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Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Blue and White Cap -- August 30, 2012

Yesterday, I met a prisoner who told me a long yarn about a blue and white cap. The story and how it may cause him to be freed after 17 years behind bars made me highly skeptical. Many prisoners lie or embellish their criminal convictions or appeals. Some of these men are so desperate for a glimmer of hope they believe in law or court rulings which do not exist, are misinterpreted, or inapplicable to their case. I tended to believe this man was one of them and just a couple of hours ago while watching television news I was proven correct. The tale of the criminal statute and the blue and white cap were false. However, I also learned that despite his lies, Alprentiss Nash was innocent and will be released tomorrow. His convictions for the 1995 home invasion and 1st degree murder of Leon Stroud were being dropped by the Cook County State's Attorney. This time tomorrow, Nash will be a free man while I am in my cell still puzzled by the story of the blue and white cap.

My mother visited me yesterday and once again I addressed with her the need for a private investigator to aid in my appeal. My attorney is of the opinion the work will be redundant and not refute the prosecutor's theory of accountability. I was convicted based on the testimony of one interrogating officer who claimed I admitted to being told by my roommate he intended to kill the victim and I then lent him my car. The roommate has already given a sworn affidavit that he did not borrow my car on the day in question, and his former wife testified to the grand jury that I left the apartment that afternoon in my own vehicle. However, the latter testimony, like other witnesses who place my car 50 miles from the crime scene were available for my trial, and cannot be used now in an actual innocence petition. Their statements can only be used to support the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel which the prosecutor will argue for dismissal on technical grounds. The States Attorney's office does not care about truth or justice only maintaining convictions. My appeal must be so overwhelming in supporting law and evidence, the judge has no choice but to grant it. My attorney may think there is enough to proceed, however, it is not her life at stake. I cannot leave any stone unturned.

After my visit, I was waiting with a group of prisoners to be strip searched. There was a bald black man standing next to me talking with the sergeant. He spoke about how one of his daughters had come to see him and he was impressed she was going to attend college. The man only knew his daughter as a toddler, just like many prisoners here who have children that have grown up while they have been incarcerated. I did not really care to overhear the banter of the man next to me until he mentioned how he had a court date the following day and may be released. This caused me to ask him what type of appeal he had submitted and then how long the court process had taken. He told me he submitted a successive post conviction appeal based on actual innocence in 2007. I questioned that he may be freed, but I believed he was far along in the appellate process and because of this was curious about his legal experience and issues. Possibly, they could be helpful to me.

In the holding cage, prisoners waited a long time to be escorted back to their cell houses. One of the men who sat next to me on a wooden bench along the wall of the narrow holding cage was the same excitable man who claimed to have a strong possibility of being released from prison. He was not at a loss for words and continued talking about how he had been a victim of Jon Burge. Earlier he had told the sergeant about an interrogation room at area 5 police headquarters in Chicago which had concealed electric wires. These wires were behind a radiator and a loose brick in the wall. From what he said, suspects were zapped with them in order to coerce them to confess. Some men even had the wires applied to their testicles. Even if police had used medieval tactics of torture on me, I thought I would still not confess to murder. Although everyone may not have the same tolerance for pain and strength of will, I tend to believe many of these claims of false confessions are false. Even if true, I look down on them for not having any fortitude. Gang members who act tough but then I learn were squeezed by police, get even less sympathy from me.

I asked the man next to me if the new evidence of Jon Burge torturing suspects was what allowed him to advance his appeal based on actual innocence. No, he said. He filed his appeal claiming evidence left at the crime scene, if tested by modern DNA technology, would demonstrate he was innocent. According to the prisoner, a blue and white cap was left by the killer a couple of feet from the victim. In his appeal, he requested that the hat be tested, but the prosecutor claimed the evidence had gone missing. I asked, "Then how did he intend to prove his innocence?" He said he did not have to. The state was mandated by law to preserve the evidence and because they did not, they must free him. This was a preposterous claim. I have been incarcerated nearly two decades and have studied the law and never heard of such a statute. I also have had communications with several attorneys about the blood found in my co-defendant's car. They all have told me I will have to hope the police preserved the evidence.

