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Will former cop get new trial?

By Starla Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Jan 22, 2014 - 11:58:13 PM

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L-R: Thomas Muhammad, Student National Director of Protocol for the Nation of Islam, Atty. Benjamin Crump, Rosalind Morgan and Bishop Connie Crawford-Bansa. Behind Bishop Bansa is Kareem Ali, activist and director of the Free Howard Morgan Campaign, and supporters. Photo: Starla Muhammad

(FinalCall.com) - CHICAGO - Oral arguments were recently presented in front of three appellate court judges who will decide if former Chicago police officer and railroad patrolman, Howard Morgan, will get a new trial.

Mr. Morgan, 62 was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a conviction stemming from a 2005 confrontation with four White Chicago police officers that left Mr. Morgan hospitalized with 28 bullet wounds. Mr. Morgan, who is Black, was hospitalized six months and underwent several surgeries.

High profile attorney Benjamin Crump attended the mid-January hearing along with Mr. Morgan’s wife Rosalind, family members and community supporters.

“The bullets on the street that hit Mr. Morgan were terrible but the bullets that hit Mr. Morgan in the court of justice was far worse, not only to Mr. Morgan but to society as a whole,” Atty. Crump told The Final Call immediately following proceedings Jan. 14 inside the Michael A. Bilandic Building in downtown Chicago.

According to police, Mr. Morgan began indiscriminately firing his gun at officers after they pulled him over for a traffic violation Feb. 21, 2005. Mr. Morgan and others dispute those assertions, saying the officers were the aggressors. Mr. Morgan identified himself as a fellow law enforcement officer, did not fire his gun, and his only crime was driving while Black his supporters argue. Two officers sustained minor injuries and none were charged with crimes.

Mr. Morgan was tried and acquitted in 2007 for aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm. He was retried and convicted in 2012 of one count of aggravated battery with a firearm and four counts of attempted murder. Mr. Morgan, who had no prior criminal record or arrests, was sentenced April 5, 2012 and is currently incarcerated at Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Ill. 

Calling it an injustice, Atty. Crump added, “if this could happen to him and he’s a police officer, God help the little Black teen who’s walking on the street or driving while Black.”

The courtroom was packed, every seat filled and others standing along the walls as Assistant States Attorney Marci Jacobs and Mr. Morgan’s attorney, Lester Finkle, made opposing arguments in front of Justices William H. Taylor II, Robert Gordon and Margaret McBride.

The crux of Mr. Finkle’s arguments was his client’s conviction should be overturned and a new trial granted because the jury was not allowed to hear key points, including the fact that Mr. Morgan had been acquitted of multiple counts in his first trial.

Additionally, during selection of the second jury, the court did not allow questions on potential juror opinions or thoughts on police conduct or racial bias of police officers.

“This case is not just about police misconduct, it reeks police misconduct,” Mr. Finkle told the judicial panel.

Mr. Finkle had four arguments for appeal in the briefs submitted to the court but was only allowed time to present two as he and the State’s Attorney were told to “hurry it along” by Judge McBride. The defense lawyer told The Final Call it could take two to six months for the appellate court to rule. Only two of three judges need to agree.

An audio recording of the People v. Morgan Jan. 14 proceedings can be heard at http://www.state.il.us/court/Media/Appellate/1st_District.asp.

Mr. Finkle said one of the things that struck him when he first looked at Mr. Morgan’s case is that the officers testified that they heard his client identify himself as a police officer.

“He’s a middle aged man, about a block from his home, saying that he’s a police officer and yet somehow he got shot 28 times. I mean to me that’s just … there’s no explanation that makes any sense. It’s just unconscionable that that could happen,” Mr. Finkle told The Final Call.

“We’ve got to pray that they (judges) heard the words of the appellate lawyer for Mr. Morgan, to make sure that this inappropriate stuff is not allowed to become the law of the land and if it’s so, God help the people of Illinois,” said Atty. Crump.

Mrs. Morgan, who has been fiercely supportive of her husband, said after proceedings she hoped the appellate court judges would consider the previous acquittals when making their decision.

“I feel that today is a blessed outcoming and I know we will be victorious, and I stand on that faith,” Mrs. Morgan said. She and her family are holding up as well as they can despite the circumstances, added Mrs. Morgan. She spoke with her husband the night before the court proceedings.  

“I have to encourage him constantly and remind him that victory awaits us at the end of this tunnel.”

Several community activists, advocates and 1690 WVON-AM radio personality Cliff Kelley arrived to show support before proceedings began.

Supporters hope the presence of Atty. Crump leads to more national attention on the case.

A rally organized by Atty. Crump and others is scheduled for Chicago on Jan. 31, one day before Mr. Morgan’s 63rd birthday. The theme is “Free Howard Morgan Birthday Party: A Birthday Party for Justice.”

For more information on Mr. Morgan’s case and the rally, visit www.freehowardmorgan.com.

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