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Codell Griffin

Other Federal Exonerations with Misconduct
In October 1989, a federal grand jury in Chicago indicted 65 members of the El Rukn street gang and their associates on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, narcotics sales and witness intimidation.

The two indictments outlined how the gang, which was formed in the mid-1960’s on Chicago’s South Side, grew into an organized-crime empire that supplied narcotics throughout the U.S., committed 20 murders and attempted 7 other killings.
 
On September 23, 1991, three of the defendants, Codell Griffin, Thomas Burnside and C.D. Jackson – who were not accused of being El Rukn gang members – went on trial in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute drugs to the gang.

At the jury trial, four high-ranking El Rukn gang members, Henry Harris, Harry Evans, Earl Hawkins and Ervin Lee, testified for the prosecution pursuant to plea agreements, that Griffin, Burnside and Jackson sold drugs to the gang. On October 31, 1991, Griffin and Burnside were convicted of racketeering, conspiracy and a narcotics conspiracy charge. Jackson was convicted of a narcotics conspiracy charge and acquitted of all other charges.

Prior to sentencing, Griffin, Burnside and Jackson filed motions for a new trial arguing that the prosecution had failed to disclose misconduct by the cooperating witnesses, and that the prosecutors had repeatedly ignored and withheld evidence that the witnesses were using drugs while in custody, even at times while they were in the offices of the trial prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago.

In June 1993, following hearings in November and December 1992, District Court Judge Holderman vacated Griffin’s, Burnside’s and Jackson’s convictions and issued a scathing 137-page opinion holding that the prosecution had withheld material evidence that the defense could have used to impeach the prosecution witnesses.

The decision noted that some of the witnesses were allowed contact visits with their wives or girlfriends in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail in Chicago, in violation of jail policy. In addition, the female visitors – who were rarely searched – smuggled cocaine, marijuana and heroin into the jail.

Holderman also found that the prosecution witnesses were granted “especially troubling” telephone privileges. “In light of the evidence indicating that the witnesses received drugs from outside sources, the court can only infer that the El Rukn cooperating inmate witnesses utilized their telephone privileges to contact their illegal drug suppliers at taxpayer expense.”

The judge found that some of the witnesses became so bold that they were answering telephones in the prosecution offices and pretending to be federal agents.

After the convictions were vacated, Jackson pled guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to time served. The prosecution dismissed the charges against Burnside on January 27, 1994. He remained incarcerated on unrelated drug charges. On June 13, 1994, the charges against Griffin were dismissed and he remained in prison on other, unrelated drug charges.

After Judge Holderman and two other judges who handled El Rukn prosecutions ruled that the lead prosecutor, William Hogan, had knowingly concealed exculpatory evidence from the defense, the U. S. Department of Justice suspended and then sought to fire Hogan. But after a legal battle that lasted more than five years, Hogan won his job back in 1998 and resumed prosecuting cases in Chicago.
 
Ultimately, 56 of the original 65 defendants were convicted. Almost all of them filed motions for new trial based on the undisclosed evidence. The majority received new trials and then pled guilty to reduced charges and received significantly reduced sentences.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/8/2014
State:Fed-IL
County:(Northern)
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1991
Exonerated:1994
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:41
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No