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Retired Cops Housing Brother On Bail In 1989 Double Murder

Former Chicago officers Sandra and Richard Wooten have a room in their South Side home for her brother James Gibson, who awaits a retrial.

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Sandra Wooten

Sandra Wooten, who retired from the Chicago Police Department last year: “He’s just like a baby coming out and learning to walk again.”

Chip Mitchell

Updated Friday, April 19, 11:30 a.m.

Two retired Chicago police officers are housing a loved one released from jail Thursday night after spending nearly three decades behind bars for a double-murder conviction.

The former cops, Sandra and Richard Wooten, set up a bedroom in their South Side home for her brother James Gibson, 52, whose conviction and life sentence were thrown out by an Illinois appellate court, leading to his release on bond.

“He’s just like a baby coming out and learning to walk again,” Sandra Wooten said.

Gibson took his first bath and slept in a comfortable bed for the first time in 29 years, Wooten said.

Friday’s tasks include learning how to use a cell phone and visiting with relatives who have traveled from as far away as Kentucky, she said.

Gibson was 23 years old in 1989 when he gave a statement to Chicago detectives that put him near a South Side automobile-repair garage where insurance agent Lloyd Benjamin and his client Hunter Wash, who owned the garage, had been murdered.

The detectives worked under Jon Burge, the late commander linked to dozens of police torture cases. Gibson claimed the detectives tortured the statement out of him. After years of legal struggle, an Illinois appellate court ordered him a new trial.

On Thursday, Judge Alfredo Maldonado set Gibson’s bond at $20,000, required him to post $2,000 of that sum and assigned him to electronic monitoring pending the retrial.

Sheriff’s officers left Gibson in an ankle bracelet Thursday around 11 p.m. at the Wootens’ three-bedroom house in the Burnside neighborhood, according to Sophia Ansari, a spokeswoman for the sheriff.

Gibson joined more than 2,100 individuals, most of them pretrial defendants, in the sheriff’s electronic-monitoring program, Ansari said. He needs permission to leave the Wooten residence for doctor’s appointments, job interviews or any other reason, she said.

As Gibson grows accustomed to life outside prison, Wooten predicted a lot of tears — and not just the joyful kind.

“He hasn’t had a chance to grieve, so he has to go through that grieving part — of losing his mother, his brother, his son while behind the prison walls,” Wooten said, referring to relatives who have died over the years.

Sandra Wooten retired last June after 30 years with the Police Department.

Richard Wooten, who retired from the department in 2015, tried to unseat Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward, in February, but finished third with less than 19 percent of the vote.

The special prosecutors who are expected to retry Gibson did not return messages seeking comment.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.

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