Prosecutors who dropped double-murder charges against a Chicago man who spent nearly three decades behind bars in the case are promising to fight his planned bid for a certificate that would pave the way for Illinois compensation and strengthen his expected lawsuit against the city.
“We will use all available means to defeat” James Gibson’s expected petition for an innocence certificate, Assistant Special Prosecutor Michael J. O’Rourke said.
An Illinois appellate court last month threw out Gibson’s conviction for the 1989 killings of Lloyd Benjamin and Hunter Wash on the South Side.
The ruling followed years of legal struggle by Gibson, who claims that Chicago detectives under the disgraced late Cmdr. Jon Burge coerced him into giving a statement that put him near the murder scene.
Robert Milan, the special prosecutor appointed for Burge-related torture claims, told Cook County Judge Alfredo Maldonado on Friday that his team was dropping the charges but made clear he still believes Gibson was guilty of the crime.
O’Rourke told WBEZ that one witness had died and others were “not coming forward and basically signing on to the testimony they gave 30 years ago.”
He called those witnesses “uncooperative.”
Joel Brodsky, an attorney for Gibson, mocked that characterization: “They’re uncooperative because they’re not repeating the lies that are in the police reports.”
Brodsky argued the special prosecutors would lack authority to oppose an innocence certificate.
But O’Rourke said the prosecutors have a responsibility to Chicago taxpayers, who could be on the hook if Gibson brings a federal lawsuit claiming the city violated his civil rights.
“That’s the reason that those certificates are sought and that’s one of the reasons we are not going to agree to any issuance of any certificate,” O’Rourke said. “We will oppose it.”
The innocence certificate is also necessary for Gibson to seek compensation for his time behind bars from the state Court of Claims.
Gibson, 52, was released April 18 from Cook County Jail after his transfer from Stateville Correctional Center, an Illinois prison.
He is staying at the South Side home of his sister and brother-in-law. Both are retired Chicago police officers.