Following the unlikely August 2011 Kenneth Green verdict there appeared an article the next morning in one of the suburban Chicago newspapers. For those unfamiliar with this case it was like this: Kenneth Green shot two Chicago police officers who were executing a search warrant in his home. There was no dispute about that fact. He did shoot two police officers, and was charged with the attempted murder of the those two police officers. On the surface this looked like an open-and-shut case: guilty, right? But that’s not what happened. He was found not guilty on all charges. I was Kenneth’s defense attorney.
Not guilty! Incredible!
That’s just what the ‘journalist’ who wrote the article thought. The article could not have been more inaccurate. In summary, it read that the evidence was so overwhelmingly convincing of guilt that the not guilty verdicts must have been somehow coerced; in fact, the article claimed there were several gang members in the courtroom watching the trial and their threatening, menacing faces must have convinced the jury to acquit.
I can still remember how angry I was when I read that story. It cheapened our verdict; like the case had somehow been fixed.
I was able to show at trial that the police had acted recklessly by not following their own department’s procedures. The officers who testified all told different stories. And the defendant testified credibly that he didn’t know they were police on the other side of the bedroom door that was trying to be kicked open. In fact, the house door had been blown off the hinges by a battering ram and a dozen cops had rushed in. It all happened very quickly and there was a lot of confusion.
Kenneth fired a .22 revolver through the lower part of his bedroom door, through a hole in which a sneaker had just appeared as the hole was kicked open. Two of the four bullets hit two officers in their lower legs. They were both released later that day from the emergency room. Meanwhile, Kenneth Green was facing life in prison.
I was such a rookie when I got hired, but I knew from my first meeting with Kenneth that the case was going to trial. That was a big advantage, because the prosecutors assumed I would ask for a deal. They probably would have offered 25 years. No. Not once did I ever discuss a plea deal. I was going to try the case and began preparing it from day one. That was my advantage. I knew the case better than the two prosecutors.
Everyone who had been in the courtroom that whole week understood the verdict was the correct one. Had the police followed proper procedure that whole incident would have been prevented. And let me mention that after Kenneth fired through that hole in the door, three police officers blindly fired their weapons into that room over twenty times, attempting to shoot Kenneth dead; one had a AR-15 assault rifle. Several bullets blew through the dry wall in that bedroom into other areas of house, nearly striking a small child.
There was nothing at all shocking about the verdict. The jury was only out deliberating for two hours. The prosecutors were a little deflated, to be sure; but they knew in their hearts the defense had had the better case.
Back to this so-called journalistic article…it was rubbish. Kenneth Green wasn’t a gang member and never had been. There were never any gang members in the court room. Very few people actually watched the trial.
I wrote a rather heated email to this article’s author and asked, “Were you at any time in the courtroom?” I knew he hadn’t been. Then I went through his article line by line and corrected it with the facts. And lastly, I asked, “Don’t you as a journalist owe a duty to your readers to write only what you know to be accurate?”
He responded a few hours later. No, he hadn’t been in the courtroom and had relied on what others had told him; others who had obviously not attended the trial. He chose not to answer my question about a journalistic duty to be accurate.
What I hadn’t known was that word of the verdict had spread quickly from the courthouse, though it wasn’t reported by the Sun-Times or the Tribune. It wasn’t on the news. No one was waiting on the courthouse steps to interview anyone. It was just another trial that no one seemed to know was happening. There were no uninvolved police officers sitting in the gallery, supporting their fellow officers. The State’s Attorney wasn’t there. There was no one from the police union. No press. It was just another trial that should have been an easy guilty. Nothing there to see.
Where it was spreading, however, was on an anonymous police forum, and like the article, everything written about it was false. I wasn’t aware of this until after I read the bogus newspaper article. That’s when I started searching on the internet. What were people saying?
Apparently, no police officer could believe a black man in Chicago could ever be acquitted of shooting two Chicago cops. I guess blacks are not entitled to self-defense when police are involved, because when it comes to dealing with poor blacks, the cops are always in the right, even when they’re not. That’s their racist mindset.
What was written on the police site was upsetting. I went from the highs of that victory (words cannot convey what that felt like – I cried as Kenneth’s mother hugged me while I thanked her for entrusting me with her son’s life) to the lows of reading the awful things police officers were writing anonymously. “We’re going to kill that f*****g n****r!”
There were even worse things mentioned. Much worse.
I saw racism every day in the courthouse, and it was difficult to push against. The cops lied and cheated, but because they wear badges they were believed more than a poor young black man from Englewood. But what was anonymously written by apparent Chicago police officers upset me to the core. I think it was because it was so visceral and vulgar; it was in your face with shocking explicitness.
