the Greg Clark Murder

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(Note: Richard Wanke’s trial in the Greg Clark murder case is currently scheduled to begin around February 21, 2017, in Rockford, IL.)

Seven years ago, on February 6, 2008, in the middle of a blizzard attorney Gregory Clark, was shot three times in the back while using a snowblower to clear snow from the driveway of his house in Rockford, IL.

Almost immediately, within a few hours, the Rockford police focused upon our friend Richard Wanke, as the suspect for his murder. The Rockford police immediately picked him up that day merely on suspicion and then began working to convict him.

Greg Clark, at age 60, was a Rockford attorney for 33 years. He was a private attorney but took cases from the Winnebago County Court as one of several county conflict counsel. Conflict counsel are paid a monthly fee to represent indigent defendants in criminal cases when the Winnebago County Public Defender has a conflict-of-interest and cannot directly represent them. Richard Wanke, was one of the defendants the county hired Clark to represent. Clark had a small law firm with a general practice and partnered with his son-in-law, Barton Henbest. On February 6, 2008, Clark had taken the day off work and was at home due to the snow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008, was the part of a historically severe two-day snow storm that resulted in most of Rockford shutting down beginning on Wednesday morning. By noon and into the afternoon, the snowfall was at it’s heaviest and schools, public offices, and most businesses were closed down. Media accounts of the snowstorm show it’s effect on the area.

Richard Wanke, 46, lived in an apartment across town from Clark.  Richard was a community volunteer with some legal issues in his past. He fixed computers for money and was volunteering at a computer donation organization for local schools. In his past life he was an artist who’d attended NIU, worked at the Rockford Art Museum, and helped in the rehab of 315 Market St, as well as various street festivals, art shows, and other creative events. On February 6, 2008, Richard spent the morning installing computer software at a friend’s house. When he later arrived home, he was arrested by the police.

The Greg Clark Murder

Attorney Greg Clark was shot and killed at approximately 2pm on February 6, 2008, in his residential neighborhood.  Heavy snow was falling at the time; visibility was poor and the sky was overcast. Snow was over 3 feet deep on the ground. Clark was outside his house using a snowblower to clear his driveway and  was shot 3 times in the back. The shooting happened very quickly and appeared to be done expertly. Most people in the neighborhood were indoors at the time with only a few arriving home due to the bad weather. Clark’s house was on a corner, and no one saw the shooting directly. The murder scene became chaotic only after neighbors heard gunshots and some were drawn to the scene to respond. Unfortunately, Clark did not reach the hospital alive, and the person or persons responsible for the shooting reportedly quickly left the scene in a vehicle.

Many people were interviewed for information, and  their accounts of what happened and what and who they saw created a large pool of potential suspects. Police settled on two descriptions: that of a medium-sized male one person saw first leave from Clark’s body and enter a blue van, and the recollection of several neighbors who saw or passed an older, white male driving a blue van in or out of the neighborhood close to the time of the shooting. The second descriptions were very generic and his clothing and size seen behind the wheel varied.

Most people had their attention focused on driving carefully in the snowfall and not on the momentary impressions they had of other drivers. No one saw a license plate, and the blue van described was either an older boxy model or a more modern rounded form of one or two colors. Later, many other different suspicious vehicles and persons were also reported as possibly scouting the neighborhood by neighbors on that day and for weeks before including at least one truck and a couple of males on foot.

Police assume that a blue van and at least one male was involved in Clark’s murder, but there is nothing linking either to it except these reports of being seen in the vicinity closest to the time of his murder. No gun or other weapon was found at the murder scene. The police collected discarded shell casings but forensic testing revealed no DNA, no gunshot residue, footprints, fingerprints, or other evidence traceable to any suspect.

DNA evidence, gunshot residue, footprints, fingerprints, and the testimony of someone who witnessed a shooting are the type of evidence considered direct evidence; first-hand evidence that is used to convict a person with the most certainty. Everything else is considered circumstantial evidence; information that requires one to draw an inference from it and is much less reliable as proof. Circumstantial evidence requires jurors to

The Greg Clark Murder Trial is Underway

The Greg Clark murder investigation has been an open unsolved murder listed by the Rockford Police Department since 2010, but, solved or unsolved, it becomes a murder trial today with jury selection expected to take all this week before Judge Collins. Opening statements and actual witness testimony is not expected to begin until Monday, February 27, 2017.