The idea the court would simply let a convicted murderer, who I assumed made a signed confession, go free without proving his innocence was absurd. There are many people who have the perception there are all types of technicalities convicts can use to free themselves. However, this is a great misconception. The burden is on convicts to prove their innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt, and technicalities of law are predominantly used by the prosecutor to obstruct justice or at the minimum to prevent an issue from being heard on its merits. Despite how I ridiculed the man, he insisted he was correct and began to cite court rulings and a 1961 statute. Illinois criminal law has been rewritten several times since 1961. Even the state's constitution was rewritten in 1970. According to 1961 law, I could not have even been tried as an accountable party unless the principle was first convicted.

The man stood firm on the issue and even three bystanders listening were persuaded by him. I was not going to argue the matter and cared little if they all were ignorant. Thus, I went back to the blue and white cap. I asked how the cap was connected to him and the murder? I am always the devil's advocate and think about appeals from the perspective of a prosecutor. The prosecutor was definitely going to argue the cap was meaningless and had no probative value. The man said a few people had testified to seeing him wearing a blue and white cap before the murder. He also said the prosecutor argued that when he fled the crime scene, the hat flew back off his head. The man had a shaven head and I asked him, "What was the possibility any DNA was left on the cap?" He told me hair was not needed to conduct a DNA test, and just skin cells or sweat could identify a person. Regardless, I said, "Possibly the hat had not been worn long enough or was worn by multiple people." At this skepticism, he asked to borrow the cap being worn by the person sitting on the other side of me. With the hat in hand, he put it to his head and then away. He said, "Just by trying on a hat DNA from skin cells will be left behind and there are methods lab technicians can isolate various different DNA strands. This I was aware of, but I was not certain enough skin cells would be shed and would not degrade or be lost after 15 or 20 years.

While talking to the man about the possible probative value of the missing hat, he mentioned another surprising detail. He told me he asked for and received photos of the crime scene. In the photos, the cap was not blue and white, but black. I asked him if it was possible the photos had been altered and he said an expert had reviewed them and came to the conclusion there was no distortion of color or tampering. I then asked him if a blue and white cap was identified in court and submitted into evidence. He said yes, and was puzzled himself when he received the crime scene photographs.

Before we left to go back to the quarter units, the prisoner I met asked me for my cell number so he could send me the statute he was talking about which mandated the police to preserve all evidence. I told him, "If you cannot remember, just give it to a law clerk who knows who I am." His confidence in the law made me question my own. What if he was correct and I was mistaken? Then the issue of whether the material taken from my co-defendant's car was kept was irrelevant. In fact, it would be better if they lost it because I do not know if it is the victim's blood or not. The blood type is the same but it could still be anyone's. My co-defendant told me in the county jail that the blood was his own, but then again, my co-defendant has said a lot of things which ended up being false.

While standing in line in the hallway, I began to think about the polygraph test my co-defendant took after his arrest. About 5 to 10 pages contain questions and answers from him pertaining to the Palatine Massacre. In it, Faraci told the examiner he was driving in the northwest suburban town of Palatine when I told him to pull over at a Brown's Chicken and Pasta restaurant. According to Faraci's story, I told him to wait in the car and I was going in to get some take-out. Not long afterward he claims to have heard gun shots and screams coming from inside the building. I returned to the car and told him to take off because I had just robbed the place, Faraci's story continued. I never knew my co-defendant had ever said he was the driver and at the restaurant himself. I thought only his ex-wife had made up this tale and he had only made up stories of how I admitted to committing the mass murder. My mother had been digging through the 40 boxes of discovery materials and had just told me on our visit about it. Ironic, I had asked him about the story I had heard reported on television news while in Cook County Jail and he claimed that was just his crazy and stupid wife who said those things to police. Then later while at trial, he boasted he was "going to get one over on McKay" by slipping into his testimony that he had passed the lie detector test, although he had not. Evidence of polygraph tests are inadmissible in Illinois' courts and the prosecutor could not impeach him. The jury would thus be led to believe he was telling the truth.

