impunity,” and that he had empowered his subordinates to do so as well. Their report, released in 2006, found credible claims of abuse could be established beyond a reasonable doubt in three cases. One was the claim of Alfonzo Pinex, who said that Detective Maslanka, who worked under Burge both in Area 2 and Area 3, beat him until he defecated in his pants.
In most cases, the special prosecutor concluded the allegations could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt and would not make a credible basis to prosecute the officers. One of those was the case of Weston.
In a 2006 video interview with the prosecutors, Weston said again that Moser slapped him ten times. He also went further, contending that Maslanka choked him and that Kill kept calling him a liar. He also said that Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Sabin left the room several times while taking his statement so that Moser could threaten him and tell him what to say.
Assistant Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Calihan concluded that Weston’s allegations were “not adequately supported due to a lack of physical and/or medical corroborations.”
The special prosecutor ultimately concluded that the statute of limitations had passed, making it impossible to charge Burge or other officials with state crimes. That decision drew community protests. The federal government conducted its own investigation, and charged Burge in 2008 with federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges. In 2010, he was convicted on all three counts and was sentenced the next year to four and a half years in jail.
The city continued to settle cases with torture victims to the tune of millions of dollars. Prodded by activists, the state created the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in 2009 and the city passed a reparations ordinance in 2015.
The commission is empowered to identify cases with sufficient evidence to merit a fresh review by the Circuit Court.
The commission has been hampered by limited funding since it was created. It relies on volunteers from various law firms to help prepare recommendations on its cases. Last year, the state legislature expanded its jurisdiction to include claims against any police officers, not just against those who worked with Burge, overwhelming the already backlogged commission.
|Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission Decisions as of Dec. 11|
|Referred to Circuit Court for New Hearing Since 2011||22|
|Dismissed Since 2011||51|
Most prisoners’ post-trial claims of abuse are dismissed, often without hearings. But in the decade since the release of the Egan Report in 2006, several prisoners who, like Weston, initially were denied relief have since had their convictions overturned, received favorable rulings from the torture commission, or settled lawsuits with the city.
Detective Maslanka has been named at least 14 other torture claims, and Detective Kill has been named in over 20, according to the commission's records. Both have asserted their Fifth Amendment rights when asked to testify. Detective Moser has been accused of physical or psychological coercion in at least 15 other cases, according to court records.
As in Weston’s case, the detectives routinely testified in original trials that defendants were not abused and were properly told of their rights.
All three detectives retired by 2005. Maslanka could not be reached for comment; Kill and Moser failed to respond to telephone calls.
Outside help for Weston
In 2007, private investigator Susan Swanson was working on investigating the case of a wrongfully convicted man in Stateville prison when he told her about the case of his friend, Demond Weston.
As she looked into Weston’s case, Swanson quickly concluded that he was innocent and that police had accidentally arrested him instead Cortez “Vic” Brown.
She brought the case to attorney Scott Schutte at Morgan Lewis, who convened a team of attorneys on Weston’s behalf.
In 2014, they filed a renewed petition detailing his innocence claim. In an attached signed affidavit, Weston provided the story of what happened to him on the day of his arrest in his own words. The affidavit includes details of Moser, Maslanka, and Kill’s actions that Weston had not recounted in his earlier petitions or at his original trial.
In the affidavit, Weston says that when Kill arrested him, he put a gun to his head and ordered him to stand still while Kill returned to his vehicle. Kill asked if Weston was Cortez “Vic” Brown, and when Weston said no, Kill said “you’ll do.” Weston says Kill made multiple inflammatory statements, including telling nearby residents to “take a good look at [Weston’s] black ass because [they] will never see him again” and telling Weston he wanted to “make sure we get the death penalty for you.”
Weston also says that at Area 3, detectives first told him he was being arrested for killing “Curtis,” before eventually switching to talking to him about the shooting of “Joseph.” He says Moser and Maslanka interrogated him as other officers came and went from the room. He continually said he did not know anything and asked to call his mother, but the police responded by taunting him and using racial slurs. Moser told him they could do whatever they wanted to him because no one knew where he was.
The affidavit repeats Weston’s earlier allegations that Moser slapped him and accused him of lying. Weston also says that in the presence of Moser and several other officers, Maslanka choked him by wrapping an arm around his neck until he passed out. When he awoke, he realized that the choking had caused him to defecate in his pants. The officers laughed at him and forced him to sit in the mess.
Weston says that officers told him he would only be able to clean up, eat the McDonalds food they brought, and go home once he made a statement.
“They broke my will and crushed my spirit,” Weston wrote in his affidavit. “I do not believe that any human being could go through that and have any dignity left. In my mind, I recall thinking that no one could save me. When I had screamed, nothing happened and no one came. I was barely seventeen years old; had I known then what I now know as an adult, maybe I could have been stronger. But on that night, my priority quickly became getting out of that room and avoiding any more abuse and humiliation.”
At that point, according to Weston’s retelling, Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Sabin entered the room. Detective Moser told him they needed more time; Sabin encouraged Weston to cooperate and left the room. Weston says that Moser then began to prepare him with what to say in his statement, showing him the statement Macklin had given implicating Weston.
It was then, Weston said, that he gave the statement falsely implicating himself.
New evidence supports Weston
Weston’s attorneys have several additional pieces of evidence to support his affidavit.
Two other men who were convicted for taking part in the shooting spree that night said they did not know Weston at the time of the incident.
