My friend Richard Wanke will be tried for the murder of attorney Greg Clark in Rockford’s most sensational courtroom drama perhaps ever. Trial is in Room 487 of the Winnebago County Courthouse with Judge Rosemary Collins presiding.

Attorney Clark, was shot dead on the sidewalk of his home Feb. 6, 2008, in the middle of a severe snowstorm.

Jury selection will begin February 21, 2017.

Greg Clark was a long-time private practice attorney. Rockford’s legal community was rightfully shocked at this brutal murder. They expected an effective investigation and successful prosecution. The proper functioning of our legal system seems to demand this whenever a prominent or well-liked citizen is a victim of violence, because anything less seems unfair to us.

Yet, when sensational murders of prominent citizens put tremendous pressure on police, police officials sometimes make the mistake of rushing to judgement, of targeting the first suspect they uncover. 

I question whether the state has any substantial forensic evidence to hold my friend, Richard Wanke, accountable for Clark’s death. Prosecutors appear to be relying on the questionable eyewitness reports from a blizzard-plagued day eight years ago; and over the passage of time, witnesses become unavailable and their memories less reliable. The one person in charge of the entire investigation in 2008, Greg Lindmark, committed suicide in February 2015, and is no longer even available to answer any of our questions about the direction in which he led the entire investigation from day one. 

The State maintains that it is most reasonable to assume that Clark was a target and that he was killed him by one of his criminal clients. Yet, attorney Greg Clark had a general law practice and represented mostly civil clients. Is it reasonable for the police to assume that a client of Clark’s in a criminal case killed Clark, when statistics show that violence in murders such as his are more likely to arise from family members, friends, or even from clients in more contentious disputes such as divorce or family cases? Richard Wanke fits their bill because he was a criminal client of Clark’s who lost a trial shortly before in 2007. The State alleges that his relationship with Clark was antagonistic enough to cause him to kill him.

Richard was quickly arrested the night of Clark’s death, and was held but not charged. Instead, six months later he was sentenced to 14 years for the theft of a laptop computer that belonged to a Rockford College art professor. No one else was charged with Clark’s murder for six years as the police continued their investigation of the murder. If the police evidence was that clear against Richard, then why this delay? Prosecutors didn’t charge Richard with the crime until April 2014. Was there any new evidence, or is the state going with the evidence they have had for all these years? After the indictment, Richard’s lawyer stated that the police and State showed that no new evidence had been collected.

The State’s story is that Richard had complained about Clark’s representation in his criminal case, and that this motivated him afterward to kill Clark on 2/6/08. Can we believe this? The defense will undoubtable point out that losing a trial seldom causes people to murder their attorney, and that there were other people who knew Clark who may have had better motive to kill him but who were not investigated by police in their rush to judgement.

What will happen at this trial remains to be seen. However, as a long-time friend of Richard Wanke’s I’ve never known him to be a violent person. Instead, I know him to be a level-headed and intelligent human being who worked to resolve problems and to help others. He ran the Peace Store (as a volunteer) on Seventh Street and was a vegetarian who was very involved in community festivals like Block 5 and On The Waterfront. He is a talented artist who can draw wonderfully and was curator of the Ethnic Heritage Museum, In 2008, he was busy editing the newsletter for Stateline Jazz Society, leading a weekly writer’s workshop, and working with the local Mac user group, fixing computers for schools, and fixing computers for friends. He was never known to be physically aggressive or to use a weapon. I know of so many instances over of years when Richard came up with ideas for others and helped them out on projects for free. I also know him to be too sensible to expect that killing anyone after would help him out in any way. I do not believe he killed Clark. 

Also, anybody with any brains knows that if you are going to kill your attorney, it makes more sense to do it before trial or from prison and not before sentencing when that deed will likely add years to any sentence you receive. Richard is intelligent enough to know that and has shown enough patience in working thru the criminal justice system to show that he could never lose his temper enough to become violent.

Richard Wanke’s situation and prosecution has been a dilemma for our community from the start; a question of impartiality. Do our local police conduct investigations well when under major community pressure? Do our prosecutors make the right decisions when the victim is a member of the legal community and someone they know? Can and should our local public defenders have to grapple with the loss of one of their own and then have to turn around and adequately represent the one defendant who is charged with committing this crime. Richard Wanke lacks the money to hire high-priced defense attorneys and so the Public Defender is charged to defend him in this case. Public defender, Nick Zimmerman, has a tough job and lacks the type of money and resources from outset of the State’s Attorney. The State’s case against Richard appears to be weak, but only his trial will show us how well our legal system really works.

Charles Worboys is a Rockford resident.

Note: the remarks and contents, as posted above, are the only accurate version of this article.

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