This trial will be the biggest and most significant county criminal trial since 2011 jury trial for the murder of Rockford Police Detective Kevin Rice on August 3, 2001. In 2001, the murder of a police officer was incomprehensible to the community and the Winnebago County States Attorney’s office and the judicial system prosecuted the suspect, William Buck to the max and convicted him. It took them 10 years to bring the case to trial.

Like Kevin Rice’s murder, the murder of attorney Greg Clark is an affront to the entire Winnebago County judicial system and States Attorney Joe Bruscato will use all his resources to convict Richard Wanke. It has taken 9 years for the county to prosecute this case and it has left no stone unturned. County prosecutors have had ample time to investigate and prepare their case. The public can expect a full show for this trial and over 55 witnesses will be called for the county.

What the Public can Expect at Trial

Most of the County’s testimony, at least at first, will be about how attorney Greg Clark was murdered and how the police and emergency responded to the scene of the murder on February 6, 2008. Greg Clark’s murder was brutal and expertly executed. The public can expect prosecutors to focus on the details of his death. We will hear the many  events which unfolded after the shooting as the investigation began from the first 911 call to police after the shooting, to how the murder scene looked and what the police then did. Neighbors and family members will also describe what they saw and heard and how they were affected by Clark’s murder. The County will present experts who will discuss the testing of physical evidence and the results even if they were inconclusive or negative. Then, the County will describe some of the results of it’s investigation of Richard Wanke and Diane Chavez. The County’s testimony is expected to stretch out over 4 – 5 days with many witnesses presented each day.

 Questions the Public Should Ask

Don’t expect to hear everything at trial. This investigation easily generated over 8,000 pages of discovery and only a fraction of that will be presented. The court decides what evidence is admissible at trial and sets limits as to how it is presented. Someone killed Greg Clark, but was it Richard Wanke? Below are some questions we should ask:

  1. How did Richard Wanke first become the suspect and did this have anything to do with the murder?
  2. Did information shared between witnesses at the scene of the murder influence the descriptions they later gave police?
  3. Did the media coverage influence the witnesses to identify Richard Wanke as a suspect?
  4. Under the weather conditions, vision obstructions, and driving conditions on 2/6/08, how credible are witness identifications of the vehicle and it’s driver behind the wheel?
  5. Did the police investigate the typical suspects for this case that they usually do in murder cases?
  6. Did the police investigate any of Greg Clark’s other clients?
  7. Greg Clark’s killing was an expert execution, and if Richard Wanke has no violence or weapons use in his past, the how likely is he to have killed Clark?
  8. Does the motive the State offers for Richard’s killing of attorney Clark really make sense and fit Richard’s personality and background?
  9. Where are the threats or behavior to show that Richard Wanke is violent or dangerous?
  10. Wouldn’t Richard Wanke have had a better alibi if he murdered Greg Clark, especially if it was premeditated?
  11. Did the police manipulate photo evidence to falsely link Diane Chavez to the Clark murder location?
  12. Without DNA, fingerprints, gun residue, or other forensic proof, what real evidence is there to show that Richard Wanke killed Clark or was even at the scene of the murder?

What Friends of Richard Wanke Know

The County has no direct evidence connecting Richard Wanke to the Greg Clark murder, and only questionable witness identifications of him.

When Richard Wanke’s name came to the attention of the police, Chief Deputy Greg Lindmark, who led the Clark murder investigation focused it on Richard to the exclusion of anyone else.

Greg Lindmark attended high school with Richard Wanke and they were not friends. Greg Landmark arrested Richard for burglary in 1991 and testified against him three times afterward.

In 1991, Detective Greg Lindmark falsely testified that he was present when Richard Wanke was Mirandized during police interrogation. Lindmark was forced by DeKalb County to retract and correct his testimony in court when the inaccuracy was pointed out.

If Richard Wanke killed Clark he would not have had sufficient time to travel across town on 2/6/08, and park the purple van on the odd side of Grant Ave or on John St., and enter his apartment at 1111 Grant Ave, to make the phone to call Diane Chavez via the landline phone as the County claims.

