Archive for the ‘The Causes of Wrongful Convictions’ Category


http://wglt.org/…/suspect-convictions-episode-4-true-crime-…

Suspect Convictions Episode 4: True-Crime Experts Give Case Fresh Look

  6 HOURS AGO

The alternative suspect in this case, Misook Wang, has a post-conviction petition in court herself alleging innocence for a murder she allegedly confessed to police about at the time. She’ll be in court in Bloomington, IL next week on Monday, November 20, 2017. There is sure to be a lot of court watchers present on behalf of Barton McNeil and others. You can read police interviews with Misook on freebart.org. Aphrodite Jones is correct in this episode. Misook by action and in interview comes across as very intense and unaware that her behavior and words are strange and off-balance.

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http://wglt.org/post/suspect-convictions-episode-3-does-modern-forensics-undercut-sex-assault-motive (Click here)

Scott Reeder and Willis Kern get caught up in this episode discussing the emotionally charged allegation that Christina McNeil was sexually abused before death. The sensationalism of his allegation would certainly have swayed anyone towards convicting Barton McNeil. Yet there was no DNA, no penetration; just a little redness, swelling, and slight blood found in connection with her body. Remember too that police initially regarded Christina’s death as natural. Was her body injured when examined or samples were taken? Body orifices swell after death & Chrisina‘s was nearing rigor mortis.

Prosecutors didn’t charge Barton McNeil with sexual assault, so it’s likely they knew the evidence wasn’t strong enough to support them doing so, but the allegation was used at his trial. Yet, no one, especially Christina’s conscientious mother Tita saw any signs of abuse. We think it’s most likely that Christina was not sexually abused before she died. Reeder and Willis should have discussed how prosecutors were even able to raise this claim or suggest it at trial and how the court allowed it. We think this claim has little credibility. It’s credible to believe that Christina was killed by someone; an intruder, or possibly Misook Knowlin. Suffocating her quietly is possible. It really stretches credibility to believe that the person who killed her also sexually abused her at the same time. Attention is focused on her parents, and we seriously doubt either had a motive to do so.  Hopefully Reeder and Willis will spend time discussing the latitude prosecutors have in raising at trial inflammatory issues like this and using them to convict on slim or no evidence.

More critical is what Reeder mentions happened to Christina’s body: that it was cremated before a defense pathologist could examine it & that the court and Barton’s lawyer both agreed to this.If Barton’s lawyer was a party to this, that supports Barton McNeil’s claim that his attorney failed to represent him properly. Basically, by not opposing immediate cremation and ensuring the pathologist inspected the body, Barton’s attorney allowed the “spoliation” (or destruction) of critical and potentially exculpatory evidence against Barton McNeil.


This is the 2nd episode of Scott Reeder’s Suspect Convictions Podcast detailing the 1998 Bloomington, IL murder case of 3-yr old Christina McNeil. Her father was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison. He is fighting for his exoneration with the help of the IL Innocence Project.

Suspect Convictions Episode 2 (Click on this link)

  NOV 3, 2017

GLT is partnering with the true crime podcast Suspect Convictions to explore the 1998 murder of 3-year-old Bloomington girl Christina McNeil.

Her father was convicted of the crime but has long maintained his innocence, claiming that an ex-girlfriend was the real killer—the same woman later convicted in a separate murder. New episodes air Fridays on GLT’s Sound Ideas. You can also subscribe to the podcast.

A simple window screen and some spider webs may be the clues that exonerate a convicted murderer.

Christina McNeil, 3, who was found dead in her father’s apartment.

Christina McNeil’s lifeless body was found in her father Barton’s Bloomington apartment on June 16, 1998. Barton McNeil argued that cuts in the window screen were proof that someone broke in, killed Christina and snuck out. A judge convicted him anyway, and Barton is now in prison for the crime.

McNeil’s conviction is the focus of Season 2 of Suspect Convictions, a joint reporting project between GLT and investigative journalist Scott Reeder. McNeil maintains his innocence and claims his ex-girlfriend is the real killer. McLean County prosecutors say the right man is behind bars.

The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP) has taken up McNeil’s case and is expected to file motions this fall in hopes of winning him a new trial. John Hanlon, IIP’s executive and legal director, said they’ll introduce new evidence that disproves the prosecution’s claim that Christina was sexually assaulted prior to her death, by showing that “artifacts” found on her body were not indicators of assault.

