Madison Hobley Speaks Out

Will He Be The 14th Innocent Man Freed From Death Row?

Madison Hobley
By: Julien Ball

Madison Hobley should be the fourteenth man freed from Illinois death row. Although the state of Illinois has no credible evidence left against him, Madison has been on death row since 1987.

Prosecutors have been ordered by a judge to come to court prepared in November when a hearing will be held into questions about the unraveling evidence in the case. This upcoming court date has galvanized Madison's supporters, who have held a series of activities to publicize the injustices of his case.

Madison is one of the Death Row 10, a group of African American men who were tortured by former Chicago police commander Jon Burge and his detectives. Now, Madison and the rest of the Death Row 10 are fighting for their lives, and they are speaking out for themselves via "Live from Death Row" events organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

On September 8, nearly 80 people attended a "Live from Death Row" to hear Madison tell his own story via telephone hookup at The Hot House, a club in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood.

David Byrd, Madison's cousin, opened up the evening by playing saxophone. Next, exonerated Illinois death row inmate Ronald Jones told the audience his own story -- how he spent nearly 17 years on death row before DNA evidence cleared his name. Some of those years he spent with Madison at Menard Correctional Facility, where they became friends.

"We used to sit in the yard," said Ronald, "and we wondered when we'd get out. I was blessed. I just happened to get out before Madison. We need to make him number 14."

Following Ronald, David Bates told the audience that he was only 17 years old when Burge tortured him into giving a false confession. Although he wasn't given the death sentence, David spent nearly 11 years wrongfully convicted behind bars.

David asked members of the audience to put themselves in the shoes of Madison's mom -- and try to imagine the pain she must feel as someone who nurtured Madison from the time he was inside her womb. Other speakers included Madison's sister, Robin, and Louva Bell, the mother of Death Row 10 member Ronnie Kitchen.

When Madison's call from Cook County Jail came in, the audience greeted him by chanting "Free Madison Hobley!" The room then became quiet as Madison recounted his horrific story of injustice.

In January 1987, Madison was sentenced to death for setting a fire that killed his wife, infant son and five other people. The only physical evidence used to convict Madison was a gas can the police found in the gutted building. The police claimed that Madison used this can to start the fire. But expert analysis conducted by Channel 5 News shows no fire damage on the can, even though the blaze consumed the entire building. Additionally, fingerprint tests conducted at the time of the original trial were inconclusive. But these results were never handed over to the defense.

Police also claim that Madison signed a confession. But during the trial, officers were unable to produce this confession. Unbelievably, they claimed that it had been discarded because it had gotten wet in the rain! Police did try to torture a confession from Madison. They beat, kicked and suffocated him with a typewriter bag. But Madison never confessed, and he has maintained his innocence from the beginning.

At the Live from Death Row, Madison urged everyone in the audience to come to his next court hearing -- which has now been postponed to November 20 at Cook County Courthouse. Before the telephone call ended, Madison joined with others to sing "Happy Birthday" to his mother and his wife, who were also in the audience.

Barely a week after the Live from Death Row, the Campaign held a benefit concert in support of Madison with the reggae band Oversoul, whose lead singer and saxophonist is Madison's cousin David Byrd. The September 16 performance came just days after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, events that often seemed to overshadow other political issues. But more than 30 people gathered to eat, listen to Oversoul's jazzified reggae and promote the cause of justice.

Madison's family, his church and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty are committed to building a campaign to win Madison's freedom. We plan to pack the courtroom on November 20 -- and in the meantime, we'll keep up the pressure!