Every other attorney who has represented Richard Wanke over the years is alive and unthreatened.

Disagreements between defendants and defense attorneys over case strategy are very common. The attorney has the right to decide how to try the case and the defendant has no say except if he will testify at trial or accept a plea instead. Yet, the defendant is later bound by whatever actions his attorney does or does not do on a case. That makes for an imbalance of power in every attorney/client relationship a defendant has, and most defendants are uncomfortable with this, but they don’t kill their attorneys.

Diane Chavez did not lie to the police, and the police lacked probable cause to associate her with the Clark murder. She had nothing to do with it and does not own a blue van.

What’s happened to Richard Wanke so far?

The Greg Clark murder harmed Richard Wanke immediately. Within hours of the Clark murder in 2008, Richard was jailed. Richard was then sentenced heavily for an attempted laptop theft in 2006 because of  the suspicion of murder. Richard ended up receiving the maximum sentence of 14 years, extended-term in IDOC from Judge McGraw.

Richard served his time in IDOC from August 2008 – April 2014. It was not a quiet time for him. He was classified as a minimum-security risk at IDOC (due to his minor and non-violent past conviction record)but Rockford authorities worsened his position and treatment in IDOC throughout his term. Richard experienced continual and unusual interference with his mail and legal privileges; denial of access to law libraries and resources, cell searches; whole-scale document and property confiscations, facility transfers, and two physical assaults with poor medical treatment which have left him hearing impaired.

Richard qualified for the IDOC Work Release program during the last 2 years of his sentence and was put on the program despite not requesting it. His placement on the program was highly unusual as few individuals qualify for it and many others request it. Richard’s transfer to the program came at the critical time he was due to submit his pro se post-conviction filing to court. His exact whereabouts were unknown during his transfer and caused his post-conviction petition to be filed 3 days late. Richard took the Work Release requirements seriously. When he did up a typical letterhead to send to prospective employers, IDOC used the pretext to assert that his name on it and the name and address of the facility he was at indicated an intent by him to represent himself as an IDOC employee.  IDOC used that excuse to allege he violated it’s rules. IDOC then caused him to be “violated”, suddenly removed from the program and then re-classified as the highest-level IDOC security risk. Richard was then transferred to the IL River Correctional Center for 30 days in segregation and then relocated to maximum-security placement at the Stateville Correctional Center where he remained until April 2014. While at Stateville, Richard spent most of his time locked down in a cell 23 hours-a-day, in maximum-security and housed among some of the most violent and crazy state criminals, including his cellmates.

Members of the Clark family, the media, and some community politicians have advocated publicly for  the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office to criminally charge Richard Wanke with the Greg Clark murder, and previously criticized it for it’s failure to do so; on the assumption and belief that he is guilty and that the evidence the WSAO has collected in it’s murder investigation is sufficient to charge and convict Richard. As with most situations, the public wants to believe that a police suspect is guilty. The lack of charging was even a highly-politicized dispute between challenger, attorney Glen Weber, and Winnebago County SA, Joe Bruscato, during the last SA election. Those who urged Richard’s charging are incorrect and this case is simply the “rush to judgement” we first maintained it was back in 2008. This trial will show the County has a very serious lack of evidence against Richard Wanke.

Bruscato and the Winnebago County SA office waited to formally charge Richard Wanke with the Greg Clark murder until April 2014, after Richard had served his 14 year IDOC sentence. Winnebago County did not have to wait this long to charge him, and the delay has seriously interfered with his defense. We maintain this is “cruel and unusual punishment” as nothing prevented Winnebago County from charging him earlier. We see no reason for it’s delay as no new evidence has been uncovered in the case since it was officially declared unsolved in 2010.

Richard has one non-violent burglary conviction from an event in 1991 and served three years for it. Richard did not have legal problems from 1991 to 2006. He lived quietly during that time doing volunteer work and trying to straighten-out his legal past. In Jan 2006, when someone attempted to steal a laptop from Rockford College, Richard was accused of that theft.  Richard disputes his involvement in that case, but he was convicted of it in Sept. 2007, and sentenced in August 2008, to a 14 year IDOC extended-term sentence for it. 14 years is a very harsh sentence for any persons convicted just twice of non-violent crimes. But Richard was again unlucky in that his sentence coincided with the public suspicion that he had murdered attorney Greg Clark, and so the State and the judge cooperated to give him the longest sentence for the burglary that they could. Richard has never had a violent incident, physical assault or even domestic violence incident in his past. He did not associate with criminals and never used or possessed weapons of any type.