“This case is a priority for us for one reason, because we’re absolutely certain that Bart McNeil is innocent of this crime,” Hanlon said. “At the end of the day, a judge is going to be hard-pressed to say anything, but this was not a sexual assault situation.”

Episode 2 of Suspect Convictions, which debuted Nov. 3 on GLT, closely examines the window in the bedroom where 3-year-old Christina was killed.

McNeil told police the day of the murder he suspected his ex-girlfriend, Misook (Wang) Nowlin, snuck into his apartment and killed Christina. That theory has taken on new resonance after Nowlin was convicted in 2012 of killing her mother-in-law. Nowlin is currently serving a 55-year prison sentence. She could not be reached for comment.

Barton McNeil is serving his prison sentence at Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois.
CREDIT ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

Prosecutors claimed spider webs found on the window prove an intruder couldn’t have used that as an entrance, as that would’ve disrupted the webs. McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers’ office has reviewed the case and come to the same conclusion as his predecessor did: McNeil is guilty.

“As I read through it with an open mind and objectively, I became convinced that the conviction was correct,” said Mary Koll, an assistant state’s attorney in Chambers’ office. “I just think (the spider web) is one piece of the puzzle, and it’s one more thing that goes to the common-sense argument that what (McNeil is) suggesting happened here simply could not have.”

The existence of spider webs on the window when police investigated the crime scene doesn’t mean someone didn’t break in, said Todd Blackledge, a biology professor at the University of Akron who’s studied spider webs.

Certain spiders can spin webs relatively quickly, in as little as a half-hour, he said. Others take days.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity. I would not feel comfortable saying a spider web precludes the possibility that window screen was opened that night. I’d need more information,” Blackledge said.


  9 HOURS AGO

WGLT, Bloomington-Normal’s public media, is partnering with the popular true crime podcast Suspect Convictions to explore the 1998 murder of a 3-year-old Bloomington girl, Christina McNeil.

Barton McNeil was convicted of killing his daughter, Christina, but has long maintained his innocence. He says his ex-girlfriend was the real killer—the same woman who 13 years later was convicted in a second McLean County murder. Now serving a life sentence in a southern Illinois prison, McNeil is pursuing exoneration with help from the Illinois Innocence Project.

Season 2 of Suspect Convictions will focus on the McNeil case. Each episode of Suspect Convictions will be broadcast during GLT’s Sound Ideas every Friday at noon and 6 p.m., starting Oct. 27. The podcast will also be available through popular apps like Apple iTunes and Stitcher. Every episode and additional materials will first be available at WGLT.org.

Each episode of Suspect Convictions will be broadcast during GLT’s Sound Ideas every Friday at noon and 6 p.m., starting Oct. 27.

Suspect Convictions producer Scott Reeder will partner with GLT News Director Emeritus Willis Kern on Season 2. The show’s successful first season, chronicling a 1990 Quad Cities murder, was a joint production with WVIK Quad Cities 90.3 FM.

“Scott’s partnership with fellow public radio station WVIK in the Quad Cities for the show’s first season was a great success,” said GLT general manager R.C. McBride. “WGLT is the perfect home for this kind of in-depth journalism. I know our audience will look forward to hearing and reading the work, and I hope this platform provides an opportunity for the GLT news team’s work to find a new audience.”

Reeder is a veteran freelance journalist based in Springfield.

“After 30 years in the news business, I’m honored to work with a journalist of the caliber of Willis Kern. He is a man of integrity and skill,” Reeder said. “Together we will explore intricacies of the murder of Christina McNeil and provide our listeners with differing perspectives on the evidence. We hope to honor the memory of this precious, little girl and help ensure justice is done.”

GLT’s Sound Ideas, the station’s flagship newsmagazine show, airs at noon and 6 p.m. every weekday. It also streams at WGLT.org and is available on the NPR One app.

Suspect Convictions’ first season is available at SuspectConvictions.


“…The DeKalb County judge formally declared 77-year-old Jack McCullough innocent during a court hearing today. The certificate will allow McCullough to sue Illinois for damages for his wrongful conviction in Maria Ridulph’s killing.