I immediately called Kenneth and advised him to leave Chicago for a while. I was worried his verdict was going to get him killed. He had been safer in the county jail. The concern was very real on my part. I cannot overstate this. I actually wondered at some point if I had possibly harmed Kenneth by freeing him from jail. I really thought about it.
The journalist–who had in his story basically repeated what had been written on the cop forum–eventually called me. He was unapologetic but asked if he could interview my client. I told him that my client had spoken in court under oath, the jury had listened and he had nothing more to say. He then asked to interview me, and I said yes. I was dying to set the record straight.
A few days later he met me outside of the courthouse. I had cooled down by then, but I was still upset. He interviewed me. I laid out the facts. He said thanks and left. At 6:00 pm that evening on the news, the story ran; but my interview had been so heavily edited that very little was aired in a way that rebutted the story that journalist had written and he at no time offered a correction. What was aired was me discussing the disturbing things written on the police forum and that I had advised Kenneth to leave Chicago.
The video was also embedded on the television station’s website along with this short second article. Unfortunately, the video is no longer there. If you read that article closely and especially the quotes from officials, it is crystal clear–at least to me–that even high-ranking city officials thought there was something funny with the verdict.
For instance, “After the verdict, a police union spokesman said, “‘Somebody dropped the ball here. It is the fault of the state’s attorney. I understand the jury system but what kind of a case did they present? How the hell did a defense attorney convince a jury it was self-defense?'”
And there were more false statements!
“A spokesperson for the state’s attorney said, “‘Prosecutors are extremely disappointed with this verdict. The case was charged and prosecuted based on significant and credible evidence. It is unclear what led the jurors to this decision given the fact that there were inconsistencies in (Green’s) testimony.'”
Kenneth’s testimony was entirely consistent and was in no way rebutted by the evidence.
There was also this: “When police kicked through the bottom of Green’s bedroom door, he shot through the door wounding two of the officers. Despite admitting all that, Green got off claiming self-defense.”
He neither “got off” nor claimed self-defense. The jury unanimously found his use of self-defense reasonable and thus acquitted him. The story completely skips that part, which is the most important part. The story reads like Kenneth stood up in court and said, “Self-defense” and walked right out. It’s absurd.
So, in the end, the public never got the real, true story from the media. My interview was a total waste of time, and I had made a mistake in giving it. Despite me telling the journalist the truth, the story’s spin and slant never changed.
The articles were written with a specific goal that was much more important than accuracy: shock value. Make white people even more scared of inner-city blacks who shoot cops and get away with it. Remember, this story began in the media in the suburbs.
I did post my entire closing argument on my blog. Unlike any other trial attorney I have ever seen, I write my closings word for word and read them to the jury from a lectern. I do take pauses now and then to walk around and really hit home a point. I do argue. I don’t just read monochromatically. But my closings are so carefully worded that they have to be read verbatim for full effect. Juries have never seemed to mind.
And if you read that closing, it pretty much goes through all the case evidence so that it’s clear not guilty verdicts were the only sensible verdicts. That’s what a closing argument is for, after all. But my argument was totally void of hyperbole or mischaracterizations of the evidence. I stuck to the facts and common sense, and in Chicago courtrooms the side with the better facts usually wins.
Very quickly this story and my argument began appearing on websites where the opinions were favorable. I can remember specifically an anti-drug-war site and one dedicated to gun rights. Someone emailed me after reading my closing argument and claimed I was the greatest trial lawyer since Clarence Darrow. That really made me laugh. No one had or has ever offered to me such misplaced flattery. And two or three people from places I cannot remember called to thank me for taking on such a seemingly impossible case.
Back to my question: Does the media have a duty to report accurately? I say absolutely. That newspaper article just added gas to the fire, and that police forum attracted more traffic from police officers who hadn’t yet known about the verdict and from suburban departments. The rhetoric turned more heated and more violent. That’s when it got really scary. That’s when I began to worry.
What if Kenneth had been murdered by rogue cops who were incensed by an inaccurate story? They probably would have gotten away with it. And if later these officers came to know that article and everything written on the forum was 100% false, I doubt they would have even cared. Screw the courtroom and self-defense! Justice served. There’s that mentality again.
The meanings or ramifications of that case and its verdict were not things that ever concerned me. I was hired to represent Kenneth Green and that was it. I did the job, got a good verdict and went right back to the courthouse the next day to represent other clients.
That’s how it is.