Richard was allowed out of jail and out on bond during his legal problems and their appeal which is highly unusual for any defendant. It should be recognized that the courts allowed him this freedom between sentencing, because he had the longest history of compliance with all court reporting requirements from ’91 to 2007, of any Winnebago County defendant. Richard was alway punctual and courteous in his dealings with the courts and attorneys during these years.

While the County will argue that Richard Wanke and Greg Clark did not get along, both of them got along well during the six years that Clark represented Richard before 2007. Other criminal defense attorneys have worked will with Richard including his current post-conviction attorney, Nate Nieman who has represented him for 3 years challenging the laptop conviction.

There are trial transcripts, case documents, and appeal efforts surrounding Richard’s 2006 burglary conviction for the attempted theft of the laptop computer here on this blog under the tab “Richard’s appeals”. The reader may review them and and see how Richard behaved in court and how well he was or was not represented by attorney Greg Clark, in the laptop burglary case and at trial. The burglary case evidence was circumstantial only; with no fingerprints, no DNA, and the visual identification of the suspect was contested. Richard contests his involvement in the case and currently has different conflict counsel assigned to represent him in challenging it in a post-conviction petition in Winnebago county court.

Major issues of the past with this case

It often takes years for major cases to progress through the Winnebago County criminal justice system. The reason is because there are a lot of different ways in which major cases can get sidelined in court in comparison to a typical case. The majority of the cases which pass thru the criminal justice system are minor cases where no particular party is greatly invested in the cases. Those cases are almost predictable in outcomes to everyone involved: that is the crime involved is typical and while defendants are scrutinized, most cases are plead out fairly quickly because everyone generally knows what the going rate is in terms of sentencing for every offense committed. There are very few minor cases which end up going to trial. Trials cost Illinois counties  more money to conduct these days and so plea deals are sweetened enough in terms to persuade most defendants to accept them and to waive their right to a trial.

Major criminal cases are different. Victims, prosecutors, and the defense are all heavily vested in the outcomes of major cases; particularly high-profile ones. There is a lot less voluntary give and take in major cases between the State and the defense. So, processes such as discovery take much longer to complete, because although the State is mandated to turn over evidence to the defense, for example, it will usually procrastinate in doing so as long as possible or try and obscure important evidence in a deluge of other useless discovery. Whenever filings are made, objections from the other side are far more extensive and seriously time-consuming to deal with and hear by the Court. Generally, nobody wants to lose a major case, and the handling and legal machinations in these cases in time can resemble a blood-sport. And, that is how it goes when major cases are equitably well prosecuted and well defended. Some major cases however, never develop equitably and that was Richard Wanke’s predicament.

Judge Rosemary Collins, refused to assign Richard Wanke, independent conflict counsel to represent him in August 2014. That first resulted in 5 months of defense preparation being wasted in attempting to argue that a long-standing past conflict and the present circumstances of the Clark murder case should prevent the Winnebago County Public Defender from representing Richard on this murder case. This delay allowed the State to do a run-around a pending motion which could have caused the Court to dismiss the entire case. The defense alleged that the State had improperly obtained an indictment against Richard by inaccurately misrepresenting to the Grand Jury the results of the DNA testing of the case evidence. Instead of being forced to dismiss the case, the State had time to clean up it’s err and resubmit the case to the Grand Jury omitting mention of the DNA results for a new indictment.

Below are a few of the initial case filings on the most important issues: (Please read and click on below links in red)

Richard’s April 2014 Indictment

The practice of filing multiple counts against a defendant is an art which varies in allowance state-by-state, but it gives prosecutors the edge to get a conviction when charging anyone. Asking jurors or the court to convict a defendant piecemeal in thirty pieces even when it is just for one action or event makes it more palatable and more likely to get a conviction bit-by-bit.

