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Kenneth Gordon

Other Chicago 'No Crime' Exonerations
At 4:30 a.m. on July 25, 2001, Chicago police officers pulled over 40-year-old Kenneth Gordon as he drove to work. Gordon, who had two prior convictions for possession of a stolen car, was charged with driving a stolen car and possession of burglary tools used to steal the car. The police report identified the vehicle as a 1995 Buick.

In August 2001, Gordon was indicted by a Cook County grand jury based on the testimony of one of the arresting officers, Andrew Doerge, who said that state vehicle records showed the car was owned by Arthur Johnson. Doerge said that Johnson had confirmed in an interview that the car was stolen.  Curiously, the indictment identified the car as a 1995 Oldsmobile.

On September 20, 2001, Gordon appeared before Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan for arraignment. He pled not guilty and his attorney, Assistant Cook County Public Defender Craig Rosenthal requested that the case be decided by Gaughan instead of a jury. Rosenthal also noted that he had not received a copy of a police report made when the car was stolen.

On February 6, 2002, during a status hearing on the case, the prosecution requested and was granted a continuance because the victim was not present and the prosecution still had not obtained the official vehicle records from the Illinois Secretary of State, the state agency that oversees vehicle licensing.

On April 8, when the case was called, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Merle Shearer said he was not ready for trial because the police officers were out of town and could not be located. Shearer also said he intended to call the owner of the car, whom he identified as Arthur Todd Johnson, to testify.

On April 25, 2002, Gordon was scheduled to go to trial before Judge Gaughan without a jury. Before the trial began, Shearer told Gordon’s attorney, Craig Rosenthal, that the Johnson, the car’s owner, was on “phone hold,” which meant he was available to testify at a moment’s notice, but just needed to be summoned by telephone.
 
Shearer then placed a call and told Rosenthal that Johnson was on the telephone. In an effort to expedite the trial, Rosenthal spoke to Johnson who said that he owned the car, that the car was in perfect operating condition in July 2001 and that he had not given Gordon permission to drive the car. 

As a result, Rosenthal agreed to a stipulation that was presented in court that had the owner of the car testified, he would say that he owned the car, that it was in operating condition, that it had been stolen and that he had not given Gordon permission to drive it. The official records from the Secretary of State’s Office were not introduced into evidence.
 
After the trial commenced, officer Doerge and police Sgt. Matt O’Connor testified that they stopped Gordon as he drove north on Kilpatrick Avenue after they ran a check on the car using a computer in the police squad car and determined that the car was stolen.

Gordon did not testify because of his two prior convictions for auto theft, although he told his attorney that the car he was driving the day of his arrest was not a 1995 Oldsmobile or Buick.

The trial was completed in a matter of hours. The judge convicted Gordon of auto theft and acquitted him of the charge of possession of burglary tools. Gordon was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Two years later, Gordon obtained records from the Illinois Secretary of State showing that on January 1, 2001—more than seven months prior to Gordon’s arrest—the title for the 1985 Oldsmobile had in fact had been signed over to a insurance company by Arthur Johnson. And that in September 2001—two months after Gordon’s arrest, the insurance company transferred the title of the car to Bionic Auto Parts & Sales, an auto wrecking business. At the time of the transfer the car was listed on the title as “inoperable.”

In 2004, Gordon filed a post-conviction motion seeking a new trial. The motion said that the police officers and the prosecutor had knowingly introduced false evidence against Gordon. The motion alleged that the police officers never talked to Arthur Johnson and that they fabricated the case against Gordon using an actual car, but not the one that Gordon was driving at the time of his arrest.
 
The motion accused the prosecutor of setting up a bogus telephone call with someone posing as Johnson to persuade Gordon’s defense attorney to agree to stipulate to the ownership of the car at trial so that the actual records—which would have disclosed the true ownership of the car—would not have to be introduced into evidence.

The motion said that Todd Johnson had not been on any telephone call to the prosecutor or Gordon’s attorney and that in fact Johnson had informed the defense that he no longer owned the vehicle in July 2001 when Gordon was arrested.

The prosecution offered a deal to resolve the motion: If Gordon would waive any claim for civil damages, the prosecution would not oppose the dismissal of the case and he would be released from prison one month prior to his official release date.

Gordon rejected the offer and in 2006, he was released from prison after serving four and a half years in custody. In 2008, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan granted Gordon’s motion, vacated Gordon’s convictions and ordered a new trial. In June 2008, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Gordon filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages. In 2010, the lawsuit was settled for $90,000. In 2012, Gordon was granted a certificate of innocence and subsequently was awarded $87,000 in compensation by the Illinois Court of Claims.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/11/2016
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Theft
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2001
Convicted:2002
Exonerated:2008
Sentence:9 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:40
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No