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Demond Weston

Other Cook County Exonerations with False Confessions
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Weston,%20Demond.jpg
Just after 10 p.m. on May 29, 1990, gunfire erupted in Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood on the city’s south side. There were three separate shootings, all within a few moments of each other. At the first, near the intersection of West 57th Street and South Wolcott Avenue, 19-year-old Joseph Watson was shot to death and 14-year-old Timothy Jones was shot in the leg. At the second, a mile away at West 55th Street and South Justine Street, 20-year-old Deneen Coats was shot in the back and the legs while her friend, Ronald Nesbit was also wounded. Finally, three other men were wounded during the third shooting, at West 58th Street and South Honore Street.

The Chicago police investigated the shootings under the belief that the violent events were related and tied to gang violence.

On June 9, 1990, 17-year-old Demond Weston was walking to the store, when plainclothes detectives, including Detective Michael Kill, pulled up in unmarked cars, drew their weapons, searched him, and then placed him in a police car. The police said they were looking for a man named Victor Brown, and they asked Weston if he was “Vic.” Weston said he wasn’t. The officers drove Weston to a vacant lot and parked next to another police car. A man named Dwayne Macklin was in the back, arrested for his involvement in an unrelated shooting. Kill would later testify that Macklin had signed a statement that said Weston was involved with the May 29 shootings. According to Weston, Macklin tried to tell officers they had the wrong person, but they didn’t listen. The officers took Weston to the Area Three Police Headquarters and placed him in an interrogation room. He was not allowed to call his mother; He would later say the officers never read him his Miranda rights.

First, according to Weston, the officers wanted to know about the shooting of a man named Curtis, and they continued to operate under the assumption that he was Victor Brown. Weston said he didn’t shoot anybody, wasn’t Brown, and didn’t know anybody named Curtis. Several hours into the interrogation, Kill returned to the room and confirmed that Weston wasn’t Brown. Now, they began to question him about the killing of Joseph Watson. They falsely told Weston they had recovered a weapon with his fingerprints on it but that he could go home if he named Brown as the shooter.

At one point, Weston became confused, because the officers had at first asked about a shooting involving someone named Curtis, and now they wanted to know about a shooting involving a man named Joseph. One of the officers, Detective William Moser, then slapped Weston and told him he was crying like a baby and needed to cooperate if he ever wanted to go home.

A short while later, Detective Anthony Maslanka entered the room. Weston would later say that Maslanka stood in back of him, squeezed his shoulders and told Weston that the officers could kill him right there and nobody would ever know. Weston said another officer was about to ask him a question when Maslanka put him in a sleeper hold and Weston passed out.

He said that when he woke up it was dark outside, and he realized that he had defecated on himself while he was unconscious. The officers returned and humiliated him, teasing him about the stench in the room. Weston said he was exhausted and defeated. He told the officers he would sign a statement.

Paul Sabin, an assistant state’s attorney, entered the interrogation room. Moser told the prosecutor they needed more time, and he proceeded to review with Weston the statement he wanted him to give. Weston said Moser told him that if the prosecutor asked him a “Yes” or “No” question, Weston should look to Moser for guidance. If the question was multi-part or hard to answer, Moser said Sabin would tell Weston to think about his answer and leave the room. That would give Moser and Weston time to go over the correct answer. Weston said that during this process, Moser would hit him when Sabin was out of the room if he didn’t like an answer Weston had given.

After hours of interrogation, the statement that Weston signed was a confusing jumble. It mentioned a meeting of the Gangster Disciples, where Weston said he met with four other men to discuss an attack on members of the Vice Lords gang. Weston said in the statement that Macklin gave him a .22-caliber Derringer, and that he took a bus with another man to the area where the shootings occurred. After shots were fired, Weston said he ran through an alley and saw a man shot and lying on the ground. He said he shot twice, but not at the man. “I shot up by his head, way over … way over.” Weston’s confession was signed at 1:35 a.m. on June 10, 1990.

Although Weston’s statement only addressed the shooting that led to the death of Joseph Watson, he was also charged with attempted murder in the shootings of Coats, Nesbit, and Jones.

Later on June 10, he was taken to a county jail and was allowed to make a call. He called his mother and told her what had happened, and about the abuse he had suffered during his interrogation.

Weston’s trial in Cook County Circuit Court began on April 14, 1992. Before the trial, Weston’s court-appointed attorney had moved to quash the arrest and suppress Weston’s statement. At a hearing, Weston testified that he was slapped, but did not mention any torture at the hands of the officers. Moser, Maslanka, Kill, and Sabin also testified, and they said there was no torture or irregularities in the interrogation. The judge allowed the statement to be entered into evidence.

Weston also testified at his trial but said little about his interrogation. He said his attorney told him that jurors would not believe his word against the word of the officers, so it was not in his best interest to discuss the abuse he said he had received. His attorney would later say he did not know about the abuse beyond Weston’s claims of being slapped and would have raised that issue if he had.

