On May 24, 2002, a 50-year-old Cook County Circuit Court aide reported that she had been raped in a 21st floor courtroom in Chicago’s Daley Center by a man wielding a pair of scissors. The woman was found on a table at about 7:35 a.m., before the building opened to the public, by two other clerks who summoned police.
The building was locked down immediately and all floors were searched, but the attacker was not found. The search was expanded to outside the building and shortly after, police arrested 47-year-old Carl Chatman on the street about six blocks away. Police said he matched the description given by the victim, particularly because he was wearing a red Chicago Blackhawks team jacket.
Chatman, who was an alcoholic homeless Army veteran with an IQ of 68 suffering from schizophrenia, was placed in a lineup and the victim identified him as her attacker. Police interrogated him and he confessed to the crime.
Chatman went on trial in January 2004 in Cook County Circuit Court. The victim, who was a court coordinator for the chief judge, testified that Chatman had been in her courtroom a few days earlier looking for assistance and that she sent him away. She said that when she arrived on May 24, Chatman was waiting for her and raped her violently after brandishing a pair of scissors.
Although the victim testified that she bit her attacker’s coat and urinated on it, forensic tests on the coat revealed no evidence of the victim’s DNA. And although the woman said she was raped, Chatman’s DNA was not found. Paramedics and doctors who examined the victim found no physical evidence of an assault.
Detectives testified that Chatman confessed to the attack. They said that Chatman admitted that he had come into the building the previous day and spent the night sleeping under a bench in the courtroom before attacking the woman the following morning.
On January 29, 2004, a jury convicted Chatman and he was sentenced to the maximum term of 30 years in prison.
His conviction was upheld on appeal, but in 2011, a post-conviction motion for a new trial was filed. The motion claimed that the prosecution had failed to disclose, and Chatman’s defense attorney had failed to discover, that in 1979 the victim had made a similar report of being raped in an office building. She claimed that early in the morning, before other office workers arrived, she was raped by an English-speaking maintenance worker. The suspect she identified was a Polish immigrant who spoke no English and who fled back to Poland before he could be arrested. The woman later sued the building management and settled for an undisclosed, but substantial, sum.
The motion alleged that at the time the woman accused Chatman of raping her, she was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service and owed more than $100,000 in unpaid taxes due to gambling debts and fraudulent business practices. Within days of the alleged rape by Chatman, the woman had sued the County and later settled the lawsuit for more than $400,000.
The motion also said that new evidence had been discovered that a security officer in the court building and a building manager were present during a portion of Chatman’s interrogation after his arrest. These two witnesses reported that the detectives coached Chatman and fed him details about how he had committed the rape. The building manager had filed a report at the time—never disclosed to the defense—that the officers had fed the confession to Chatman and that Chatman was “pretty incoherent.”
Chatman’s new defense lawyers discovered that a half hour before Chatman confessed, a detective had called the state police crime lab and was told the victim’s skirt was burgundy and that she was wearing thigh-high stockings—both details that Chatman was said to have spontaneously volunteered during his confession.
The motion also alleged that Chatman’s trial attorney had failed to request a mental competency examination prior to his trial. Chatman, the motion said, had been diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1981, more than two decades prior to the alleged attack, and been repeatedly hospitalized.
Chatman’s lawyers also discovered that police had failed to interview a sheriff’s deputy who said he was sleeping in the courtroom adjacent to the courtroom where the victim said she was attacked. When the deputy was interviewed years later, he said he heard nothing, despite the victim’s claim that she repeatedly screamed for help.
After the motion was filed, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit re-investigated the case and concluded that Chatman was wrongfully convicted. On September 10, 2013, at the prosecution’s request, Chatman’s conviction was vacated, the charge was dismissed and he was released.
– Maurice Possley