After being shot roughly 25 times by police on the night of Feb. 21, 2005 in Chicago’s West Lawndale area, it’s amazing that Howard Morgan is still alive. Last week, as his trial continued, questioning revealed that the Chicago Police Department’s entry clerk sent out a registered letter by mail to Morgan, indicating he needed to claim his car (after the shooting incident). The clerk testified that the letter was returned, and it was sent again. The defense attorneys asked the clerk if anyone ever came to her stating that Morgan was in Oak Forest Hospital getting blood transfusions and hooked up to IVs. She indicated they had not.
Because the police department did not ask for Morgan’s car to be held for evidence, the vehicle was destroyed along with any personal items inside, according to the testimony last week in court. Officer Kevin Pie, who is now in charge of the auto pound at 650 W. 83rd. St., explained the procedures when cars are not claimed. An officer makes the decision to have cars crushed, which is what they did with Morgan’s. The defense asked Officer Pie would he expect a person in the hospital under morphine to respond to a letter he didn’t receive. State objected.
Testimony by the doctors who attended to Morgan was given. The doctor who is credited by Morgan’s family and friends with saving his life, Dr. Phillip Zaret is a trauma surgeon and worked on Morgan the night of the shooting. Dr. Zaret also treated Officer Nick Olson, who was shot in the arm. Dr. Zaret explained that the bullet through Olson’s arm did exit. Dr. Zaret treated Morgan for multiple gunshot wounds.
In one of the more dramatic moments, defense attorneys brought in a mannequin so the doctor could show the jury with the use of “push pins” where all of the wounds were on Morgan’s body. Dr. Zaret stated there were 28 holes in his body, which included injury to the liver, kidney, colon, neck, back, thigh and a leg that had bone exposed. He noted that a plate was put into Morgan’s right arm. When defense attorney Sam Adams Sr. asked the doctor, “Would it be fair to say you saved his life?” The doctor responded, “God saves lives.” The listed areas of injuries included one bullet under the neck, four under the rib cage on the right side, two on the right arm, two on the left leg’s upper thigh, two to the left chin area, one to the back right shoulder, four on the back left side, four on the thigh, one on the right arm triceps. There were so many bullet injuries that the doctor could not tell the extent of his internal injuries.
On Monday, May 7, Charice Rush, a previously missing witness, testified for over two hours. Rush, who is now 20 years old, was 18 the night Morgan was shot. She stated she was in the car with her cousin at 19th & Lawndale when she saw police stop Mr. Morgan in his van. “The van had stopped at a stop sign,” she said. “I saw two marked blue-and-white squads pull up. The first squad pulled up behind his van, the other in front.”
She was asked to describe the officers. “They were in uniform, two white male officers. The second squad car had three officers, two white males and one female.”
Rush said the officers approached the van and “snatched” Morgan from his van. She left the stand and demonstrated in front of the jury how Morgan was down on one knee, while officers were pushing and struggling with him. She states there was nothing in his hands. The state’s attorney stated she was too far away to tell what was in his hand. Rush was unable to get into the building on Lawndale where she was living with her sister-in-law because the door was locked. She testified that she heard one of the officers say, “Oh, shit, he has a gun.”
“When I heard a pause in the shooting,” she said, “I tried to get into my building and finally someone let us in, and we all ran upstairs and looked out the window. You know black people are nosey, and we all was looking out the window. By then there was lots of police and one looked up and saw us. He then came upstairs to see if anyone had witnessed the shooting. We all said no, my sister-in-law had just lost her sister, and we had a funeral to attend,” stated Rush. However, two officers returned, and she did agree to tell what she had witnessed. Rush’s statements were taken by assistant state’s attorneys, and during Tuesday’s court session, there were several contradictions regarding Rush’s written statement. The defense determined that she did not write the statement. It was written for her by the assistant state’s attorneys.
The defense counsel alleges key statements had been left out-statements about the shooting, a white female who was allegedly in the second squad, and the fact that no state’s attorney ever asked Rush if she saw Morgan with a gun.
Defense also says no evidence ever indicated whether Morgan’s hands were checked for gunpowder residue, nor was there any indication that police tested Morgan’s gun to see if it had been fired.
When Morgan took the stand on Monday, the state’s attorney spent almost an hour asking him about an EEOC suit he had filed in 1997 (Morgan is a former Chicago police officer, and, at the time of the shooting was a railroad security officer). He then spent a lot a time on Morgan’s recent lawsuit filing through attorney Jim Montgomery (former attorney for the city and partner of the late Johnny Cochran). Then the state’s attorney asked Morgan about his marriage to his wife. Few questions pertained to the shooting of Feb. 21, 2005.
Morgan stated he did not know which officers shot him because the next thing he knew he awoke in Mt. Sinai Hospital, heavily sedated. After two weeks at Mt. Sinai, he was transferred to Oak Forest Hospital where he was in restraint around the clock in his bed or the wheelchair when taken for therapy.
When the state’s attorney cross-examined character witnesses, the repeated response was that Morgan was an honorable man. Character witness were: Timothy Murphy, special agent for Burlington Railroad; David Swiater, senior special agent with Burlington and a childhood friend of 46 years; Pierce Harris, a crises intervention officer; James A. Smith, senior special agent with Burlington; Tommy Lee Lofton Jr., retired postal worker and 35-year friend; and Ms. Tennie Bryant and Ms. Lucy Mathney, both longtime church friends.
Closing arguments were scheduled to begin on Wednesday, May 9.