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The funeral procession for Chicago Police Officer Clifton Lewis, who died on December 29, 2011.

Al Podgorski

Defense attorneys in a Chicago cop’s murder want prosecutors removed

Attorneys for the accused getaway driver in Chicago Police Officer Clifton Lewis’s 2011 murder are asking a judge to boot two Cook County prosecutors from the case, if not dismiss the charges altogether, due to alleged misconduct.

A motion Monday on behalf of the accused driver, Edgardo Colon, points to evidence that assistant state’s attorneys Andrew Varga and Nancy Adduci at times in 2012 and 2013 communicated with CPD detectives about the investigation using private email accounts. The filing accuses Varga and Adduci of trying to conceal cell tower records that, according to attorneys for Colon, show him miles from the shooting scene during the crime.

“The unlawful machinations of the [state’s attorney’s office] and the CPD have already cost Mr. Colon over 10 years of incarceration and a ‘stacked deck’ trial,” the motion says. “His counsel had no idea of the mountain of exculpatory evidence which had been hidden or destroyed, including a cell tower map — removed from the investigative file! — showing him three miles away from the shooting.”

Colon’s attorneys accused the prosecutors of using the private accounts to shield the material from requests under Illinois’ open records law.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office wouldn’t comment on the motion or why the prosecutors were emailing the detectives privately about a murder investigation, saying they “are unable to comment on pending litigation.”

This past spring, according to Monday’s motion, prosecutors “doubled down on their deliberate deception” by writing to defense attorneys that they could not find the missing records using their work email addresses — but not mentioning the private accounts they had been using with the detectives.

“I’ve searched my emails every way I can imagine,” Varga wrote in an email to defense attorneys this past March. “I can’t find anything. Those records must have come in before Nancy and I took the case over.”

‘Abysmal failure’ by the state

Officer Lewis was shot in a botched robbery while working a second job in a West Side convenience store.

A jury convicted Colon of charges including murder in 2017. But an Illinois appellate court in 2020 threw out Colon’s conviction because police questioned him after he said he wanted a lawyer. He was released on bond this past March.

Alexander Villa, one of two accused gunmen, was convicted in 2019 but remains unsentenced as he presses for a new trial.

The other alleged gunman, Tyrone Clay, has spent nearly 11 years in jail without any trial. In 2020, an appellate court affirmed a judge’s ruling that tossed his videotaped statements to police, finding he could not have waived his Miranda rights due to what his attorneys described as “limited intelligence and verbal comprehension.”

This fall, subpoenas from an attorney for Villa wrung loose thousands of pages of emails and attachments about an investigation, dubbed Operation Snake Doctor, that sought to take down a street gang blamed for the murder and build evidence against Villa, who was not initially charged.

Monday’s motion is the second from defense attorneys seeking sanctions for withheld evidence. The first motion, still pending, focuses on the Chicago Police Department and could put former police Supt. Garry McCarthy on the witness stand.

Cook County Judge Erica Reddick, who is presiding over the Colon and Clay cases, has scolded the prosecutors and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration several times this fall for withholding the Snake Doctor evidence.

Last week, a city attorney said some of the records come from a joint investigation with federal authorities and a release would violate federal grand jury secrecy.

Reddick ordered the sides to immediately seek a federal judge’s approval for the release. And she warned Lightfoot’s administration to turn over all other evidence by Monday.

That did not happen. At Monday’s hearing, city attorneys said lawyers for CPD and the U.S. attorney’s office are trying to determine which records are relevant to the murder case and which ones would need a federal judge’s approval for release.

That infuriated Reddick, who also heads the circuit court’s criminal division. The judge said it was “laughable” for government authorities “to be the guardians or determiners of what is and what is not relevant.” She called the delays “particularly egregious” given the length of time since the charges.

“This is an abysmal failure on the part of the state when it comes to acting within the bounds of what is required to prosecute matters,” Reddick said. “This is of grievous concern to the court.”

Villa’s case is before Judge James Linn. Last week, he quashed subpoenas in deference to federal prosecutors and warned lawyers seeking a new trial for Villa to prepare to make their case with evidence they’ve already uncovered.

Adduci has remained a prosecutor on all three cases even since her 2019 appointment to head the state’s attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, where she is in charge of identifying past felony convictions in which the defendant did not commit the offense. WBEZ reported last week on Foxx’s decision to put Adduci, who has spent her entire career in the state’s attorney’s office, in that post instead of bringing in an outsider with more independence.

Chip Mitchell reports on policing, public safety and public health. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1. Contact him at cmitchell@wbez.org.

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