Morgan sentenced to 40 years

Judge rejects motion for new trial, attorney to appeal conviction

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By LA RISA LYNCH

Updated 4/10/12 3:45 p.m.

The fight is not over to free Howard Morgan, declared friends and supporters of the former Chicago cop and railroad detective, shot 28 times by Chicago police officers in a 2005 traffic stop in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

Cook County Court Judge Clayton Crane sentenced Morgan on April 5 to 40 years in prison for attempted murder of four Chicago police officers. Prosecution alleged that Morgan pulled a gun and began firing at them when they attempted to arrest him for driving the wrong way near 19th and Lawndale. Police returned fire, hitting Morgan 28 times.

In January, a jury convicted Morgan on four counts of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer and one count of aggravated battery with a firearm. Judge Crane sentenced Morgan, 61, to 40 years for count one and five, 35 years for the second count and two 25-year sentences for the third and fourth counts. An audible grumble came from the standing-room-only courtroom when the sentence was pronounced.

Prosecutors for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office argued for consecutive sentences. But Judge Crane ordered the prison terms be served concurrently.

Morgan's wife, Rosalind, condemned the sentence when she spoke with reporters in the lobby of the Criminal Courts Building, 2650 S. California. She said she was "highly offended" and "disappointed" by the sentence.

She said the judge did not take into consideration that her husband had been a Chicago police officer for eight years and a railroad detective for Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad for 13 years. She said the next step "to bring down the walls of injustice" is to appeal the case.

Before Judge Crane sentenced Morgan, he spoke to the court. Wearing a beige Department of Correction jumpsuit with 3XL inscribed in black letters, Morgan said his fate is in God's hands. As he spoke, Morgan remained seated between his two lawyers, clutching the cane he uses to walk.

"I've been a police officer for 21 years, and I did not want to go out and start confrontation on the streets," Morgan said, adding that this event has destroyed families.

"God bless my wife and family. It's all in God's hands," he said.

Howard Morgan's attorneys, Randolph N. Stone and Herschella Conyers, had hoped to get a new trial for their client based on several issues, including double jeopardy. The attorneys contend that in Morgan's 2007 trial, he was acquitted of two counts of aggravated battery and one count of discharge of a firearm. A mistrial was declared on five other counts when the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Stone said it was "unconstitutional" and "improper" to try Morgan again when a jury found him not guilty of discharging a firearm, a fact the jury in Morgan's second trial was not allowed to hear.

Stone also argued during the hearing that there were errors in the jury selection. He contends the prosecution excluded black jurors from the trial and that their closing arguments were improper because they made inflammatory remarks to intensify emotion.

Judge Crane said those issues had been addressed in the second trial and dismissed the attorney's motion for a new trial. Morgan's attorneys, however, filed a motion to appeal Morgan's conviction during Thursday's sentencing hearing. His next court date is May 1.

Conyers called the judge's ruling a life sentence for Morgan. She said they knew Morgan would be sentenced Thursday, "but the question was how much."

She said Morgan could have gotten the maximum of 80 years, but the judge did take into account that this was the first arrest for Morgan and that he had been out on bond for seven years without incident.

"I think [Judge Crane] weighed all of that," she said.

State's Attorney Dan Groth had argued for the maximum, saying that Morgan showed no remorse for his actions and played on racial fears. He called Morgan a "sociopath" and not the "wonderful, hard-working family man," his family portrayed him to be.

The four officers who were involved in the shooting - John Wrigley, Tim Finley, Eric White and Nick Olsen - also had harsh words for Morgan. The most biting words came from Wrigley.

"You shot me, Mr. Morgan. You came very close to taking my life," Wrigley said, looking directly at Morgan.

Wrigley called Morgan a "fraud." He said Morgan allowed "people to believe that you've done nothing wrong" and to believe that there was police misconduct. Regardless, Wrigley said he still plans to serve all people with "fairness and integrity."

Morgan supporters were not surprised by the judge's ruling.

"It was business as usual from the standpoint of the so-called justice system," said Pat Hill, a professor of justice studies at Northeastern University.

She said supporters will continue to back the family during the appeals process.

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