Former homeless man to be freed from prison in 2002 rape case: Mitchell
By MARY MITCHELL September 9, 2013 5:44PM
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:21AM
It took just 30 minutes for a jury to convict Carl Chatman of raping a Daley Center employee in 2002.
It has taken the criminal justice system 11 years to conclude that Chatman, then a homeless man, was wrongfully convicted of the charges.
On Tuesday, Anita Alvarez announced that the Chatman case is one of two cases that the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit is dismissing.
The dismissal will pave the way for the 58-year-old man to be released from Dixon Correctional Center .
“In reviewing the information and evidence in this case, there is not enough sound evidence to uphold the conviction,” a spokeswoman for that office told me Monday afternoon.
At trial, the unidentified rape victim told the court that her “screams were not heard” and that the “security measures” at the courthouse failed.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘I have two kids. Please don’t hurt me,” the woman testified. “He took my shoulders and threw me across my desk.”
In less time than it takes for the average worker to eat lunch, 12 jurors came back with a guilty verdict. In 2004, Chatman was sentenced to 30 years in prison — the maximum — for the alleged sexual assault.
At the time, Judge Michael Toomin called the rape “an outrageous assault on a public employee.”
One juror told reporters that the “evidence against Chatman was convincing.”
But what these jurors didn’t know was it wasn’t the first time the rape victim had claimed a man raped her after hours in an office building.
The woman reported a similar rape in a building in the 600 block of North Michigan Ave. in 1979.
In a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief filed in 2007, lawyers with the Office of the State Appellate Defender, as well as the civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy argued the rape victim had a “pattern of alleging she was sexually assaulted then filing suits for monetary gain.”
In 1979, the rape victim claimed that a Polish immigrant assaulted her under eerily similar circumstances.
Edward Szymczak was charged with rape and unlawful restraint, but fled to Poland and was never tried for the crime.
In both instances, the rape victim hired counsel immediately after making her allegations and filed lawsuits seeking monetary damages against the building owners, the building management companies, the building security providers and the janitorial services,” according to the petition.
I wrote several articles about the Carl Chatman case because it appeared to be a template for a wrongful conviction case.
Chatman was black, poor, mentally ill and caught up in a case that was so alarming, it cried out for a quick resolution.
Even Chatman’s ex-wife was convinced he had nothing to do with the crime.
“He may be a little touched, but no one should spend his life locked up for something he didn’t do,” said Versie Chatman at the time of his arrest.
In 2012, Alvarez created the Conviction Integrity Unit, promising to bring a “new focus” to the review of cases involving “questionable convictions.”
“The unit will internally review post-conviction cases that are brought to our attention,” Alvarez said in a speech at the City Club of Chicago.
“We will pay particular attention to the types of cases that we have seen have led to wrongful or questionable convictions such as cases involving single eyewitnesses. Or cases involving confessions with little or no supporting evidence, particularly those involving juvenile defendants or defendants with mental-health issues,” Alvarez said.
Chatman certainly appears to fit the latter category. But there were also nagging questions about the evidence.
For instance, how did a disheveled, smelly, man get past security personnel who were on high alert because of the rape allegations?
“How was he able to sneak out of the building?” asked Russell Ainsworth, an attorney with Loevy & Loevy. “The crime was reported within 10 minutes of the occurrence, and the building immediately went on lockdown?”
Chatman had the misfortune of being on the wrong street at the wrong time. Once he found himself in the criminal justice system, the odds were against him ever seeing the outside world again.
“Oh my God,” cried Theresa Chatman, the convicted man’s sister, before breaking down in sobs when I told her about the state’s attorney’s office decision to drop the charges against her brother.
“Do I need to bring him any clothes? What time will he get out because I’m going to show up in a limo,” she said.