Chicago City Council set to vote on $25 million payout to 2 men wrongfully convicted in murder of Chicago basketball standout

Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS

A City Council committee approved a $25 million settlement Monday in a Chicago police misconduct case involving two men wrongfully convicted of murdering a college basketball standout three decades ago, sending one of the city’s largest police misconduct settlement awards in recent years to a final vote this week.

The Finance Committee advanced the massive settlement deal to the full City Council, which is expected to vote on the matter Thursday. The only aldermen to oppose the deal were Marty Quinn, 13th, Bill Conway, 34th, and Brian Hopkins, 2nd.

Hopkins expressed concerns the city was setting a fiscally imprudent precedent with such a large settlement, but other council members and a representative from the city’s Law Department disagreed. They noted a potential trial for such an infamous case — in which two Black men spent a combined 34 years in custody, and the former detectives involved in the case have faced other misconduct lawsuits over the years — could be far costlier.

In 2016, Tyrone Hood and Wayne Washington independently of each other sued the city, alleging police, including then-Detectives Kenneth Boudreau and John Halloran, fabricated evidence and coerced testimony to win murder convictions in the May 1993 killing of Marshall Morgan Jr. The Tribune reported last month about a tentative deal to settle both lawsuits simultaneously for a total of $25 million, pending approval by the City Council.

Before voting against the settlement on Monday, Hopkins said he worried it would be used as the floor for future misconduct cases.

“My concern is whatever precedent we may be setting here with this action today with future certificates of innocence will certainly be issued by the court in the near future for other exonerees that are at various stages in the pipeline,” Hopkins said.

The downtown alderman, chair of the Public Safety Committee, also noted the $25 million amount would be an outlier from the average police misconduct payout of about $250,000 for every year spent wrongfully incarcerated.

“It’s dependent on the facts of the case,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Jessica Felker replied. “There are circumstances — and again, I’m happy to talk to you offline — that warrant going above an average. And an average is an average, as you know. So that means we’ve gone above, and we’ve gone below.”

Under the settlement agreement, Hood, who served 22 years, would receive $17.5 million and Washington, who served 12 years, would get $7.5 million. The city’s insurance would pay for $5 million of the $25 million award. But Felker said if the case goes to trial, the plaintiffs would instead seek $34 million to $68 million, plus covering about $6 million in the past seven years of attorneys’ fees.

If approved, the $25 million would be the most sizable single police settlement from the city so far this year. It also would surpass any police misconduct payouts approved by the council last year, when the largest such settlement was $15 million paid to the family of Guadalupe Francisco-Martinez, a mother killed in a high-speed police chase in 2020.

This year, the highest settlement finalized so far was $7.25 million awarded to Arthur Brown, a man who served nearly 30 years in prison for a double murder conviction that was ultimately overturned.

The city’s move to settle the Hood and Washington cases comes after former Gov. Pat Quinn commuted Hood’s sentence on his final day in office in 2015, and a judge later vacated the conviction. Washington, who was released from prison a few years earlier, also had his conviction vacated.

But Hopkins was not convinced of the $25 million figure and insisted the city take the case to trial.

“This settlement is off the charts,” Hopkins said. “We’re setting our own precedent here. I don’t know why we would do that. … What I don’t want to see is us inadvertently setting a standard that we can’t afford to meet in the future.”

Felker, however, reminded aldermen that 10 other misconduct lawsuits are pending against Boudreau, who along with his co-defendant is represented by outside counsel. The city already has paid out settlements in five reversed conviction cases involving Boudreau, she added, and the city’s own insurers don’t oppose the pending settlement to Hood and Washington. That is not always the case, Felker said.

“Our job is to limit the city’s exposure to financial risk and not to exacerbate that potential risk, correct?” Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st, asked Felker, who agreed. “And by going to trial, factually, we expose the city and taxpayers to additional risk, correct? … That’s all I needed to understand in this case. I could go on but that, again, is at the crux of the matter.”

But aldermen on both sides of the political spectrum agreed: The cost to the city for these misconduct lawsuits is far too great.

“We need to have some real conversations because we’re spending now millions of tax dollars on bad behavior,” Ald. Jeanette Taylor, 20th, said. “We love talking about the people who will bring the cases before us, but we don’t talk about the people that we actually pay and make sure that they get their salaries who are supposed to serve and protect all of us.”

Morgan was a standout basketball player and honor student at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His half-naked body was found wedged between the front and back seats of his mother’s abandoned blue Chevrolet Cavalier on South Michigan Avenue in May 1993.

Hood and Washington were arrested two weeks later and charged with Morgan’s murder. Washington told police Hood shot Morgan as the pair robbed him, a statement he later said was false, the result of police punching and slapping him while he was handcuffed.

Hood was convicted of murder and sentenced to 75 years in prison. Washington’s trial ended in a hung jury. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Lawyers for the two defendants argued for years Hood and Washington did not kill Morgan, and that instead the likely suspect is actually Morgan’s father, Marshall Morgan Sr., a man with a troubled past and a potential motive.

Six months before Morgan Jr.’s death, his father took out a life insurance policy on his son and listed himself as the beneficiary of the policy. An Allstate Insurance review of the case ultimately awarded Morgan Sr. a $50,000 payout following the charges against Hood and Washington.

Adding to the suspicion in the years following Morgan Jr.’s killing was the revelation the father pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for killing a man in 1977. Two years after his son’s death, Morgan Sr. received $107,000 in life insurance after the shooting death of his fiancee, Michelle Soto. No one has been charged in Soto’s death.

Then, Morgan Sr. pleaded guilty to killing his girlfriend Deborah Jackson during an argument on a Chicago street in 2001. Jackson’s body was found inside an abandoned car, a scenario and circumstance with eerie similarities to Morgan Jr.’s case.

Morgan Sr. is in Sheridan Correctional Center, serving a 75-year sentence for shooting and killing Jackson. Morgan Sr. admitted killing Jackson but has repeatedly said that he was not involved in his son’s killing.