“There’s a lot of pressure. It’s phony. It’s not real. People think you going to shower them with gifts and all these things. It’s dangerous.”
HOWARD JOSEPH, the real estate attorney who helped Antione win his freedom in 2002, wasn’t finished with his case.
“When I get him out, we’re going to sue the city for millions of dollars,” Mr. Joseph had told his son Rick.
Thirty-four days after Antione walked out of Cook County Jail, Mr. Joseph filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Chicago and two police officers, alleging that they conspired to have Antione picked out of a lineup by coaching an eyewitness to identify him. Mr. Joseph also tried to hold them responsible for allegedly preventing another eyewitness, who could have cleared Antione as not being present at the shooting, from testifying at the trial. The third claim: Police had falsely arrested Antione under Illinois law because they lacked a warrant and probable cause.
Mr. Joseph was a few months shy of 77 when he filed the civil suit. He had moved his law practice from its Lakeview neighborhood office on Broadway to a spot on Lincoln further north. His office was full of antiques, furniture he had brought back to life over the years, having spent many weekends refinishing them in his garage.
Antione helped him clean and organize his new office space. Mr. Joseph never used a PC and conducted his law business on a typewriter. He maintained a haphazard filing system, folders stacked everywhere, and his office looked like a bomb went off in it. But he knew where everything was.
What he didn’t know was the statute of limitations had run out on Antione’s legal claims. Time-barred, the court said. He filed an appeal, but it was dismissed for lack of prosecution – meaning that Mr. Joseph didn’t file the follow-up documents necessary to keep the lawsuit going.
He was too busy trying out a separate lawsuit in Cook County in May 2003, one year after Antione’s release. The city’s lawyers shot back saying that in light of the federal lawsuit, the claims should be dismissed because they had already been denied.
It was a Catch-22 that Mr. Joseph tried to argue his way out of, appealing the case further. The court gave him a shot, considering the case even though it didn’t contain the proper format and citations. In January 2005, the three judges who decided the appeal, however, ended up ruling in favor of the defendants – the City of Chicago and the two police officers who investigated Antione’s case in 1990.
The judges offered no opinion on whether the police had indeed conspired against Antione or not. In their order, they explained they couldn’t grant the appeal because the facts of the case had already been argued before a different court. And they had lost.
It was nothing like those stories on the news. People would call Antione and tell him they had seen an exoneree on TV being awarded millions of dollars. Why couldn’t he do the same? When would he get his big payout?
“Man, he’s lucky,” Antione would tell them.
ANTIONE NEEDED A JOB.
He was sick of being dependent on other people for life’s basic necessities. Every bar of soap, bottle of mouthwash or pack of underwear that he needed someone to buy for him chipped away at his pride.
In the months following his release, he spent much of his time with his mom, shuttling her to and from their family doctor’s office as her health deteriorated. Kidney problems, they told him. Antione wanted to support her, his kids, himself.
A friend told him about a building management company that was looking to hire, and Antione put in his application. He told the hiring managers about his wrongful conviction and showed them his court documents. Within a few days, they told Antione the job was his, and he got fitted for a uniform. It was a Friday. It was a good day.
By Monday, he was called back into the office. They told him they couldn’t hire him after all. It was his background, which still turned up murder and attempted murder.
“That was one of the first serious cuts I took, you know? Not being able, then, to get a job,” Antione says.
Without any training, programs or resources from the state to help him, Antione tried to help himself. He went to find a man named Steven Garth who ran a construction company. Some of Antione’s buddies were already working for him on big projects around Chicago. Antione put on his work boots and belt and waited around the project site for his chance.
“Why are you standing there?” Garth asked when he first saw him.
“Man, cuz I need a job, you know, and I’m going to stand here until somebody hire me because I know there is something here I can do.”
Garth left. Antione stood and waited. It rained.
When Garth came back, he told Antione he would give him a shot. Come in Monday.
On Antione’s first day, a supervisor let him know this was his one shot: “If you don’t work out, you don’t work out.”
It worked out.
“I learned how to build a scaffold on the job. I learned how to safety check a scaffold on the job. I learned how to stack bricks on the job,” Antione says. “I wanted to become an asset to a company.”
He worked on Chicago’s Millennium Park, the $475 million project that started while Antione was in prison in 1997. The park sits on four feet of topsoil, beneath which is Styrofoam and other materials, a man-made foundation that keeps the park from collapsing. Antione helped lay the concrete, framing the ground. He worked on the concrete steps, slathering and smoothing until it held, upward.
Antione didn’t work on Millennium Park long enough to see its completion in 2004. He was moved to another project. Antione enjoyed the work, and it paid the bills for a few years until one day, he had to quit. No one made him except himself.
His mom needed a kidney.