A prosecutor concluded last year that evidence backed McCullough’s alibi that he had been 40 miles away when Maria disappeared. A judge agreed, ordering McCullough’s release after he had served four years of a life sentence.

McCullough said at a hearing last week that he wants justice. He says he’s been portrayed “as a monster” and that people still think he’s one…”

http://www.rrstar.com/news/20170412/judge-grants-innocence-certificate-in-1957-illinois-killing

McCullough is correct; even if he is able to collect damages from the State, a lot of people will still regard him as a monster.


Let’s review what’s happened at trial:

It’s undisputed that attorney Greg Clark was shot to death on February 6, 2008. At approximately 1:55 PM, he was outside his house on the corner of Oakforest Dr., and Sentinel Rd, in Rockford, using a snowblower to clear snow from sidewalk adjacent to his driveway. Someone came up to him, shot him three times in the back and left. Attorney Clark was on the ground and dead within minutes of being shot.

There was a lot of procedural testimony from first responders and police detectives about what happened after the shooting; who responded to what event, about their job responsibilities, chain-of-custody testimony, what everyone physically did at the murder scene and what evidence and witness reports detectives collected and who they spoke to. HOW DOES MOST OF THAT TESTIMONY MATTER?

IT DOESN’T! The only part of trial testimony that matters as to whether we have the truth of who killed attorney Greg Clark is the reliability of the State’s evidence which they present and allege that it connects Richard Wanke and Diane Chavez to the Greg Clark’s murder scene and then, ONLY BY IMPLICATION, to some involvement in Greg Clark’s murder. So, let’s look at what this evidence consists of:

FIRST: THE FORENSIC EVIDENCE

The State presented most of their prime physical evidence consisting mostly of clothing collected from attorney Greg Clark and suspect Richard Wanke on 2/6 – 2/7/08, phone logs, the 911 tape, an audio tape recording of 5/7/07, meeting between attorney Clark, Richard Wanke, and Diane Chavez, certain oral statements made in court at Richard’s Wanke 2006 burglary case both Clark and Wanke as documented in court transcripts, a photo of Diane Chavez’s ’98 Dodge Caravan, estimates of travel times and routes between Clark’s home and Wanke’s Rockford apartment, part of a gun strap found on the ground at the murder scene, computer address searches, gloves, State driver records, and vehicle search results, the contents of two photo line-ups, and bullet casings .

Forensic experts testified at length about the relevant DNA, fingerprint, gunshot residue, and comparison testing they did on the bullet casings, clothing, gun strap, gloves, and van. The expert testimony is only relevant in showing that the same weapon, a gun, was used in two different attacks on attorney Greg Clark. One occurred on November 7, 2007, and the other on 2/6/08.
The State maintained that although the rest of it’s forensic testing results were negative, that they are also inconclusive That’s trying to put a good spin on it.

Bottom-line

The State found NO incriminating DNA, fingerprint, or gunshot residue on any of the tested items. The only DNA positives it found for Richard Wanke were on items of his own clothing and not those of Greg Clark’s.

SECOND: EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY

There was no eyewitness to attorney Greg Clark’s shooting, so the most important witness testimony concerns the description of any stranger who eyewitnesses saw in the vicinity of the murder scene closest to the time of the murder and the description of any vehicle they drove.

The suspect in the van

Phyllis Clark, attorney Greg Clark’s widow, was the most immediate witness to reach the murder scene. She testified that her husband was outside their house snowblowing for about half an hour before she heard gunshots. She said she went to the window of their house and saw her husband on the ground. She said she saw a man 5’7’’ leave her husband’s side and enter the passenger side of a dark blue van on the street which then headed toward Sentinel Dr.

Various neighbors arriving home in the subdivision reported seeing and driving behind a dark blue van as it entered the subdivision on Sentinel Rd., from the north and headed towards Clark’s house minutes before the shooting. One neighbor passed a dark blue van on the driver’s side when it pulled over to the curb by Clark’s house, and another encountered a dark blue van as it pulled out of the subdivision shortly after the shooting. and turned west onto Rote Rd. Witnesses mostly described the van they saw as being dark blue in color. One said it was blue-green in color. Most said it was a Chrysler product and a Town & Country van. One said it had gold wheels. Each identified the State’s photo of Diane Chavez’s ’98 Dodge Caravan in court as the van they saw on 2/6/08. Several other witnesses described other suspicious and different color and make vehicles they saw in the neighborhood on 2/6/08. No witness saw or recalled the license plate number of the van.

