Madison Hobley: Even now, I'm still very angry inside

Madison Hobley is a former death row prisoner in Illinois who was pardoned by then-Gov. George Ryan in January 2003. Accused of an arson that killed seven people, including his wife and son, Madison was tortured by Chicago police under the command of Jon Burge--and sent to prison, where he spent 16 years imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.

First off I want to say I'm just honored to be here. It really feels good to be free. I've been free for a little over a year and a half, and I'm still trying to adjust. It's taken longer than I thought. Again I'm grateful. I'm also encouraged by the showing of the people that are willing to give an ear the issue of the death penalty and its injustices.

Even today I'm still very angry inside. You may not now see it, but just the deceit that the average person doesn't realize that they're being deceived by the issue of the death penalty and what goes on behind it.

I just want to go over what happened to me in the very beginning. I was just like you guys. I went to college for a little while, I didn't finish, but I wanted to do all the things that a person would do to avoid the trappings of the community around me.

I was raised on the South Side of Chicago in the Beverly area, which is a pretty good area. I'm from a middle-class family. A lot of my neighbors were city workers and also firemen, and those kinds of jobs. We also had a program, "officer friendly," where a police officer would come to school and assure you that the police officers are on your side and they want to protect the community. I believed in the police department and it really hurt me when the actual police department turned on me.

I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school, and I believed in God, and I believed in the justice system at the time. I was with my mother and my two sisters. I'm the youngest of the family. I was raised believing to take care of my mother and sisters. In fact, my mother today is my hero.

I married my high-school sweetheart. Her name was Anita, and we were married for close to seven years before we even decided to have my son. And what happened, I lost my wife and son in a fire. We had just moved into this apartment building on the South Side of Chicago. It was learned the fire was set in my apartment building. I lost my wife and son, and five other people died in the fire. By the grace of God, I was able to escape.

I'm grateful to God that I did tell the truth about what I did experience. At first, no one wanted to believe it -- especially the corrupt cops that were handling the case. They wanted to make the big bust -- in fact, they wanted to make the big bust at any count. And so what they ended up doing was framing me. Today they are actually looking at federal prosecution. They, right now, are investigating. There's a possibility that there might be some criminal charges involved with this situation. Through the grace of God, the truth continues to prevail.

And again -- what happened -- I don't know if it was a blessing or not a blessing that I survived. But they framed me, and I ended up doing 16 years for a crime that I didn't commit, here in Chicago. I was on death row for 13-and-a-half years and I was in the most treacherous parts of the prison. I was on death row at Pontiac and Menard. They call Pontiac "the Thunderdome," and they call Menard "the Pit" because it's down in a pit. It looks like the medieval days. In fact, they say Menard used to be a penitentary for the Civil War prisoners. It's a real old building, if you just see it, it will give you the creeps. I was there for seven-and-a-half years.

I want to describe how the cells were that I was housed in for seven-and-a-half years. You can actually touch the walls like this. I'm short, my arms are short, and I can touch both walls just like this [arms spread out]. The left -- here's the bed and there's a little aluminum toilet, and I can actually lay my feet on it when I stretch out. That's how small this place was. The lights are like artificial lights; it's like a dungeon with these lights they light the streets up with. Today I need glasses to actually read from being there so long.

After years and years of trying to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and the federal courts and even the United States Supreme Court -- while I was appealing -- more and more information was coming up. I was fortunate enough to have a law professor and a prominient law office represent me. They believed in me, so they really, really fought for me. Another thing about the grace of God: One of the investigators I had found that after years of the Chicago Police Department telling us that they didn't have any evidence remaining that could actually prove that I didn't do the crime -- they had hit it! Come to find out they had hid this stuff and put it in other cases. After years of them telling us that they didn't have it -- one of my investigators just decided to just walk over to the Chicago Police Department. There was a new employee there who wasn't in the clique and didn't know, and she handed it right over. So we find this stuff. By the time her boss caught on, he told her to stop and don't give them anymore. Then we had to get it though the courts. In the meantime they were destroying it, some of this stuff was coming up "destroyed." And so when I went to appeal it to the Illinois Supreme Court, it wasn't there. But what happened -- this is at the time as when former Governor Ryan decided he wanted to appoint a commission. We could petition to the Governor and his commission. That's when we started putting this thing out.

When we found out about this we decided -- the law firm that represented me decided -- they were going to hire an engineering company to examine what we felt was -- It was a gas can that was in perfect condition, but they had claimed they had found it on the scene of the fire. The specific thing about the gas can -- it had this little plastic cap on the gas can. Here's a building that was burned to the ground and this gas can was supposed to be found in the hallway, but this plastic cap didn't even have a singe on it. When we hired this prestigious engineering company and when they saw the can, they said, "You're kidding, this the can right here? I can tell you right now this can has been no where in a fire." And so when they found out about this, NBC and Dave Savini got hold of it and put it all out there. It just blew up like that, and even though the court still wanted to deny it, they were saying -- well, it could easily gotten there after the fire or whatever and even though the fire department had testified that they checked the scene -- went over it five times -- and they never saw this can and all of a sudden this can pops up.

To make a long story short, the courts just didn't want to make the decision. I mean as far as I'm concerned, they're corrupt too and cowards or whatever else you want to say. And it took the Governor, Ryan, to admit that this is wrong and that I had been framed. His commision approved it. Governor Ryan pardoned me a little over a year and a half ago and I've been free.

But it was a long ride. One other thing I want to say. People always ask you, "How did you keep faithful?" I believe in God. I believed in God, and, believe it or not, I took it day by day. I always felt that today would be the day. I felt that someone would come forward eventually and I would be free. So I took it day by day. I didn't know it was going to take 16 years, but it did. But that's how I held on. I took it day by day. I thought, well, today could be the day, today could be the day. I always knew that I was going to be free. I never had any doubts about it, even though I know their intentions were to kill me. But I never really thought that I was going to meet death -- not that way. Because I felt, why would God save me and then have Man kill me? So I just never believed that that was going to happen.

Again I'm grateful to God that I'm here today and I just want to encourage those who are here today and wondering about the death penalty. I just want to encourage you if you're against it or you're thinking about being against it, that's the right decision -- because it's wrong. No one here has the right to determine who lives or dies. That's God's business. What we can do is try to help people, try to have a sensitive heart, and be forgiving. And so that's why I want to encourage you to be against the death penalty, and you're doing the right thing so I thank you.