Defense files Motion to Dismiss & Judge Collins identifies some associations

Attorney Azhari files a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of Richard Wanke. It focuses on how gunshot residue information in the State’s presentation to the Grand Jury (made by prosecutor James Brun) could have been misinterpreted by the jurors as indicating that gunshot residue incriminating Richard Wanke in the Clark murder was found by police on items sent for forensic lab testing. The defense maintains that this misleading presentation of evidence the State had could have cause the Grand Jury to indict Richard when they might not otherwise have done so.

Judge Collins says she has reviewed the State’s initial list of potential case witnesses and notifies the parties that she knows two members of Clark’s family (associated with the murder victim) and one attorney, Kris Carpenter, who works closely with her husband, Paul Gaziano, the federal public defender.

Judge Collins knows the victim’s wife and his son-in-law, who is a practicing attorney. While Collins states that she attended a dinner event where Clark’s family members were present and did not speak with them, nevertheless, her comments raise a question as to the degree of her acquaintanceship with them. Obviously, she knew them by sight, and even if she did not speak with them, Judge Collins does not explain exactly how it is she even knows them in the first place, and defense believes that members of the Clark family have been so ubiquitous in their presence and contacts throughout the legal community over the past few years that they are well-known to every county judge.

Judge Collins is unable to state that she does not have a conflict-of-interest in hearing this case due to her association with attorney Kris Carpenter, who works with her husband and with whom she states that she has become acquainted with socially via his work. In reality, Judge Collins has been on the bench since 1989. Kris Carpenter was a public defender, and it is likely that she also previously tried a case or two before Judge Collins. Kris Carpenter played a pivotal role in causing Richard Wanke to be the suspect in this case.

This case’s outcome will be determined by whether the Winnebago County court system can try it impartially or not. Many observers claim that the close associate of attorney Greg Clark to the members of the legal bar and judicial system will prevent this from happening. Some special precautions were taken during jury selection to try to find impartial jurors, but there is no assurance that all are impartial given the large number of people involved in this investigation and affected by this tragic murder. Cases such as these often stand the best chance of being heard in another county and having attorneys from outside the county appointed to represent the defendant. That did not happen in this case, as the Winnebago County Public Defender’s office never even requested that it occur in order to protect Richard Wanke’s interests and ensure independency. The Winnebago County Public Defender’s office has not indicated why it failed to do what many other attorneys suggested was vital to attempt for this case. Presumably it comes down to a matter of money. The Winnebago County Public Defender’s office is typically well underfunded and would have had to pay for independent counsel.

December 19, 2014, Richard files pro se supplement to his attorney’s conflict motion

Judge Collins denied all conflicts-of-interest in representing Richard Wanke. The case spent five months on this issue alone. His Public Defender at the time, Derrick Schmidt, argued the two relatively weaker arguments which he summarized  as being the stronger ones. Schmidt failed to combine the first thirteen points of the supplement to argue that he himself was conflicted. Had he done so, Collins would have been hard pressed to rule that conflict is not present.

Judge Collins, did not rule on most of the points and arguments Richard raised in his pro se supplemental filing. The failure of a judge to issue specific findings with respect to any issue makes review of it difficult on later appeal because a reviewing court generally assumes that the judge did consider the matter properly at the time of ruling. Here, instead of asking Collins for further clarification and for specific findings relative to all the matters of conflict that were raised to her, Schmidt remains silent and allows her to omit addressing everything else in her ruling.

Judge Collins appointed the Winnebago County Public Defender to represent Richard in August 2014, over his objection. In our opinion, Richard Wanke, should not be represented by the Winnebago County Public Defender’s office because of past associations, the Public Defender’s associations with attorney Greg Clark and his family, and the role the Public Defender’s office played in making Richard Wanke the suspect of the Clark murder investigation to begin with. The Winnebago Public Defender’s office itself has agreed four different times in the course of this case so far for different reasons that it should not represent Richard and has each time requested Judge Collins to remove it from his case.  Judge Collins adamantly refused to do so despite having the power to appoint Richard an attorney from outside the County who would not have any conflicting associations and could represent him impartially. Having impartial representation during the course of a major murder case when one is fighting to avoid a prison sentence for the rest of one’s life is vital. Being represented by an office and an attorney whose interests do not coincide with you and whose representation of you is limited by those interests is a handicap which even in a weak case can mean the difference between being convicted or being acquitted.

