Jury hears dramatically different takes of 1994 double murder as wrongful conviction trial gets underway

·4 min read

Eddie Bolden claims a Chicago police detective had a succinct explanation in 1994 for why police would get away with framing him for double murder in a case that would put him behind bars for 22 years.

“You’re just another (expletive),” Bolden says then-Detective Phil Pesavento told him, using a racial epithet. “Nobody gives a (expletive) about another (expletive).”

That explosive allegation was made to a federal jury by Bolden’s attorney Tuesday as his wrongful conviction lawsuit went to trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

The lawyer for Pesavento, however, not only vehemently denied her client ever said it, but doubled down on Bolden’s original murder conviction, telling the jury in her opening statement “Mr. Bolden is not an innocent man.”

“The police, the prosecutors and the jury that convicted him all got it right,” attorney Barrett Boudreaux said.

Bolden, 51, is suing Pesavento and retired gang specialist Officer James Oliver, as well as the estates of two other detectives who have since died, claiming he was framed in the January 1994 slayings of Derrick Frazier, 24, and Irving Clayton, 23, during a drug deal in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.

The lawsuit alleges the detectives zeroed in on Bolden as a suspect despite having flimsy evidence and witnesses who claimed Bolden was inside a restaurant playing a Pac-Man video game at the time of the shootings.

Bolden’s 1996 trial hinged mostly on the testimony of Frazier’s brother, Clifford, who was wounded in the shooting and was the only eyewitness, later identifying Bolden as the gunman in a lineup at the Area 2 headquarters.

Bolden was convicted by a Cook County jury of two counts of murder and a count of attempted murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

But in 2014, an Illinois appellate court ruled Bolden had made “a substantial showing” that his trial lawyer had been ineffective by failing to call alibi witnesses to the stand who claimed Bolden was playing a video game inside a JJ Fish & Chicken on Cottage Grove Avenue at the time the shooting took place.

After the case was sent back to the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Cook County Associate Judge Alfredo Maldonado ordered a new trial. Bolden was released in 2016 after the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped the case, saying they no longer believed they could meet their burden of proof.

Bolden has since been granted a certificate of innocence allowing him to recoup money from the state for his time in prison.

In his opening statement Tuesday, Ron Safer, an attorney for Bolden, said that in a rush to solve the case, police ignored key evidence, including that Bolden himself had called 911 from inside the restaurant after a wounded Frazier came barging in with a gun in his hand.

Safer said the shoddy investigation turned up no evidence that Bolden had been involved in the drug deal and no physical or forensic evidence tied him to the murder scene. Undaunted, detectives held an unconstitutional lineup where Bolden was the only one matching the physical features Frazier had given on the suspect, the lawyer said.

What’s more, Safer said, Bolden’s criminal defense attorney at the time, Charles Ingles, will testify that Frazier was improperly told police had “got the guy” who did the shooting, then walked him in front of Bolden in the station before the lineup. Detectives promised Ingles he could be present with Frazier as he viewed the lineup, but Pesavento had blocked him from entering the room at the last minute, Safer said.

“And that was the last moment of freedom Mr. Bolden would ever have for 8,082 days,” Safer told the jury. ‘’...This was intentional, and it was malicious.”

As a result of his wrongful conviction, Bolden was behind bars for the deaths of his grandparents and, later, his parents, Safer said. He contemplated suicide. His daughter, who was 1 year old at the time Bolden was arrested, graduated college a month after his release, Safer said.

“He missed 22 years of birthday parties, first days of school ... the joys, the sorrows, all the things that make life worth living,” Safer said.

But Boudreaux painted a far different picture of Bolden. She said he was best friends with Anthony “Ant” Williams, a high-ranking Gangster Disciples “governor” whose family owned the JJ Fish restaurant where all of the supposed alibi witnesses worked, as well as the apartments above it where most of them lived. It’s no surprise, she said, that police did not believe their stories about Bolden’s whereabouts.

“They were covering for Eddie Bolden,” she said.

At the time of the murders, Bolden was already on the radar of the FBI, which was conducting an unrelated investigation into Williams and his associates dubbed “Ant-Ban,” Boudreaux said. Police later learned from that FBI probe that Bolden was believed to be the shooter, she said.

Boudreaux also denied that the lineup was rigged, saying Frazier “picked Bolden out immediately.”

“Whose version of events makes more sense?” Boudreaux said.


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