murder of Ronnie Bell ("Bell"), based in principal part on questionable identifications by two bystanders. Houston's first jury trial resulted in a mistrial, then Brown's separate bench trial resulted in a conviction and finally Houston's second jury trial led to his conviction too.
In May 1985 a high-ranking member of the El Rukns, Anthony Sumner ("Sumner"), was arrested and became a cooperating witness in the long-term investigation of that organization and its leaders by the offices of the Cook County State's Attorney and the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Among the numerous crimes that Sumner disclosed to Assistant State's Attorneys and Chicago police in great detail was the Bell killing, which he described as having been a retaliatory assassination for the prior shooting of an El Rukn. All the details that Sumner gave matched the facts as they were known to the police (and as had been described by the witnesses at Defendants' trials). Most critically, Sumner specifically identified the driver of the car as J.L. Houston (Houston's brother) -- something that Houston had claimed all along -- and identified the actual killers as two El Rukns, Earl Hawkins and Derrick Kees ("Kees"), and not Brown.
Nevertheless neither the Assistant State's Attorneys nor the police officers disclosed the information about Sumner's statements to Houston or Brown or their lawyers.
In the face of requests from those lawyers for any information that Sumner had provided about the Bell murder, the Assistant State's Attorneys falsely said that Sumner had provided no evidence favorable to plaintiffs. Indeed, as part of the same cover-up the Assistant State's Attorneys used Sumner as a grand jury witness on numerous occasions, asking him about dozens of other El Rukn crimes (including six to ten other murders) but never inquiring about the Bell killing. That deliberate suppression of the truth also included its being withheld from the United States Attorney's Office in its own contemporaneous El Rukn investigation.
But the Assistant State's Attorneys did not stop with that cover-up as to Houston and Brown and their lawyers only. Even worse in terms of the lawyers' professional obligations, during the course of plaintiffs' 1986 appeals from their convictions the Assistant State's Attorneys falsely represented to the Illinois Appellate Courts that there was nothing to Brown's post-trial claim of newly-discovered exculpatory evidence, even though they knew that his claim was fully corroborated (and more) by the Sumner statements.
That stonewalling continued during 1987 and 1988 despite further requests for information from plaintiffs' counsel. Then in February 1989 Hawkins (who had been a cooperating informant-witness since 1987, providing credible information and testimony as to a number of crimes) actually confessed that the Bell killing had indeed been committed by him along with J.L. Houston and Kees -- and not by plaintiffs. Both J.L. Houston and Kees (each of whom was in prison) then admitted their own guilt and gave detailed accounts of the killing.
Even then Defendants said nothing, continuing to suppress the Sumner statement and the three confessions. It was only after plaintiffs' counsel had obtained some information from other sources and had confronted the Assistant State's Attorneys with it that Defendants came clean. In the meantime, Houston and Brown had served four years in prison for the crime that they did not commit and as to which Defendants had known of their innocence soon after their convictions.
Imbler teaches that the social gains that are promoted by the need for fearless and uninhibited prosecutorial action outweigh the protection of constitutional rights under Section 1983, so that even active prosecutor misconduct in obtaining a conviction -- even such a thing as suborning perjury -- is insulated from suit. And Buckley, 919 F.2d at 1241-42 (citation omitted), quoted in part at Defendants' Mem. ,
locates the watershed for separating unprotected conduct by a prosecutor from conduct covered by the mantle of absolute immunity:
All of this suggests a simple demarcation. If the injury flows from the initiation or prosecution of the case, then the prosecutor is immune and the defendant must look to the court in which the case pends to protect his interests. If, however, a constitutional wrong is complete before the case begins, then the prosecutor should be treated as a police detective would be in like circumstances: qualified rather than absolute immunity. Prosecutors who break open doors or torture suspects into confessing cause injuries that are complete outside of court, and which the judge cannot diminish (but may be able to compensate). Prosecutors whose out-of-court acts cause injury only to the extent a case proceeds will be brought to heel adequately by the court.
Defendants seek to wrap themselves in that protective mantle. They do not acknowledge -- most likely they do not even recognize -- the irony of what their Mem. [5-6] quotes from Imbler, 424 U.S. at 427 (citation omitted):
The ultimate fairness of the operation of the system itself could be weakened by subjecting prosecutors to § 1983 liability. Various post-trial procedures are available to determine whether an accused has received a fair trial. These procedures include the remedial powers of the trial judge, appellate review, and state and federal post-conviction collateral remedies. In all of these the attention of the reviewing judge or tribunal is focused primarily on whether there was a fair trial under law. This focus should not be blurred by even the subconscious knowledge that a post-trial decision in favor of the accused might result in the prosecutor's being called upon to respond in damages for his error or mistaken judgment.