How Low Will They Stoop?

Prosecutors Scheme To Send Nathson Fields Back To Death Row

By: Nate Goldbaum

Just as Illinois death penalty prisoner Nathson Fields and his supporters have begun to prepare themselves for trial, prosecutors have gone on the attack. Fields was convicted in a gang double-murder 15 years ago and sent to death row by dishonest police investigators and corrupt former judge Thomas Maloney, the first judge ever convicted and sent to jail for accepting bribes in exchange for lower sentences.

Nathson has endured more than two years of pretrial motions and prosecutorial foot-dragging after winning his appeal in 1998. In December, prosecutors successfully postponed the trial for sixty more days. They then squeezed recantations from prosecution witnesses who had changed their original stories.

At the sentencing hearing immediately after the original trial, Eric Langston testified that he was coerced by Detective David O'Callaghan to falsely identify Nathson and his codefendant. Now, after 13 years, Langston is reversing his testimony. Also Gerald Morris, who had recently recanted his original testimony against Fields, and stated in a sworn affidavit that police had coerced him, has now retracted that statement.

Morris is far from a credible witness. Even at the time of the original trial, his testimony was flimsy. When asked how he was able to identify the getaway driver from more than 100 feet away, Morris replied, "I don't know." The alleged getaway driver was later acquitted. On top of that, Morris has never said that he actually saw the crime.

The only eyewitness, Eric's brother, Randy Langston, holds firm to his original testimony that the shooters could not be identified because they wore ski masks during the entire crime. Langston also testified that Police Detective David O'Callaghan illegally instructed him to pick Fields and his codefendant, Earl Hawkins, out of police lineups.

Last September, Randy Langston gave a sworn affidavit to defense attorneys repeating his trial testimony. Just weeks after giving the statement, Randy phoned Fields' defense attorney and told him that prosecutors were pressuring him to change his testimony. Since then, Randy has been moved from a state work camp in Paris, Ill., to the notoriously harsh Menard maximum-security prison.

This blatant witness tampering is the depth to which the state will stoop to keep Fields on death row.

Why is the state of Illinois going through all this trouble to re-convict Nathson Fields? Nathson's wife, Jamilah, knows why. "They have too much to lose," she said. "Maloney had 6,000 cases, and they would all demand new trials." Add to this that 13 innocent men have now been released from Illinois' death row. Nathson would be number 14. Judge Geoghan has allowed prosecutors every opportunity to build their flimsy case against Fields -- extending pretrial motions for over more than years and allowing the prosecution an emergency extension in December.

Nathson's final pretrial hearing is set for Wednesday, February 9. Nathson's case must go to trial by March 11 when the 60-day extension is up.

Death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal once pointed out that law is just another form of politics. This is nowhere truer than in Nathson Fields' case. Against the forces of the state's attorney's office, the Illinois judiciary and the entire pro-death penalty camp, we must align our forces. We must pack the courtroom for Fields' trial and raise our voices to demand that this innocent man finally be set free.