- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) - For nearly 26 years, the affidavit was sealed in an envelope and stored in a locked box, tucked away with the lawyer’s passport and will. Sometimes he stashed the box in his bedroom closet, other times under his bed.

It stayed there — year after year, decade after decade.

Then, about two years ago, Dale Coventry, the box’s owner, received a call from his former colleague W. Jamie Kunz. Both were once public defenders. They hadn’t talked in a decade.

“We’re both getting on in years,” Mr. Kunz said. “We ought to do something with that affidavit to make sure it’s not wasted, in case we both leave this good Earth.”

Mr. Coventry assured him that it was in a safe place. He found it in the fireproof metal box but didn’t read it. He didn’t need to. He was reminded of the case every time he heard that a wronged prisoner had been freed.

In January, Mr. Kunz called again. This time, he had news: A man whom both lawyers represented long ago in the murder of two police officers, Andrew Wilson, had died in prison.

Mr. Kunz asked Mr. Coventry to get the affidavit.

“It’s in a sealed envelope,” Mr. Coventry said.

“Open it,” Mr. Kunz said, impatiently.

Mr. Coventry then began reading aloud the five-line declaration that the lawyers had written more than a quarter-century earlier:

An innocent man was behind bars. His name was Alton Logan. He did not kill a security guard in a McDonald’s restaurant in January 1982.

“In fact,” the document said, “another person was responsible.”

They knew, because their client Andrew Wilson told them: He did it.

But that was the catch.

Lawyer-client privilege is not complete; most states allow attorneys to reveal confidences to prevent a death, serious bodily harm or criminal fraud. But this case didn’t offer that kind of exception.

So when Wilson told his attorneys that he, and not Alton Logan, had killed the guard, they felt powerless — aware of information that could free a man they thought to be innocent but unable to do anything with that knowledge. For decades, they said nothing.

As they recall, Wilson — who was facing charges in the February 1982 murders of police officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien — seemed gleeful about the McDonald’s shooting.

“I was surprised at how unabashed he was in telling us,” Mr. Kunz said. “There was no sense of unease or embarrassment. … He smiled and kind of giggled. He hugged himself, and said, ‘Yeah, it was me.’…”

Logan already had been charged with the McDonald’s shooting, which left one guard dead and another injured. Another man, Edgar Hope, also was arrested and assigned a public defender, Marc Miller.

Mr. Miller said he was stunned when his client declared that he didn’t know Alton Logan and had never seen him before their arrests. Mr. Miller said Hope was persistent: “You need to tell his attorney he represents an innocent man.”

Hope went a step further, Mr. Miller said: He told him Andrew Wilson was his right-hand man — “the guy who guards my back” — and urged the lawyer to confirm that. Mr. Miller did.

Mr. Miller said he eventually told Logan’s attorney that his client was innocent, but offered no details.

First, though, he approached Mr. Kunz, his fellow public defender and former partner.

“You think your life’s difficult now?” Mr. Miller recalls telling Mr. Kunz. “My understanding is that your client Andrew Wilson is the shooter in the McDonald’s murder.”

Mr. Coventry and Mr. Kunz said they brought Wilson to the jail law library and confronted him, and he made his unapologetic confession.

It wasn’t just Wilson’s word. Firearms tests, according to court records, linked a shotgun shell found at the McDonald’s with a weapon that police found at the beauty parlor where Wilson lived. The slain police officers’ guns also were discovered there.

Now the lawyers had two big worries: Another killing might be tied to their client, and “an innocent man had been charged with his murder and was very likely … to get the death penalty,” Mr. Kunz said.

Bound by legal ethics, they kept quiet.

Instead, they wrote down what they had been told. If the situation ever arose where when they could help Logan, there would be a record. No one could say they had just made it up. They said they didn’t name Wilson, fearing someone would hear about the document and subpoena it. They didn’t even make a copy.

On March 17, 1982, Mr. Kunz, Mr. Coventry and Mr. Miller signed the notarized affidavit: “I have obtained information through privileged sources that a man named Alton Logan — who was charged with the fatal shooting of Lloyd Wickliffe … is in fact not responsible for that shooting. …”

Wilson’s attorneys then looked for ways to help Logan without hurting their client. They consulted with legal scholars, ethics commissions and the bar association.

