Judge will appoint special prosecutor to probe conduct of Cook County state’s attorney’s office in Burge-related case that imploded at trial last year

·3 min read

A special prosecutor will be appointed to investigate potential wrongdoing by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office related to the case of Jackie Wilson, whose trial fell apart last year after a prosecutor admitted to having a relationship with a key witness and then allegedly lied on the witness stand.

In a broad and blistering ruling, Judge Alfredo Maldonado on Thursday said “what happened here in this case was an absolute disgrace.”

“At best, the state’s attorney’s office was inept,” he said. “At worst, the state’s attorney’s office was perhaps engaging in some type of cover-up, to cover up some sort of misconduct.”

The new special prosecutor will be tasked with investigating not only the allegedly perjurious former prosecutor, Nick Trutenko, but also the state’s attorney’s office as an institution.

Maldonado did not name the special prosecutor Thursday. By statute, he must determine if public prosecuting bodies such as the attorney general’s office are willing and able to accept appointment, and if they decline, he can name a private attorney to act as the investigator.

It is the second time in two years that a judge has allowed for a special prosecutor to investigate Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.

Wilson’s case is one of the strangest and most complicated at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building.

His conviction in a shocking 1982 cop killing was thrown out in 2018 after lengthy legal proceedings about his allegations of torture by officers connected to notorious ex-Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

A separate team of special prosecutors brought him to trial on the murder again last fall. But they dropped Wilson’s charges in the middle of trial, after twists and turns usually reserved for TV courtroom dramas.

A central witness in the case, William Coleman, had testified in 1989 that Wilson confessed to the slaying to him when they were locked up together in Cook County Jail.

Coleman was widely reputed to be a con man and a fraud, with an international rap sheet, and by the time last year’s trial rolled around, neither defense attorneys nor the team of private attorneys appointed to prosecute the case knew if he was alive or dead. Not even Coleman’s ex-wife and son knew whether he was alive.

But on Oct. 1, Trutenko took the stand and said not only was Coleman still alive, but the two still kept in touch.

The courtroom was shocked.

But the case was not dropped until later, after Trutenko testified that he had not discussed Coleman in his previous conversations with the special prosecutors.

Special prosecutors told a trial judge that Trutenko’s testimony was false. They had, in fact, discussed Coleman with him. Then they dropped the charges against Wilson entirely. Trutenko was fired by Foxx later that evening.

Special prosecutors also alleged that a Cook County prosecutor tasked with representing Trutenko had warned them against asking about his relationship with Coleman.

And separately, a different Cook County prosecutor had tried to keep a damaging memo from Trutenko’s personnel file out of the hands of Wilson’s attorneys.

Maldonado on Thursday said the office should never have assigned Cook County state’s attorneys to represent Trutenko or to represent the office’s interest in the case.

“The state’s attorney’s office involved itself in a complete and utter ethical nightmare,” he said.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

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