Accuser in Carl Chatman rape case should be held accountable: Mitchell
By MARY MITCHELL September 11, 2013 5:36PM
Updated: October 15, 2013 6:51AM
What happened to Carl Chatman was such a miscarriage of justice that it demands more than our outrage.
It demands that we review the crooked path that led him to a jail cell in the first place.
And it demands that the woman whose alleged false testimony put Chatman behind bars be punished.
Chatman’s accuser took advantage of a system that is notoriously biased against the poor and the mentally disabled.
It didn’t take DNA or physical evidence to convince law enforcement — and later on a jury — that Chatman had raped the woman in an office in the Daley Center, even when security personnel couldn’t figure out how Chatman escaped a locked-down building like a puff of smoke.
It never occurred to them that Chatman was set up.
But Chatman had gone to the Daley Center the day before the alleged rape, where he ran into the alleged victim and requested information about where he could get a driver’s license.
Since he had been living on the street, he was easy to remember.
He was dirty, smelly, and wearing a Blackhawks jacket. When police picked him up six blocks from the alleged crime scene, he was still dirty, smelly and wearing a Blackhawks jacket.
That’s the thing that got his sister, Theresa Chatman.
Out of all the things the accuser said about her brother during the trial, she never mentioned his smell.
It must have been horrendous, because the sister could still remember the stench 11 years later.
“He stank,” she said.
“I used to make him immediately take off his clothes and take a shower when he came into my house,” she told me during our conversation on the way to Dixon to pick up Chatman after he was released.
Worse yet, why didn’t a similar claim the woman made 20 years earlier against a Polish immigrant raise red flags?
And why didn’t the fact that the woman turned around and filed civil suits against six entities after the man was charged with rape set off alarms?
To her credit, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez did not turn a blind eye to the growing improprieties in this case.
Apparently, when it was recently discovered that a Cook County deputy sheriff was sleeping in a room next to the one the alleged victim claimed to have been brutally raped and didn’t hear a thing, prosecutors decided the victim in this case was not credible.
But it is outrageous that prosecutors cannot criminally charge the accuser because of the four-year statute of limitations on perjury.
“There is nothing criminally we can do and there is no other real charge we can bring,” said a spokesman for the Cook County state’s attorney.
Four years isn’t nearly long enough to unravel a wrongful conviction.
Although Russell Ainsworth, the civil rights lawyer who fought for Chatman’s release, said he doesn’t want to see the statute on perjury amended because the statute is often used by prosecutors to intimidate, he acknowledges the four-year window is a loophole.
“There are civil remedies that are available to Chatman,” he said. “Should the accuser testify again in a civil suit and says this is what happened, the clock would reset and she could be charged with a crime.”
That’s what happened to former Area 2 Police Commander Jon Burge.
Burge could not be charged with improprieties related to the police brutality allegations because of the statute of limitations.
But he was later arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and perjury for testimony he gave in a civil suit related to torture allegations.
The city is still paying for Burge’s sins.
On Wednesday, the city approved $12.3 million in settlements to alleged torture victims.
After Chatman was wrongfully convicted for rape in 2004, his accuser settled her civil suits against two companies, and two government entities, including Cook County, for an undisclosed amount of money.
Meanwhile, Chatman was so traumatized by his ordeal after he was released on Tuesday he kept saying he just wanted to “stay in the house.”
“I hope the system will take a look at this and other cases and make the necessary corrections,” said his brother, Willie Chatman.
We could start by doing more to hold false accusers accountable.