Informant changes story in mob beatings
By Jeff Coen; Chicago Tribune ; August 28, 2003
The murder trial of James Ousley in last summer's fatal mob beatings in the Oakland neighborhood veered off script Wednesday when an informant who was expected to repeat a statement Ousley allegedly made in a police lockup changed his story.
Slumped on the witness stand and mumbling at times, Eddie Harkins, 24, denied Ousley said anything incriminating to him while the pair waited to appear in a police lineup the day after the slayings of two men whose van crashed into a group of women on a front stoop. The new testimony by Harkins, called by state's attorneys to testify against Ousley, stunned those in the courtroom of Judge James Egan. Harkins, dressed in tan jail garb, said he was willing to be coached by prosecutors and was hoping for leniency in his own criminal case when he made a false allegation against Ousley.
Harkins refused Wednesday to repeat what he told the grand jury that indicted Ousley--that Ousley said he stopped stomping one of the victims who had been dragged from the van when he heard police sirens.
"He said one thing," Harkins said of the lockup conversation. "[Ousley] said he was there with his girl, and the only reason they arrested him was because he wouldn't leave her side."
"And that's the only thing he said, right?" defense lawyer Sam Adam Sr. asked during his cross-examination.
"Yes," Harkins said.
Ousley's lawyers have long contended that he was wrongfully caught up in the case after Jack Moore and Anthony Stuckey were killed because he refused to leave the side of one of the women injured when Moore and Stuckey's van struck the porch. The woman, Shani Lawrence, was an ex-girlfriend of Ousley's who later died of her injuries.
Under direct examination, Harkins said he was "under the influence of freedom" when he testified before the grand jury that Ousley had incriminated himself just before a police lineup. Harkins was under the impression that if he pointed a finger at Ousley, he could help himself in his home invasion and attempted murder case, he repeatedly said Wednesday.
Under cross-examination by Adam, Harkins said prosecutors worked with him on his statement and rehearsed it many times before his grand jury appearance in August 2002.
Harkins said one prosecutor "said [Ousley] had the best motive; that's why I rehearsed the statement so much."
As they attempted to recover from Harkins' testimony, prosecutors called to the stand Frank Marek, a supervisor of preliminary hearings and the grand jury for the Cook County state's attorney's office.
Marek interviewed Harkins and took him before the grand jury to testify about Ousley and some of the seven other defendants in the case.
No promises, implied or otherwise, were made to Harkins, Marek testified. Marek read into the court record what Harkins told the grand jury.
"[Ousley] said: They didn't see me stomping him because when I got through stomping--when I heard sirens, I stopped stomping him," Marek read.
On cross-examination, Adam quizzed Marek on whether he had ever asked Harkins why he might be testifying against Ousley and others if he didn't hope to gain anything. Marek said he had made it clear there would be no considerations.
"Did you think he was doing it because he had become a good citizen?" Adam asked. "He had a conversion in jail?"
Jerry Lawrence, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office, declined to speculate on whether perjury charges would be considered.
"In any case where somebody offers completely contradictory sworn testimony, it is something we would certainly take a close look at, what they said on both occasions," Lawrence said.
Prosecutors also called to the stand Chicago Police Detective Patrick McCormack, who testified that he overheard Ousley make the remarks to Harkins while he was monitoring the room where they were appearing in a lineup.
"Ousley told him, `They didn't see me stomp on him; there's no way police saw me do that,'" McCormack said, adding that Ousley called the case retaliation. "He said, `Any cheap lawyer could beat this case.'"
Adam asked whether there was any small talk between the men, or if Ousley simply blurted out the remark. McCormack said he heard only the one statement.
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