Mr. Kunz said he mentioned the case dozens of times over the years to lawyers, never divulging names but explaining that he knew a guy serving a life sentence for a crime committed by one of his clients.

There is nothing you can do, he was told.

Mr. Coventry had another idea. He figured Wilson probably would be executed for the police killings, so he visited him in prison and posed a question: Can I reveal what you told me, the lawyer asked, after your death?

“I managed to say it without being obnoxious,” Mr. Coventry says. “He wasn’t stupid. He understood exactly what I was asking. He knew he was going to get the death penalty, and he agreed.”

Mr. Coventry said he asked Wilson the same question years later and got the same answer.

Wilson ultimately was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

His death penalty was reversed after he said Chicago police had electrically shocked, beaten and burned him with a radiator to secure his confession. (Decades later, a special prosecutor’s report concluded that police had tortured dozens of suspects over two decades.)

Logan’s case was working its way through the courts, too. During the first of two trials in which he was convicted, Mr. Coventry walked in to hear part of the death penalty phase.

“It’s pretty creepy watching people deciding if they’re going to kill an innocent man,” he said.

The lawyers had a plan if it came to that: They would appeal to the governor to stop the execution. But with a life sentence, they remained silent.

Still, there were whispers. When Logan changed attorneys before his second trial, Mr. Miller said, the new attorney approached him. He had heard that Mr. Miller knew something more.

Mr. Miller said he told him that he could do nothing, but repeated the words that he had uttered to Logan’s first attorney more than a decade earlier: “You represent an innocent man.”

In prison, Logan heard the news: First, Wilson had died. Second, there was an affidavit in his case.

“I said finally, somebody has come [forward] and told the truth,” Logan said. “I’ve been saying this for the past 26 years: It wasn’t me.”

In January, the two lawyers, with a judge’s permission, revealed their secret in court.

Two months later, Mr. Miller testified about his client’s declaration of Logan’s innocence.

But an affidavit and sworn testimony do not guarantee freedom, or prove innocence.

Logan knows that. After spending almost half his 54 years as an inmate, this slight man with a fringe of gray beard, stooped shoulders and weary eyes seems resigned to the reality that his fate is beyond his control.

“I have to accept whatever comes down,” he said, sitting in a visitors room at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet.

He insists he is not angry with Hope or even Wilson. He said he once approached Wilson in prison and asked him to “come clean. Tell the truth.” Wilson just smiled and kept walking.

Nor is Logan angry with the lawyers who kept the secret. But he wonders whether there wasn’t some way they could have done more.

“What I can’t understand is you know the truth, you held the truth and you know the consequences of that not coming forward?” he says of the lawyers. “Is [a] job more important than an individual’s life?”

The lawyers said it was about their client — Wilson — not about their jobs, and they maintain that the prosecutors and police are at fault.

Mr. Kunz said he knows some people might find his actions outrageous. His obligation, though, was to Wilson.

“If I had ratted him out … then I could feel guilty, then I could not live with myself,” he said. “I’m anguished and always have been over the sad injustice of Alton Logan’s conviction. Should I do the right thing by Alton Logan and put my client’s neck in the noose or not? It’s clear where my responsibility lies, and my responsibility lies with my client.”

On April 18, Logan will be in court as his attorney, Harold Winston, pushes for a new trial. Along with the affidavit, Mr. Winston has accumulated new evidence, including an eyewitness who said Logan wasn’t at McDonald’s and a letter from an inmate who said Wilson signed a statement while in prison implicating himself in the murder — and clearing Logan.

But obstacles remain.

Logan can’t depend on Hope. According to his attorney, Hope probably will exercise his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

He also will have to deal with eyewitnesses. His attorney said one person changed her story in the two trials, but a second, the security guard injured in the shooting, did not. (A third, who has since died, acknowledged that Wilson and Logan looked alike.)

Logan keeps a copy of the 26-year-old affidavit in his cell. Every now and then, he reads the single paragraph, trying to divine what the lawyers were thinking and whether this piece of paper will help unlock the prison doors.

He’s not banking on it.

“I’m not sold on it,” he said. “The only time I’ll be sold is when they tell me I can go.”

For now, though, Logan waits. The heavy prison doors clank behind him as he walks down the corridor to his cell. He does not look back.

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