Chicago City Council to take up $25 million settlement in controversial wrongful conviction case

Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS

The City Council is poised to take up a $25 million settlement proposal in a controversial police misconduct case involving two men whose murder convictions were overturned in the slaying of a college basketball standout in Chicago 30 years ago.

Tyrone Hood and Wayne Washington sued the city separately in 2016, 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 that a tentative deal to settle both lawsuits simultaneously for a total of $25 million, pending approval by the City Council.

The city’s Finance Committee is scheduled to take up the settlement at its monthly meeting Monday, according to an agenda released this week. If the committee approves the proposal, it would move for a full vote before the City Council on Wednesday.

The lawsuits have lingered for more than seven years as the city has paid outside law firms to fight the allegations, including expending hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate over potential expert testimony and fighting to have former Gov. Pat Quinn answer questions under oath about his decision to commute Hood’s 75-year prison sentence.

Boudreau and Halloran, who have each faced dozens of misconduct lawsuits over the years, have repeatedly denied ever abusing anyone during their tenure on the force.

A trial in the case had been reset many times before finally appearing to be on track to begin July 10. Two weeks before jury selection was to begin, however, the parties notified U.S. District Judge John Kness that the $25 million settlement proposal had been reached.

Meanwhile, the Tribune has learned through public records requests that the city has paid nearly $7 million since 2016 to two outside law firms to litigate the case — part of a pattern that one former top lawyer for the city called “scandalous.”

About $3.7 million of those fees went to the Sotos Law Firm, while another $3 million was paid to Rock Fusco Connelly LLC, according to records provided by the city’s Law Department.

Both firms represent the city on dozens of police misconduct cases, including many involving the same detectives, court records show.

The city’s penchant for paying private attorneys in civil rights cases has been a hot-button issue for years. A 2019 investigation by the Tribune found that the city had paid $213 million in fees and costs to outside counsel over the previous 15 years.

The city’s corporation counsel at the time, Mark Flessner, called the spending “scandalous” and vowed to try to rein in the expense by seeking to hire more in-house lawyers to handle cases.

If approved by the City Council, the settlement in the Hood and Washington lawsuits would be the latest in a long line of massive payouts and jury awards in wrongful conviction cases involving alleged abuse by the Chicago police.

A standout basketball player and honor student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Morgan’s 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 that 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.

[ READ THE ORIGINAL REPORT: Missing IIT Student Found Slain In Mother’s Car On South Side ]

Hood served nearly 22 years behind bars before Quinn commuted Hood’s sentence on his final day in office in 2015. A judge later vacated his conviction. Washington, who was released from prison a few years earlier, also had his conviction vacated.