I was aware great advances had been made in identifying people through trace amounts of DNA. However, I was still skeptical that skin cells definitely would have been left on a hat, especially after 17 years. Outside the hallway, the escorting guard, I, and the prisoner who was sitting on the other side of me in the holding cage casually walked back to the cell house while discussing the blue and white cap. The guard seemed very knowledgeable about forensics and told me it was very probable DNA evidence was still on the hat many years later. He described in detail the evolving science and how DNA could be extracted from skin cells. He said I would be surprised how much the human body sheds its epidermis and the vast majority of the dust I find in my cell was actually accumulated skin cells.

Regardless if there was probative evidence in the missing cap, I still questioned a law which mandated the state to preserve evidence and court rulings which released prisoners where it had not. While in the cell house waiting cage, I saw Steve at the front of his cell. Steve was once a paralegal and for a while worked at the prison law library. I asked him if he had ever heard of a statute or any case law backing up what the man I met in the visiting room had said. Steve, like me, never heard of any such thing. He asked me for the statute and case citation. I told him 725 ILCS 5/116-4 but that it was from a 1961 statute. When I mentioned "1961," he said that is a long time ago and even if it once existed, it may not anymore. However, he said the prosecutor typically keeps evidence just in case a convict wins a new trial so they can present it. I asked if he knew where I was going with this and he did. I did not want a hundred inmates to overhear me speak about the blood evidence in my co-defendant's car. Possibly, it is a redundant precaution or desire for privacy, considering I write in detail about my case and life online for the entire world to read.

The guard who escorted me back to the cell house was the same who unlocked the sliding barred door to my cell. I was impressed with the guard's depth of knowledge about forensics and asked him if he was studying to be a crime scene investigator or police officer. He told me no, he was just a science buff. It was obvious the guard had not been working long in the IDOC and he did not fit in amongst the others. I asked him what in the world made him chose to take a job as a "turn-key". He informed me he was a science teacher but changed employment because being a guard had a much higher salary. It was sad to hear this. Society values locking people up more so than educating them. What a waste of talent and human resources I thought, and I began to brood about how much clout the guards' union had to keep lavish wages, benefits, and jobs despite the massive fiscal problems of the state. The union was even able to win a court injunction to stop the closing of Dwight and Tamms along with other IDOC facilities. The victory probably only will be a delay to give guards' representatives more time to negotiate better terms and employment benefits. However, it is symbolic of their power.

Today, I had temporarily forgotten about the man accused of leaving behind a blue and white cap at a murder scene and went out to the small yard. For the first half hour, I ran laps around the perimeter of the fence at a fast pace dodging people and an occasional basketball. It was crowded in the small area and at times I came close to running into people or catching my gym shoes in the twisted and bent cyclone fencing. After every 10 laps, I would stop to where an old biker was and have him raise his hands at various positions so I could throw punches and high kicks. When Anthony was done playing a full court game of basketball, I ended my cardio workout by playing him a one-on-one game. The new medication I have been given for my lower back injury was not as good but I was able to procure a couple of ibuprofen and was not feeling too bad.

After defeating Anthony on the court, we sat in the corner up against the fence. It was 90 degrees outside and the sun was strong. I sat away from it and was glad I brought out my blue cap. That reminded me of the man I met yesterday and I spoke to Anthony about it. He, like Steve and me, thought even if there was a statute mandating the preservation of evidence, courts would not simply release prisoners where they had not. Despite how none of us had heard about such a circumstances before, I was still going to research it at the law library. The blood in my co-defendant's car could be very valuable to my claim of actual innocence on appeal and I would not want to be thwarted if the prosecutor claimed the evidence had disappeared.