The State photo of Diane Chavez’s ’98 caravan below: the van in this photo only appears to be dark blue because of the type of lighting used by police. There were plenty of dark blue vans in Rockford that looked like this. A few of them are still driving around. No one knows how many dark blue vans there were in total in Rockford in 2008, because the police search of registered vans only searched for 1998 year vans. Nor did they check van registrations from other surrounding cities. And, if you look closely at the hood of van in this picture, you can partly detect the van’s real color.

p1020313

The actual color of Diane Chavez’s ’98 van: What difference does a subtle change of color make? EVERYTHING…

If the witnesses all saw a dark-blue van with gold rims on 2/6/08; it wasn’t Diane’s van. It was instead, the normal dark-blue color van which Chrysler has offered as a color for more years. Some of those regular dark-blue older Chrysler Town & Country and Caravan vans are still seen in Rockford today. In 2008, Ford also had a dark-blue Windstar van which can be still be mistaken for either Chrysler or Dodge vans.

p1020318

p1020319The photos above are not Diane’s van. We can’t access her van because the police still have it, but these are the normal light photos of a van which is the same model and year as Diane’s: a 1998 Chrysler Caravan. It is a PURPLE, not a BLUE van! And if the eyewitnesses had seen Diane’s van up close and accurately, they would have described purple, not dark-blue. Chrysler offered the paint color Amethyst (Purple) on it’s Dodge Caravans and Chrysler Town & Country vans for several years through 2000. The color is still in use by other car makers today.

The allegations against Diane Chavez.

On this Home page of our website is the above tab, “About Diane Chavez”. We direct you to click on it and review the fallacious evidence the State uses to allege that Diane Chavez was present at Clark’s house on February 5, 2008, the day before the murder and during her lunch hour. The State’s implication is that Diane Chavez somehow assisted Richard Wanke in killing attorney Clark. The State is wrong and that its “evidence” against her is both false and manipulated and makes one question the accuracy of it’s case against Richard Wanke.

Back to the Man

Except for Clark’s wife, the eyewitnesses all saw the man in the van only as he sat behind the wheel of it and drove the van. They uniformly described the driver of the van as an older, white male. Their best estimate was that he was in his 40’s. The police detectives later testified that they were sent looking for a suspect described to them as having “grayish” hair and a “scruffy” beard. At trial, most witnesses seemed to qualify their mention of gray hair to being brownish and pulled back in a pigtail. A couple mentioned eyeglasses and one mentioned large eyeglasses worn by the man. Most said the man seemed to be wearing dark clothing, and one witness was adamant he recognized by the sleeve he saw that the driver wore a black demin jacket like one of the State’s exhibits. Every witness identified Richard in court as being the man they saw driving the van.

There was an unexplained discrepancy in the eyewitness testimony concerning who was in the van. The testimony of Clark’s wife, who saw a man enter a van on the passenger side before it left, and a then 7 year old child who testified that she saw a white man standing by the passenger side of a van by Clark before the shooting. If every witness saw the same dark blue van, then there was possibly more than one person in that van. One witness testified that they followed a van which pulled over to the curb by Clark’s house, which would be the right side curb of Oakforest Dr. At least two other witnesses said they followed a van as it entered the subdivision heading towards Clark’s house. Clark’s wife and the child witness saw the van parked facing the opposite direction: on Oakforest Dr., but pointed towards Sentinel Drive.

Every eyewitness testified that police showed them each six photos of different suspects on 2/6/08, and each witness in turn failed to identify Richard Wanke’s photograph on the day of the murder as the photo of the man they saw driving the van. Mrs. Clark too failed on 2/6/08, to pick Richard Wanke’s photo out as being the man she saw that day leaving the body of her husband. Each of them only days later called by the police to report that Richard Wanke, was the man they saw, after they saw the following several articles and photos published in the Rockford-Register Star on February 9, & 10, 2008.

What did all the eyewitnesses see and read in the Rockford Register-Star before they identified Richard Wanke as the suspect?

The articles the Rockford Register Star published on February 9, and February 10, which named Richard Wanke, and Diane Chavez as suspects in the Clark murder investigation even though Richard Wanke had not yet been identified by eyewitnesses as a man in the blue van.