One, John Walker, signed an affidavit stating that he was a member of the Gangster Disciples in 1990 and knew the other men charged in the spree were also members. But Walker said of Weston: “I did not know Demond when the crimes occurred in May, 1990,” and “I have no knowledge of Demond being involved” in the shooting spree.
The other, Nathaniel McCurine, signed an affidavit that states, “I never before saw or knew Demond Weston” at the time of the shootings, though McCurine states he knew Walker and others implicated in the shootings. “I have no knowledge of Demond being involved,” the affidavit states.
In a 2014 affidavit, Weston’s mother stated that he told her about the abuse in a phone call once he got to jail. “Demond had told me that the police had hit and messed with him for hours. He told me they strangled him until he went to the bathroom in his pants,” her affidavit states.
Weston’s new petition was assigned to Cook County Associate Judge Angela Petrone, who ruled in January 2016 that the Egan Report was significant evidence of systemic torture unavailable to Weston when he filed his first post-conviction petition in the late 1990s. As a result, Petrone ruled, Weston was entitled to file a new petition.
Petrone struggled to find time to move the case forward, at times even meeting with attorneys in hallways because no courtroom was available. Tracking down all the material was also an issue—it took six months to get all of the relevant case files from the early 1990s gathered and organized.
In December 2016, Petrone ruled that the new evidence merited a full hearing. While she dismissed several of the issues because they had been previously considered or were being raised too late, the meat of Weston’s petition—that he was coerced into confessing because of physical abuse and threats—was allowed to stand.
“Fundamental fairness requires that petitioner be allowed to present this evidence in a hearing,” Petrone wrote. Weston’s lawyers expect the hearing to occur sometime in early 2018.
A second avenue
In the meantime, Weston’s lawyers are pursuing the parallel process of taking the case before the torture commission.
Normally, if the commission finds that a case has credible evidence of torture, it refers the case to the courts for a new evidentiary hearing. But in Weston’s case, that hearing is already granted, leaving the impact of the commission’s ruling unclear.
“It’s up to the courts to decide how they would proceed,” if the commission grants Weston’s case further review, commission spokesperson Michael Theodore told Injustice Watch. He said that in past cases like Weston’s, favorable rulings have been consolidated with the existing court case.
The commission is currently short-handed; there are supposed to be eight commissioners and eight alternates. But in part because of several vacancies, only six commission members were present for the October meeting, when Weston’s case first came up.
Lawyers from the Schiff Harden LLP law firm conducted a review of the evidence for the commission. They concluded the case posed a “very close call,” but recommended that the commission find his claims of torture credible and referred to the courts. The Schiff Harden team noted Weston has alleged coercion ever since his 1992 trial. They also found that the documented history of abuse by Kill, Moser, and Maslanka further supported Weston’s claims.
The team made that recommendation despite its concern that Weston’s allegations had been embellished over time. The team did not find his later story of being strangled by Maslanka until he defecated credible (an allegation that mirrored the allegations in another defendant’s widely-publicized lawsuit), since Weston did not raise those allegations until his recent post-conviction petition.
Several commissioners also were concerned by the changing allegations. Chairperson Cheryl A. Starks, a retired Cook County Circuit Court judge, asked Weston’s lawyers, “You are aware of course, of all the discrepancy in your client’s statements and his allegations, correct?”
Weston’s lawyers argue that Weston did not bring up the more detailed allegations of abuse originally only because his trial lawyer, Paul Katz, advised him not to.
Katz said in an interview with Injustice Watch that he could not recall details of the case but added, “All I can say is, I find it hard to believe that if he would’ve told me all these things, I wouldn’t have had him testify to it."
Commissioner James Mullenix, a former assistant Cook County public defender, said he was “troubled” by the embellishment,” but added, “I kind of get that. This is a situation where he’s been convicted, he’s been sentenced, his appeal has been denied, he has gone through a post-conviction proceeding. He’s wracking his brain, he’s trying to figure out what happened back then. I’m troubled by it as well, I think it’s a close call, but I agree” with the analysis by the Schiff Harden lawyers.
As Weston’s family and supporters looked on, the commission vote was dramatic. Two members voted against referring the case to the courts; then Mullenix and two others voted in favor. Finally, Starks herself said she would also be voting to refer Weston’s case.
The vote to recommend the case had won four votes from the six members present. But the commission director, Rob Olmstead, noted that state law requires a majority of the full board—at least five votes—to approve a claim, and at least four votes to deny one. The case would have to be reconsidered when more board members were present.
“We weren’t expecting this,” Swanson said, as family members consoled each other outside the commission room.
The case was rescheduled for the November commission meeting, then moved again to December when there were still not enough commissioners available last month.
If Weston ultimately is awarded a new trial and his statement to police is suppressed, the special prosecutors assigned to the case have argued that given Coats’ eyewitness testimony, there is enough evidence for the conviction to stand.
But Coats died in 2012, and defense lawyers are more knowledgeable about the fallacies of eyewitness identification than they were in 1991. Prosecutors have little beyond her previous testimony, given that there is no physical evidence and others convicted for their role in the shooting spree now say they did not even know Weston.
Scott Schutte, one of Weston’s lawyers, said that Weston has been incredibly patient as he has waited for his case to proceed.
“I think I've been working on this case for five or six years, you know, just time passes, and it's easy for me to say okay, we’ve got the next status hearing in 60 days,” Schutte said. “Well those are 60 more days he's sitting in prison somewhere.”
(Injustice Watch co-director Rob Warden is a former member of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission; he played no role in the reporting or editing of this article.)