1. So far, discovery from the State (and after all, everything from 2008 is a known fact by now) shows that the police found and heard nothing at the scene of the Clark murder connecting Richard Wanke to it.  No DNA, no fingerprints, shoe prints, no weapon, or any direct, identifiable, visual sighting of Richard to make him a suspect in the murder or show that he had been at the murder scene.

2. Since the State does not have direct evidence of Richard’s involvement much less presence at the crime it will rely upon circumstantial evidence we feel is extremely questionable. Witnesses will try to link Richard Wanke to a person they saw first on foot and then as the driver of a van seen in the vicinity of the shooting. Those witness identifications are questionable as they did not know Richard by sight, their descriptions were varied and obtained under adverse conditions, and their identification of him was influenced by outside sources. To support it’s assertions, the State will try to link a van and it’s owner, Diane Chavez, to assisting Richard Wanke. Diane Chavez has already cleared herself of a set of false charges and made available proof to show that the State’s evidence of her role is false.

3. Richard Wanke, only became a suspect to the police after the police on 2/6/08, called the Winnebago County Public Defender’s office to ask if anyone knew of any person that attorney Greg Clark had any problems with.

4, The Winnebago County Public Defender’s mandate is to defend charged individuals, but the attorney who answered the police inquiry on 2/6/08, and gave Richard Wanke’s name to police did so without any personal knowledge of him or familiarity with his case or his interactions with Clark. That Public Defender instead repeated to police gossip she learned from speaking to an assistant States Attorney about Richard’s case. Legally this is called as providing “hearsay” information.

5. Richard was not on the police scope during the investigation of the Clark murder at all until the Winnebago County Public Defender mentioned his name to them on 2/6/08, because the police had no prior reason or evidence to link him to it The Winnebago County Public Defender’s office set in motion a chain of events which ultimately led to the suspicion of Richard Wanke and arguably resulted in his getting the 14 year prison sentence he received in August 2008.

5. Despite how the Winnebago Public Defender’s 2008 actions affected Richard and how they haunted and harmed him though-out his stay in IDOC; Judge Collins has required Richard to trust the Winnebago County Public Defender to defend him properly on the murder charge, and to work harmoniously with it on his case. This is improper considering that the Winnebago County Public Defender’s office has arguably harmed Richard Wanke worse than attorney Greg Clark ever did. Attorney Clark merely lost a case at trial for him; the Winnebago County Public Defender’s office made him a murder suspect and relying upon it now may cost Richard Wanke the rest of his life.

Richard filed a demand for a “speedy-trial” back in April 2014, and the issue of his representation stymied progress on his case. Richard is now represented by public defenders Nick Zimmerman, and Robert Simmons, and is going to trial. Both of these attorneys are very capable but have worked less than two years to prepare Richard’s defense while also still handling full caseloads. Also, because of the conflicts inherent in the relationship between Richard Wanke and the Winnebago County Public Defender, neither of these attorneys may be fully motivated to defend Richard fully or impartially at trial. We will have to see. They may instead be more interested in protecting the interests their own office. It may appear strange or ungrateful for any defendant to question the motivation of their attorney, particularly one provided to them by the County, but Richard Wanke has reason to do so. Despite his requests, the Winnebago County Public Defender has so far refused to obtain any experts for his case, conduct any physical evidence review or testing, or put on much of a defense. It will probably call only a few witnesses at trial and depend mostly on cross-examination of the State’s own witnesses to debunk the State’s case at trial.

By comparison, the two main State prosecutors at trial will be Marilyn Hite-Ross, and James Brun, who not only do not juggle full caseloads, but who have both been continuously on this case and familiar with all it’s details since 2008. As evidence of this, the State to-date, has filed 38 Motions-in-Limine, which is a huge number of such motions for any trial. The function of Motions-in-Limine is to attempt to either limit or expand favorably to one side the nature and extent of the evidence which both sides can present at trial. The State has also indicated that it will present a number of technical experts, test rests, and put on over 53 witnesses at trial.

The public and most jurors commonly believe that the object of trials is to reveal the truth about a case. The reality is however, that the guidelines arrived at by the court before the start of trial dictate what evidence will be presented and how it can be challenged.

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