The state appeals court on Tuesday tossed the guilty verdicts and jail sentences for owners of the South Side’s E2 nightclub where 21 people were crushed in rush to leave in 2003.
Club owners Calvin Hollins and Dwain Kyles were found guilty in 2009 and sentenced to two years in prison each for violating a judge’s order to close the second floor of the club before the stampede took place. A security guard using pepper spray in the crowded club triggered the rush from the second-floor nightclub, authorities said at the time.
Hollins and Kyles each escaped criminal charges in 2007 and 2008 respectively, but were retried in housing court in 2009. They were largely convicted because lawyers argued that they were in violation of a city order not to occupy the second floor of the location. City attorneys said the code violations led to the 21 deaths.
But an appeals judge saw it differently and reversed the decision.
"Simply, under the facts of this case, we disagree that the formal order was as clear and unambiguous as the city maintains the law requires," Justice Michael J. Murphy wrote in a majority opinion. "At first blush the language appears clear, however, a review of the record before this court reveals the city’s law clerk should have included three words following ‘Mandatory order not to occupy 2nd floor’ in the formal order -- either 'of the building' or 'of the nightclub.'"
The owners said they were pleased with the decision
"The main thin is relief," said Hollins, an owner who was convicted in 2009. "Relief that the process and the journey I have been on for the last 10 years is finally behind me."
He said he takes no responsibility for the stampede.
"We had nothing to do with that tragedy other than being in the building that night," he said before shifting the blame back to the city.
The city's law department said they were disappointed by the decision.