Justice denied for Madison Hobley

Judge rejects petition from innocent police torture victim

By: Julien Ball

"Second petition for post-conviction relief is denied. Third petition for post-conviction relief is denied." These were the words of Cook County Judge Dennis Porter on the morning of July 8 as he denied Illinois death row prisoner Madison Hobley a new trial.

After stating his decision, the judge promptly proceeded to other business, offering no explanation to dozens of Madison’s family members and supporters who were on hand.

The hearing process itself had seen more than 25 continuances over a two-year period. Overall, Madison has spent 15 years behind bars--11 on death row--fighting for his freedom.

"Justice did not prevail in this courtroom," said Robin Hobley, Madison’s sister. "How do you raise your children to do the right thing when the system won’t do the right thing?"

Madison is a member of the Death Row 10, a group of African American men on death row who were brutally tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and forced into giving confessions. To convict Madison, police and prosecutors claimed that Madison confessed to the police, and prosecutors claim that Madison confessed to a 1987 arson that killed seven people, including his wife and child, in the building where he lived. But at Madison’s original trial, the state could not even produce a signed confession. Outrageously, police involved in the case testified that the "confession" had gotten wet and torn so they had to throw it away.

More than that, the state’s only physical evidence against Madison is a gas can that he allegedly used to start the fire. But there are glaring problems with this. There was no fire damage to the gas can, although the building had been gutted by fire. Madison’s fingerprints were not on the gas can--a detail that the state happened to withhold from the defense in Madison’s original trial. And police say they found the gas can under the kitchen sink of a locked apartment that was not Madison’s.

During the hearing, Madison’s attorneys, Andrea Lyon and Kurt Feuer, presented expert testimony from Dr. Russell Ogle concluding that the gas can could not have been in the fire. According to Ogle, the heat from the fire would have melted the plastic cap on the gas can and caused debris from the fire to stick to the can.

The only witness to testify against Madison is about as credible as the physical evidence against him. Andre Council, the state’s key witness, had been implicated in several previous arsons. This was never disclosed to the jury, and five of the jurors now say they never would have convicted Madison had they known of Council’s previous arsons.

Additionally, in the months following Madison’s arrest, Chicago police dropped criminal charges against Council. And Jon Burge, himself--then Commander of the Bomb and Arson Unit--gave an order to waive Council’s fingerprint check and to release him on a personal recognizance bond. Although Judge Porter admits that Council’s testimony against Madison provides the "only reasonable explanation" for Council’s special treatment from the police, he dismisses this information as irrelevant.

So, the State’s case rests on a gas can without fingerprints or fire damage, a non-existent confession, and the testimony of a known arsonist. Judge Porter decided that this was enough to keep Madison Hobley on death row.

In response to the ruling, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty called an emergency protest outside the offices of State’s Attorney Dick Devine, who continues to prosecute Madison and other victims of police torture. Last month Cook County Judge Paul Biebel appointed a special prosecutor to investigate police torture by Jon Burge’s torture ring, ruling that Devine had a conflict of interest due to his representation of Burge in a civil suit stemming from the torture allegations. In addition, Devine was First Assistant State’s Attorney between 1980 and 1983, when much of the torture took place.

Called on two days notice, the protest drew more than 50 people. When Chicago police blocked protesters from marching into Devine’s office, protesters sat down in front of the entrance chanting "Free Madison Hobley." One campaigner tried to force her way past police officers and was arrested.

Madison’s attorneys plan to appeal Judge Porter’s decision to the Illinois Supreme Court and are also petitioning Illinois Governor George Ryan to grant clemency for Madison. To win the justice Madison deserves, activists will have to continue to organize.