The state’s case against Weston relied heavily on his coerced statement. There was no other evidence tying Weston to the shooting that killed Watson and injured Jones. A reputed gang member whose car was said to have been used at the shooting testified, and he neither identified Weston as a gang member nor said that Weston was at the meeting where the shooting was planned. Other eyewitnesses also failed to identify Weston.

In the second shooting, of Coats and Nesbit, the state had a stronger case. Coats testified that she saw Weston as one of a group of eight or so men who were standing around on her block beginning around 9 p.m. About an hour later, she testified, the men came toward them and began shooting. Nesbit said he was unable to make an identification because it was night and the men were wearing dark clothes and hats.

Coats testified that the men were in her line of sight continuously during that entire period before the shooting. But that would have made it impossible for Weston to be involved with the shooting of Watson and Jones, which was reported to have taken place at almost exactly the same time. In addition, Coats testified that when she looked at a police lineup in July 1990, she was asked to pick out any men she recognized as being involved. She selected three, including Weston.

No charges were filed in the third shooting, but prosecutors used this event to establish that Weston was involved in a wider range of offenses. Two of the victims of that shooting had viewed lineups, but neither was able to identify Weston.

There was limited physical and forensic evidence. Police had recovered some 9-mm shells at the first two crime scenes, which tracked with Macklin’s statement on the type of weapon used and also showed a connection between these events. But Weston’s statement said that he had been given a Derringer, not a 9-mm gun.

During closing arguments, the state argued that even if the evidence was less than clear cut that Weston fired the shots that killed Watson and injured the others, he should still be convicted because he was a Gangster Disciple out for revenge that night.

“The law of accountability says every Gangster’s Disciple’s, [sic] out that night, finger was on the trigger. If you share in the hunt you share in the kill … Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, this defendant did not have to fire his weapon at all.”

Weston was convicted on April 21, 1992 of one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the murder conviction and 30 years for the attempted murder convictions, with the sentences to run consecutively.

Weston appealed his conviction, first in state court, and then in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In his state appeal, Weston’s attorney did not raise the issue of torture, but Weston raised these claims in his pro se petitions to the federal court. The court ultimately dismissed those claims, the latest in 2000. Weston would later say that his petitions lacked sufficient detail about the abuse he suffered because he did not know the rules of submitting evidence in support of his motions.

In 2002, Special Prosecutor Edward Egan was appointed by the Cook County Circuit Courts to investigate wide-ranging claims involving Lt. Jon Burge and the officers under his command, including Kill and Maslanka. Weston’s allegations were included in Egan’s final report, issued in 2006. The report concluded that Maslanka likely committed perjury when he testified at a hearing involving a defendant who, like Weston, soiled himself during an abusive interrogation. Burge was convicted of perjury in federal court in 2010 for denying torture allegations during questioning in federal lawsuits brought by other torture victims. He was sentenced to 4½ years in prison and died in 2018.

Separately, in 2007, Macklin recanted his pre-trial statements. He said he had never picked out Weston to Detective Kill and that his written statements were the result of being beaten during his interrogation and the detective telling him what to say.

The Egan report led to the creation in 2009 of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, which was charged with investigating claims of torture against Burge and the officers who worked for him.

Weston filed a claim with the Torture Commission in 2011. The commission ruled in 2017 that “there was sufficient evidence of torture to merit judicial review.” While the commission noted that Weston had greatly expanded his accounts of abusive treatment over the years, some of the essentials of his complaint – including being slapped by a detective – had been consistent through the years. In addition, the commission noted that Weston’s complaints tracked with alleged patterns of behavior by the officers in other cases.

While the commission was deliberating, Weston’s attorneys had filed a petition for a new trial in 2014, citing the alleged misconduct during Weston’s interrogation and the findings of the Egan report. That motion was granted in 2016, and hearings on Weston’s petition were to be combined with an evidentiary hearing ordered by the Torture Commission.

These hearings never took place. The Cook County State’s Attorney wasn’t representing the state in the proceedings because of conflicts of interest. Special Prosecutor Robert Milan oversaw the Burge-related appeals and related matters. Weston’s pro bono attorney, Scott Schutte, with the law firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, began negotiating with Milan, and they struck a deal in November 2019. The state would agree to vacate the convictions and dismiss the charges, and Weston would agree not to seek a certificate of innocence, which would be required to receive state compensation. He can still bring a civil suit against the police department or the city of Chicago.

During a hearing on December 18, 2019, Milan told Judge Angela Petrone that he had spent three months reviewing the case. While he found Weston’s allegations of abuse “unsubstantiated,” he also said the evidence against Weston did not prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Weston’s convictions were vacated and the charges dismissed.

According to Injustice Watch, Weston was overcome with emotion. He cried and gripped the courtroom table for support. His friends and family cheered at news of his release and began preparing a celebration to welcome Weston home.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 1/9/2020
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1990
Convicted:1992
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:75 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No