After 26 years, a taste of freedom
New trial ordered in '82 slaying of guard
By Steve Schmadeke
11:01 PM CDT, April 18, 2008
A man serving a life sentence for the murder of a security guard walked out of Cook County Jail a free man for the first time in more than a quarter of a century after a judge on Friday ordered a new trial.
Shortly before 6 p.m., a visibly emotional Alton Logan, 54, clutched two relatives as he strode to his brother's black sport-utility vehicle. He wore brother Tony's green shirt and dark khakis.
In the back seat, he popped candies into his mouth and gave a one-word answer--"Fine"--when asked by a reporter how he felt. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
"He's not been exonerated yet ..... but it will happen," said another brother, Eugene, who lives in Portland and last shook his brother's hand in 1980.
His family quickly raised the $1,000 bail set by Judge James Schreier as he ruled new evidence made it "a reasonable probability" that Logan would be acquitted if prosecutors try him again.
Two attorneys for a convicted cop killer had known for 26 years of Logan's innocence but had kept silent because of the attorney-client privilege. Their client, Andrew Wilson, had confessed to them that he shotgunned a security guard to death in January 1982, but he insisted they only reveal his admission after his death. Wilson, who was serving a life sentence for the murders of two Chicago police officers, died in prison of natural causes Nov. 19.
One of Wilson's lawyers, Jamie Kunz, attended Friday's hearing in the Criminal Courts Building and called Schreier's decision a powerful moment.
"His family was shedding tears and so was I," Kunz said outside the courtroom. "I've known Logan was innocent for 26 years."
In testimony Friday, a former employee at the McDonald's restaurant on the South Side where security guard Lloyd Wickliffe was slain identified Wilson from a photo as the gunman.
Gail Hilliard, a CTA bus driver who was an 18-year-old college student working an evening shift the night of the murder, said she was about to make a milkshake for a drive-through customer when she heard a commotion at the counter, turned and saw a shotgun-toting man enter the restaurant.
She first identified the man as Wilson in a 1999 interview with attorney Richard Kling. Hilliard was interviewed by police after the slaying but did not give a statement, said Vincenzo Chimera, a lawyer with the Illinois attorney general's office.
That office, which is prosecuting the case, will make the decision whether to go to trial again.
Additional new evidence came from Joseph Prendergast, 63, a semi-retired teacher who tutored Wilson in prison for several months in 1982 and 1983. Prendergast, who came forward recently after reading a story about the case in the Tribune, testified Friday that Wilson told him at the time that he had shot a shotgun inside a McDonald's.
Also Friday, prosecutors called to the stand Alvin Thompson, 56, a security guard wounded the night of the shooting. He again identified Logan as the gunman.
According to Chimera, Logan has been identified in court testimony 18 times as the gunman. He argued to the judge that Hilliard's identification of Wilson came years after the crime and that Prendergast didn't hear Wilson specifically confess to the 1982 murder.
After leaving the county jail, Logan's brother drove him to the South Side home of his aunt Barbara Cannon, with whom he will stay for now.
Like most family members at Friday's hearing, Cannon said she was not bitter about the years her nephew spent behind bars.
"We're not angry," she said. "They did what they had to do."
However, Logan's uncle, Arthur Gordon, 70, voiced a dissenting view shortly after he contributed $100 to his nephew's bail fund.
"Justice had to be done," he said. "But to lay him there for 26 years ..... it makes me bitter."
The family plans to drive Logan to Burr Oak Cemetery on Saturday to visit the grave sites of his mother and a grandmother, who both died while he was in prison, said his brother Tony, 52. Over the years, Logan, who was very close to his mother, sent her a bird cage, wine rack and other items he made in prison, his brother said.
Never doubting his innocence, family members all over the country kept in touch by phone with Logan, who managed to keep his sense of humor intact. "What's up, knucklehead?" was his standard greeting. In recent weeks, Logan spoke hopefully of getting out of prison.
Eugene Logan said he and his wife have already made a room ready in their Oregon home and plan to turn the garage into a wood shop to accommodate his brother's hobby. They hope Alton will come live with them once exonerated.
"I wish I could put him on a plane right now," his brother said.
||Truth in Justice