The Case That Never Was

The Case That Couldn't Be Won...But Was

This is an old blog post I wrote when I was still practicing in Chicago. This was a very unique case. I was just 40 years-old trying a career case that was like pitching game seven of The World Series and quarterbackingThe Super Bowl all wrapped together. The pressure was immeasurable. Had he been convicted my client would have spent the rest of his life in prison. What follows is a long read but, I think, it's worth it. My second novel, "Concealed Carry," was loosely based on this case but wholly different factually.

In early August 2009, I was called by a young woman. Her brother was in the county jail and needed a lawyer. At this point, there's nothing unusual about this caller and the problem. I don't get many personal phone calls, so when my phone rings, it's typically someone with a loved one in jail. "What kind of case does he have?" I asked. "He shot two police officers," she answered.

This was no longer a typical phone call. I think I remember sitting down.

I wasn't the first attorney she called.  It seems the other lawyers simply wanted nothing to do with this case or wanted an obscene amount of money. I was told that the family didn't have a lot of money, but clearly had a pretty big problem. This phone call came pretty early in my criminal practice. At the time, this case was beyond anything I had handled. But I admit, I was intrigued.

I asked if she knew anything about the case. She told me what she knew, which made me really interested. I told the caller I would go to the county jail and meet with her brother. I looked up her brother's information on the sheriff's website. I quickly learned in which division he was being kept.

Then I Googled his name to see if there was a news story. There were several. Here is one of them and probably the one I read first. Not that I doubted what the caller told me, but reading this made me realize how serious the situation was. A cop shooter? And I admit the picture of Kenneth Green didn't make a good impression. He looked mean. He looked how I imagined someone that shot cops would look.

Probably the next morning, I drove to Division IX of the Cook County Jail. I showed my credentials at the desk and requested to meet with Mr. Green. After a cursory pat-down, I was taken inside the jail and escorted to the approximate location of Mr. Green's deck. Of all of the divisions in the Cook County Jail, Division IX creeps me out the most. You have to go underground to get to it and it reminds me of The Silence of The Lambs, where they kept Hannibal Lecter locked up.

I was lead to a room upstairs. It had a plastic table and two plastic chairs inside of it. That was it. I saw down at the table, turned to a fresh page on my legal pad and wrote "Kenneth Green, Div IX August 5, 2009" centered on the top line.

A couple of minutes past. I sat there staring at the blank sheet of paper while wondering who was about to walk into that room. Would it be some would be cop-killing thug? I told myself even before I left for the jail that day that if Mr. Green had really tried to kill a couple of cops, there was no way I was taking the case. No way. No way. No way. Not that I don't believe such a person is entitled to competent legal representation. It just wasn't the type of person I wanted to represent.

Eventually Mr. Green walked in. I stood up to shake his hand. I quickly told him my name, that I was a lawyer and his sister called me. He said "Thanks for coming to see me, I'm Kenny." He was taller than myself, standing almost 6 feet. He was thin. Not sickly thin, but definitely not the body of someone who had overeaten regularly.

We sat down to discuss his case. It was pretty clear that he had grown up in the streets. But he was nothing like his picture made him appear to be. I detected no meanness. And he was certainly no thug. He hadn't been convicted of anything, I was told. I believed him. I work with a lot of criminals. Kenny wasn't a criminal. Rough around the edges, perhaps. But nothing more than that.

By the time Kenny finished telling me what happened, I knew I wanted his case. The story in the media was incorrect, which I was coming to learn was pretty typical when it came to crime reporting. For several reasons, I believed every word that Kenny told me. It just made sense. There was nothing bizarre about it. But the question remained: would the physical evidence support his version of the story? I would have to take the case to find out. And so I did.

The arraignment was the first time I appeared in court on behalf of my new client. Even though I knew this was an extraordinary case, two things happened at the arraignment that really drove this point home. The first thing that happened was that the prosecutors introduced themselves to me. The only thing out of the ordinary with these guys is that they were very senior in the State's Attorney's office. They were so senior, I had never seen them in a courtroom. They were big wigs and both of them taller than myself.