The first article, “Double drama in court” which appeared in print on February 9, 2008, is a front-page triple article in one which continues on the next two pages inside. It shows a photo of Richard Wanke with dark hair and a beard. It identifies both Richard Wanke, and Diane Chavez, as police suspects in the Greg Clark murder investigation by saying that both a judge and attorney linked them to it in court. A chronology of Richard Wanke’s 2006 burglary case is at the top of the second page along with an article about the shooting aftermath at the bottom of the page. That second page is almost a full page devoted to information about the murder.

The article “Jailed duo helped each other” appeared the next day on February 10, 2008. Each of these Rockford Register-Star identifications and articles clearly influenced each of the eyewitnesses in this case. On our blog under this Home page tab “Unreliabiltiy of Eyewitness Testimony” is information about how easily and unconsciously eyewitness recollections are influenced by many factors and are often erroneous no matter how certain witnesses feel and testify about what they saw. You should review this information.

Bottom Line:

February 6, 2008, was one of the heaviest snowfalls in Winnebago County. At times it was almost a blizzard outside. Snow was heavy on the ground at the time of the shooting and snow was falling. Most of the eyewitnesses in this case were arriving home because of the weather. They were focused on driving in the snow and keeping their windshields clear of it. They were not that focused on the vehicles around them or the drivers of those vehicles. If they had been and if they each saw the van and the man driving it as clearly and completely as they claim, they would recall at least part, if not all of a license plate, the make and color of the van correctly, or would have agreed on the physical description of the driver, what he was wearing, and whether there was one person or two in the van.The eyewitness testimony in this whole case is unreliable.

THIRD: MOTIVE

The State played an audio micro cassette tape to the jury which allegedly contains the audio of a 25 minute meeting between Attorney Greg Clark, Richard Wanke, and Diane Chavez on 5/7/2008. It may actually be an earlier March 2007 meeting. Much of the tape is inaudible and difficult to distinguish. The Rockford Register-Star printed a small portion of the conversation on it:

“…Wanke wanted Clark to use photos of a minivan owned by Chavez in the burglary case. Clark questioned the significance of someone keying Chavez’s van or using photos of windshield wipers.

“I don’t know. That’s not my job,” said a man investigators identified as Wanke.
“Whose job is it? Whose job is it to determine materiality?” a man believed to be Clark responds. “Is it my job? What percentage is my job and what percentage is your job?…”
RRSTAR article about the audio tape
The State wants us to believe that Richard Wanke and Greg Clark had such an “tumultuous” relationship; that it was antagonistic enough to cause Richard Wanke to kill his attorney. The State claims that statements made by both such as the above and the text of court transcripts from Richard’s 2006, burglary trial for the theft of a laptop computer prove that Richard’s “state of mind’ motivated him to kill attorney Clark. The State exaggerates what hostility took place between attorney Clark and Richard Wanke and wrongly blames Wanke for all of it.
This audio tape exchange, shows Clark not cooperating with Richard Wanke when reviewing evidence that Wanke feels may be used at trial. Clark puts Wankd down when he tries to point out that the light-blue van had obvious physical damage that a State witness failed to note on the van he saw at the burglary scene and which he described to police as being silver in color. Keying, wipers, etc can be relevant when a witness claims it was your van he saw up close but then somehow misses seeing what he should have. Wanke didn’t know if what he had was useful for trial. He was consulting Clark, and Clark treated him poorly and was obviously antagonistic. The full length of the tape contains similar content but no obscenities are exchanged and there is a reconciliation of sorts at the end of it. The tape is not the “smoking gun” the State wants us to believe it is.
The court transcripts of Richard’s burglary case show it was attorney Clark, not Wanke who first complained to the court on March 7, 2007, that the other was not communicating with him. Even then, both Clark on page three says there was no hostility between them and Richard agreed on page six saying, that they were very courteous with each other, and it was just a difference of opinion.
The March 14, 2007 transcript


Wanke merely spoke up in his own defense. Attorney Clark pushed the court to admonish his client. If the court transcripts indicate resentment by either, it wasn’t Richard Wanke, but Clark who later on May 7, 2007, on page 13, told the court that he wasn’t used to being left out of the loop by a client and that he didn’t like it. Page 24 of May 7, 2007, Clark was upset enough with Wanke that he stood back when the judge pushed Richard Wanke to trial.
The May 7, 2007 transcript


Richard Wanke didn’t know at the time what was going on. He didn’t know that Clark had everyone meet the Friday before without him on May 4, 2007. He didn’t know that Clark had confessed that he advised Wanke wrongly about the length of his potential sentence and was requesting a continuance for that reason.