After returning from yard, I learned C House was to be the last to be brought into the chow hall for dinner. I had not eaten anything since breakfast and thus made myself some peanut butter sandwiches to tide me over. While I ate, I turned on my television and watched the late afternoon news. To my astonishment, I thought I saw the same man I had met on a visit yesterday. It was a county jail mugshot and the reporter spoke about how 37-year-old Alprentiss Nash was to be released from prison after serving 17 years for a home invasion murder. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was dropping the charges after DNA tests were conducted on a SKI MASK left at the crime scene identified a different man. There was no blue and white cap. Apparently, the man had lied to me.

What was the purpose of fabricating such a fanciful story? If he did not want to tell me details of his case, he could have just said simply he was back in court due to DNA testing. He also could have told me it was none of my business or made up a simple lie. I did not compel him to answer any questions. I was just curious how it may apply to my own case. It was him, in fact, who rambled on about the blue and white cap and interwove an intricate story of lies. He did not at all seem like he did not want to talk about it, and he spoke fast and animated. He seemed contrarily excited and eager to talk about his case and the purported statute which mandated the prosecutor to preserve evidence. At times, I wanted him to shut up but he kept on talking.

I began to think I made a mistake. Possibly there were two bald black men who looked alike and had court dates in Chicago. I never looked at his name tag and there is a belief that people of different races have difficulty identifying one another. I turned to NBC and then CBS news. Time and again, I saw his mug shot and a short segment about the case. Alprentiss Nash, convicted of the April 30, 1995 murder of Leon Stroud at his south side home was to be released from prison after DNA on a ski mask identified another yet unidentified man. This was the first case States Attorney Anita Alveraz had dropped since she created the "Conviction Integrity Unit". The attorney representing Nash, Kathleen Zellner, was briefly interviewed and I was again angry and puzzled. I had asked the man who he had representing him on appeal and he listed off five different lawyers including Sam Adams, Jr., but never did he mention Zellner. I asked him why he went through so many attorneys and he gave me a reason for each one. The reason he said Sam Adams ceased to represent him was due to him not having time because he was working on former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's trial.

A prisoner who goes by the name "Spooncake" happened to come to the bars of my cell and was talking to my cellmate. He mentioned that he was at one time Nash's cellmate. I asked him if he was from B House and gave him a description of the man I had met after my visit. He told me he had been transferred to Menard and did not think it was him, but he could have been here while he went to and from court in Cook County. I told Spooncake his story about the blue and white cap. He did not know why he would lie. I began to think this may be the type of personality that confesses to a murder he did not commit. If I had met Nash, he may have made a long detailed confession without being electrocuted, tortured, or abused in any way. Did this man lose 17 years of his life because he liked to talk nonsense?

Before Spooncake left my cell I asked him what the status of his case was. He told me the prosecutor had argued the U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbidding mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles was not retroactive and the Illinois District Court agreed. This was outrageous. Everyone knew the ruling applied to all 2,000 juveniles across the U.S. Numerous legal experts on TV and newspapers had weighed in on the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court majority although not specifically saying it was retroactive, said it violated the U.S. Constitution. Anything which violated the Constitution was void and had to be remanded. Juvenile offenders had to be resentenced. Anita Alvarez may be tooting her horn caring about justice, being "proactive," and creating the Conviction Integrity Unit, but she only released Alprentiss Nash because she knew the court eventually would overturn his conviction. The Cook County prosecutor still was obstructing justice and fighting wrongful convictions where she could. I told Spooncake to take his case all the way up to the federal courts, and he said his attorneys had already appealed the decision but it looked like he and the 100 or so other juveniles in Illinois will have a long fight. This I only know all too well.

Update:  Months later I met the person who I thought was Alprentiss Nash. I immediately knew I had made a mistake because Nash was freed. The two men looked almost identical and I had to check his ID card to be sure. Yes, I was wrong and the doppelganger began to tell me again about the mysterious blue and white cap.