Is Another Watts-Related Case Beginning to Unravel?

After more than ten years in prison, Anthony McDaniels says he should now be set free because the only officers who convicted him are too tainted to be called as witnesses.

His evidence? A letter from the prosecutors themselves.

McDaniels was jailed on gun charges in 2008. From the outset, he claimed he had been framed by officers under the command of now-disgraced police sergeant Ronald Watts.

Last fall, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office gave police a list of ten officers who would no longer be called as witnesses “due to concerns about their credibility and alleged involvement in the misconduct of Sergeant Watts.” Three of those officers were the only witnesses in McDaniels’ trial.

“The state’s own position is these officers aren’t credible,” defense lawyer Joshua Tepfer said today outside court. “The state’s own position is these officers lied.”

During a morning hearing, Tepfer urged Judge Arthur Hill to vacate McDaniels’ conviction, based on a number of factors, including the simple premise that there is no one left to testify against him.

“The state wouldn’t call them---they can’t call them---because they aren’t credible!” Tepfer told the judge, advising him that one of the officers has informed him he would take the fifth amendment if he was put on the stand.

“You can take the fifth amendment for a number of reasons,” he said. “He’s taking the fifth because he was a corrupt police officer.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala told the judge that a full evidentiary hearing was needed.

It is the defendant’s burden to prove there is a pattern of misconduct,” she said. “There are factual cases that have to be explored.”

But Tepfer insisted the pattern was more than evident, pointing to the list of 23 individuals who have already been cleared.

“That’s an extraordinary pattern,” he said. “Sgt. Watts was very much involved in the drug and gun trade.”

The scandal was an open secret among residents of the former Ida B. Wells housing project, where Watts and his crew worked for more than a decade. Two undercover officers said they tried to blow the whistle on the alleged corruption for years, only to face ostracism within the department.

Eventually, only Watts and Mohammed were ever criminally charged. But police recently admitted that 15 other officers had been placed on desk duty while they were finally investigated for Watts-related offenses.

“Every single case that rises or falls on the testimony of these officers needs to be tossed,” Tepfer said. “If at any time you don’t trust these convictions any more, you’ve got to throw them out!”

The judge took the matter under advisement, and said he would rule June 14.

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