The second thing that happened is when the judge handed me the 48 count indictment. 48 counts? Really? That indictment was so thick, one of those giant industrial sized staplers had to be used to fasten it all together. The size of the staple was enormous. But I arraigned Kenny like he was any other client, "Not guilty to all counts."

When I walked out of the courtroom that morning I knew I was in neck deep. Actually, at the point, I was probably in way over my head. I hadn't tried a case yet. You may ask if it was smart or even professional for me to take the case. All I can say is that Kenny's family knew I was inexperienced and so did Kenny. But they also knew I believed in the case. Also, I was the only attorney they could afford. Since they didn't want Kenny to be represented by a PD, I was the only option. In reality, I priced myself so they could afford me. I wanted that case. 

Even though at the time, I knew I was short on experience, I never doubted my abilities as an attorney. I knew it would be a long time before the case went to trial and by the time it did, I would have trial work under my belt. That assumption ended up being correct.

Every month when the case came up for discovery status, I got more and more documents. By the time discovery was complete, this file would take an entire banker's box to contain it. For a Chicago criminal case, that's a big file. Take my word for it.

And every month, I saw the same two prosecutors. I got to know them and even grew to like one of them a lot. The other one was eventually demoted within his office and was replaced on my case by another guy I also grew to like. As it turned out, we had a somewhat common military background. But I think the State kept thinking I was going to ask for a plea deal. I don't think anyone but myself, my client, and his family really believed this case would ever see a trial.

I began preparing this case for trial on day one. I guess in the long run, that gave me an advantage. And my theory of the case never changed: my client didn't know he was shooting at police officers and the drugs found in his bedroom belonged to his brother. I would ultimately have to teach a jury that this wasn't just a theory but was, in fact, the truth. If I failed in doing so, Kenny could be gone for life.

I never lost sight of what was at stake. But at no time did I ever think about seeking a plea deal. Why? Because I believed in the case. However, because of how people think, I knew it would be a tough sell to a jury. But I also believed in my ability to tell Kenny's story in a way a jury could understand. Or so I'd hoped. Also at no time did Kenny ever mention a deal. He wanted a trial. He wanted to take the stand and tell a jury what happened.

In the late fall of 2009, I went to see where this incident took place. I took my camera and measuring tape. I took pictures and measurements. I also made sketches. While I was inside of the apartment, my passenger side window was shattered with half of a brick and my GPS was stolen. This had been the first time I ever did not put my GPS in my glove box. I mean the absolute first. I was slipping and I got caught. I blame that one on myself.

This case changed judges three times due to administrative reasons in our courthouse. This was going to be a jury trial from day 1. I didn't want to put a judge in the position of having to find someone who shot 2 cops not guilty. No, a jury trial was the only option. I just needed a good jury. I needed jurors who would do their job.

It took well over a year for the State to complete discovery. The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) conducted an investigation of this case as they do in all situations where the police discharge a firearm. This investigation delayed the discovery process. I also used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain Chicago Police Department documents that pertained to search warrants, from obtaining them through post-execution.

In the spring and summer of 2010, three off-duty Chicago Police officers were shot and killed. It was obvious a trial even remotely close to those events time-wise was a bad idea. Thus, I continued to take my time but didn't intentionally delay.

The case was originally set for trial in April 2011, but the State wasn't going to be ready. It was rescheduled for June 2011, but I couldn't get ready. The trial was again rescheduled for August 2011. The judge firmly said, "Unless one of the attorneys dies, this trial is going in August." I took her for her word.

I also knew I was going to need help with this trial. I needed a 2nd or 3rd year law student at a minimum. There was going to be a lot of exhibits and I wasn't going to have time to keep track of them. I was also going to need help during final trial preparation. I needed someone to constantly test and challenge my theory of the case as we discussed the evidence.