The May 4, 2007 transcript


May 4, 2007, and May 7, 2007, are the only two times in the nearly three year course of Richard’s burglary case where there is  emotion in the court record the State is now trying to use, and it was attorney Clark who was upset, and who reacted poorly, not Richard Wanke. Richard Wanke was out on bond in 2/06/08; something few defendants who lose jury trials are allowed. This was due to the court’s recognition of all the years in which he had complied with all court rules and was civil.
Bottom Line:

Defendants and attorneys regularly disagree about trial strategy and the relevance of evidence. Both sides hash out their arguments in court and in court filings. No revelation about that. Defendants are often held in contempt of court when they speak out of turn or disrespect someone. That did not happen here. There were no public arguments between Greg Clark and Richard Wanke. They were very civil to each other inside and out of court no matter what tension existed. Clark had represented Richard Wanke for six years (not one year as the State maintains) amicably before on another case, and his mistakes created the pretrial tension between them in Wanke’s burglary case. Had anyone of the court; the judge, the attorneys, the bailiff’s etc., seen threats or true anger exchanged between Clark and Richard, the Court would have immediately stepped in to intervene. Attorney Clark would have been removed from Wanke’s case. Richard Wanke would have been held in contempt of court or even criminally charged with misconduct. Violence of any sort is not tolerated in courts and the State has no witnesses who can show that any disagreements between Clark and Wanke exceeded the usual tension generally present in criminal defense. Richard was not a legal novice. He knew well that Clark’s death would not dismiss his case or improve his lot. At best, it would just cause a new attorney unfamiliar with him to do a worse job of advocating for him at sentencing. At worse, he could anticipate receiving the worst sentence possible as a murder suspect.

SUMMATION

The lack of forensic evidence against Richard Wanke, the unreliability and inaccuracy of the eyewitness testimony against him, and the State’s attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill regarding Richard Wanke’s alleged motive to kill Greg Clark does not prove that Richard Wanke killed attorney Greg Clark. Far from it. Stay tuned, and in a couple of days, we will explain to you how the State’s evidence and the murder investigation instead proves that Richard Wanke did not kill Greg Clark! And, we will show the bias on the part of Rockford Police Deputy Chief, Greg Lindmark, who headed this investigation that made Richard Wanke the suspect.

 


Well, it has been over 9 very long years for our friend, Richard Wanke, who is finally going to trial. His jury selection ended this morning and last minute matters will be heard tomorrow morning. Then, his trial begins Monday with opening statements.

Opening statements from each side will summarize what each side plans to prove by their evidence. Then, from that point forward we get to judge how well they do.

We want to thank everyone who has supported Richard over the years and those who have also contributed and helped with this blog. We hope to see you at trial!

WHERE: 4th floor, old Winnebago County Courthouse, 401 W. State St., Rockford, IL (Take elevators to the fourth floor and follow corridor right around to the very last courtroom; Judge Collins court in room 478.

WHEN: Beginning Monday 2/27/17, at 9am.

PLEASE: Remember to turn cellphones off (they get confiscated if they go off in courtroom), no cameras or recorders are allowed, and please sit on the Defense side (left side of courtroom and behind the defendant) in support of Richard.

Thank-you.

 

 


ROCKFORD — “It’s breathtaking. Oh my goodness,” a Rockford man said after emerging from the Winnebago County Jail into the sunshine this afternoon after more than 23 years behind bars for a murder he and his supporters maintain he didn’t commit.John Horton Jr., 40, was convicted of the 1993 murder of Arthur Castaneda in Rockford. Horton was 17 years old when Castaneda was fatally shot during a robbery at a McDonald’s restaurant, located at that time at 2715 Charles St. He was sentenced

Source: John Horton of Rockford free after more than 2 decades in prison


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.


https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarceration/privatization-criminal-justice/private-prisons