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Sheriff’s office ‘cast doubt - in the extreme’ years before rape conviction was overturned

Carl Chatman's sisters DrethMiller TheresChatman with Chatman's lawyer Russell Ainsworth. | RummanHussain/Sun-Times Media

Carl Chatman's sisters Dretha Miller and Theresa Chatman with Chatman's lawyer Russell Ainsworth. | Rummana Hussain/Sun-Times Media

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The letter that “cast doubt” on Carl Chatham’s guilt
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Updated: October 12, 2013 6:19AM

Six years before Carl Chatman was cleared of a 2002 Daley Center rape, a lawyer with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office sent a letter to prosecutors stating concerns that the alleged victim’s civil lawsuit “cast doubt — in the extreme” on Chatman’s guilt.

Dick Devine, the Cook County State’s Attorney at the time, had re-opened the high-profile criminal case.

But Chatman languished behind bars at the Dixon Correctional Center, continuing to serve his 30-year sentence.

And the sheriff’s office, which claims it never received a follow up to its crucial July 2007 letter, sent another note the following month, reminding the state’s attorney’s office that it would share its case file and help in any ongoing investigation in Chatman’s case.

Judge Michael Toomin eventually denied Chatman’s post-conviction appeal a year later and the sheriff’s office continued waiting for the state’s attorney’s response.

There was no word — until earlier this year, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said Tuesday, hours after Criminal Courts Chief Judge Paul Biebel finally dismissed charges against Chatman, 58, and in the separate case of Lathierial Boyd, who was wrongfully convicted in a fatal shooting outside Wrigley Field over two decades ago.

While current State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez Tuesday cited “failures of the past,” Devine said he had no recollection of the sheriff’s office’s letters or its serious concerns about Chatman’s conviction.

An internal sheriff’s office investigation had revealed that a deputy admitted he had been sleeping just feet away from where the Daley Center clerk said she was screaming and trying to fight off the homeless Chatman.

“I’d have to look at all the information that people have . . . and refresh my recollection,” said Devine, who is now in private practice. “Obviously, if something was not done right, that is something I would regret, and I know every good prosecutor would regret.”

Alvarez said neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys had heard about the dozing sheriff’s deputy at the time of Chatman’s 2004 trial.

It was only until “recently” that he was interviewed about his actions by members of Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit, she said.

But a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office on Tuesday disputed Alvarez’s claim that the information about the sleeping sheriff’s deputy was new, pointing out that his conduct had been mentioned repeatedly in a civil lawsuit Chatman’s accuser filed shortly after the Daley Center incident. Cara Smith, the spokeswoman, also provided the Chicago Sun-Times with the letters the sheriff’s office wrote to the state’s attorney’s office in 2007.

Alvarez said the deputy never heard the woman wailing as she said she did and had not woken up until fellow officers arrived after an emergency bulletin was sent out.

“The version of the event put forth by the alleged victim in this case has no credibility,” the state’s attorney said, chipping away at the story of the woman who made similar claims against another man in 1979.

Jake Rubenstein, the lead prosecutor in the criminal trial, said he prosecuted the case in “good faith.”

Asked if he regretted putting an innocent man behind bars for a decade, Rubenstein said: “I would never, ever want an innocent man to spend any time in prison, much less 10 years.”

As she did in her late 1970s case, Chatman’s accuser won a civil settlement — after suing Cook County — in the case tied to Chatman. Information about the amount of money she received in either case was not available. Alvarez’s spokeswoman Sally Daly said she wasn’t sure the office had the power to recoup the money in the most recent case.

Alvarez also said the statute of limitations had expired for charging the woman with perjury.

On Tuesday night, a man who answered the door at the woman’s Chicago-area home quickly slammed the door on a reporter inquiring about the case.

Chatman, who suffers from myriad mental illnesses, was fed details of the assault by detectives and his Blackhawks jacket his accuser said she bit into during the alleged attack never showed any traces of her DNA, Chatman’s lawyer Russell Ainsworth said Tuesday.

Thomas Brandstrader, Chatman’s defense attorney during the criminal trial, echoed Ainsworth’s statements saying he always believed his client was innocent because “Carl didn’t know what time of day it was. . . . He was a sick man.”

Meanwhile on Tuesday, charges were also dismissed against Boyd, who was serving an 82-year sentence for murdering one man and paralyzing another in an Oct. 24, 1990 shooting in the 3500 block of N. Clark.

Nine out of ten eyewitnesses couldn’t identify Boyd as the shooter and the tenth witness, the man injured in the shooting, initially told police he never saw his attacker but then later changed his story, Alvarez said.

None of this evidence was presented at Boyd’s trial.

Boyd, now 47, was one of the first men who sent Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit a letter asking for the re-investigation of his case.

In the note, he described his wrongful imprisonment as “being buried alive with nobody there to hear my silent screams for help.”

Patricia Bronte, one of Boyd’s attorneys, said he has maintained his innocence since the day of his arrest.

“ . . . Lathierial couldn’t say he was sorry. Because he didn’t do it,” she said.

Contributing: Mary Mitchell, Mitch Dudek and Tina Sfondeles

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