I had a 3L that said she wanted to help. She would have been allowed to sit at counsel's table during the entire trial. It would have been great experience but she pulled out suddenly 2 weeks before the trial. Shit. I started to get into panic mode. In a last ditch effort I sent out a Tweet seeking help from a law student. I said I would pay.

I will admit that I was freaked out about this trial that was looming in the near future. Every day I got deeper in August, the trial got closer. Even though I was very confident in my case, I was scared. I was lining up against numerous members of the Chicago Police Department and two very senior prosecutors. I didn't even have a law clerk. But I did have a very powerful ally, the truth.

The trial was scheduled for August 22, 2011. On August 12, I left town for a long weekend. I needed to get away from Chicago and let my head clear before this trial. While I was out of town, I was contacted via email from a young lawyer from Indianapolis that I had some familiarity with through Twitter. She wanted to help with this trial. But there was a problem. I could not afford to pay her an attorney's wage for her work. She didn't care. I told her we would talk when I returned to Chicago.

When we spoke, I gave her a brief rundown of the facts of the case and my theory. I told her that I could pay her very little and she agreed. There were friends in Chicago she could stay with while here. And she really, really wanted to help with this trial. It wasn't hard to see why. These types of cases don't come along too often and she wanted in on it. Perfect.

On Saturday August 20, 2011 I had a 20 mile run that morning and ran sub 7:00 miles the whole way. Post-run found me relaxed and ready to do final prep work. My co-counsel, DawnMarie White, arrived Saturday afternoon having made the drive from Indianapolis late morning. She parked her car at her friend's house. I gave her directions to get to the nearest train station, got her on the train, and told her at which stop to get off. She texted me when she was close and I walked to the train station to meet her.

At the train station we exchanged hellos and a handshake. We made the 10 minute walk back to my loft and immediately went to work. I had the entire file spread out on the cabinet island counter. Earlier that week, I made a 3 page "To Do" list. I showed her the list and we began work.

It's amazing but as soon as DawnMarie arrived on Saturday, I felt much better about the task at hand. I think just having someone next to me as we went into battle got my head into a better place. I had books open all over my loft. I had to look up some rules of evidence in anticipation of objections I knew were going to come. I looked through the Bible that is the Trial Handbook for Illinois Lawyers (Criminal Edition). This is an absolute must have if you try cases in Illinois. A must have. All three volumes of the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions (Criminal) were open and scattered about my place.

Fortunately, the actual case file was well organized. All of the discovery was broken down into manila folders. The FOIA documents were still in the envelope in which they were mailed. And the IPRA documents were already broken down by police officer and witness.

I originally planned to call 6 witnesses during my case in chief. I gave DawnMarie the statements from 4 of them. They had all given statements to IPRA. But my client's mother had also given a handwritten statement to detectives and a prosecutor on the day of the incident since she was arrested too. The mother had also testified before the Grand Jury. Her story never wavered once.

I wanted DawnMarie to learn what the 4 witnesses had already said and draft direct examination questions to elicit the same version of the story they already told. At that time, I hadn't thought about having her cross-examine any police officers. She was to help me prepare, keep track of exhibits, be my 2nd set of eyes and ears, and do the direct of our 4 female witnesses.

On Sunday we walked over to a nearby Fed-Ex/Kinos and made duplicate trial notebooks. They were large, filling a 3" three ring binder. Back at my place, we went through the police officers that were likely to testify. Unlike most cases, we had police testimony to the IPRA investigator. Thus, going into trial, we knew how they were going to tell the story. And therefore, we knew what facts we could get from each officer that would advance our theory of the case.

Separately, DawnMarie and myself made hand-written notes about each officer's likely testimony that would help us. From these notes, cross-examination questions/outlines would be prepared. We parted ways on Sunday evening pretty early, but both had work to do that night.

On Monday morning we went to court. Here is how we looked.