Judge denies bid for new trial in off-duty cop’s slaying

The sentencing of the gunman in the 2011 murder of a Chicago police officer will move forward this month, after a judge denied a motion to overturn the guilty verdict.

That motion had been based on allegations of misconduct by police and prosecutors, but at a hearing Friday, Judge James Linn ticked off the reasons he found various pieces of evidence unearthed after Alexander Villa’s 2019 trial wouldn’t have changed the outcome. As Linn spoke, Villa sat slouched in his seat beside his teary-eyed attorney, Jennifer Blagg.

Linn, set to retire this month, scheduled Villa’s sentencing for Monday. Villa faces a mandatory life sentence.

“Mr. Villa was a suspect from Day 1. The only question I have to decide is, did he get a fair trial?” Linn said before issuing his ruling, which comes two months after prosecutors dropped charges against Villa’s two co-defendants on the morning of a hearing on similar allegations of misconduct.

Blagg and co-counsel Eric Bisby, hired after Villa’s guilty verdict, argued they have since discovered a trove of evidence that should have been turned over before that trial. Linn presided over the trial, and said much of what was missing either would have been inadmissible, or dealt with topics jurors already had heard about.

“A lot of what I‘m hearing today I can describe as double-edged swords for Mr. Villa,” Linn said, considering records from a joint CPD-federal probe of the Spanish Cobras street gang launched after Lewis’ slaying.

“Whether (the evidence was ) ignored, whether that was purposely, incompetently, or just ignored for no good reason at all … would these things have made a difference?” the judge asked.

Linn acknowledged Villa’s case landed in a different courtroom from his co-defendants, who had been charged nearly two years before Villa was first arrested for Lewis’ murder, and that the cases had been on “different historical paths.”

Prosecutors dropped charges against Villa’s two co-defendants in June, after months of hearings in front of Judge Erica Reddick, who last fall issued a sweeping order to turn over additional records. The announcement that charges were being dropped was issued before a hearing at which prosecutors and detectives who handled the case had been subpoenaed to testify.

Villa’s lawyers had argued the defense had received no records of a massive joint CPD-FBI dragnet targeting members of the Spanish Cobras street gang in the months after the shootings, which included arrests and interviews with hundreds of gang members that turned up information on alternate suspects.

Chicago Police officers told gang members they were facing more attention because of Villa, and exchanged celebratory emails when they learned Villa had been stabbed, Blagg said.

“The jurors would be entitled to hear this evidence,” Blagg said. “CPD had this evidence, CPD knew about this evidence, and they did not disclose it.”

Among the files not turned over to the defense at trial was a map of cellphone data created by an FBI agent in 2012. It showed the three co-defendants weren’t at the crime scene during the time Lewis was killed, a document Assistant State’s Attorney Craig Engebretsen said was “flawed” and would not have changed the course of the case.

“No matter who you have analyzing the records, they can never tell you what words were said on the phone, they can’t tell you who was holding the phone,” he said. “The only thing that can be placed is a phone.”

The Lewis case has been troubled for years. Colon was found guilty at trial in 2017 and sentenced to 84-years for acting as the getaway driver. But the verdict was overturned after an appeals court ruled his confession came after he’d repeatedly asked for a lawyer. Without his confession, which he’d recanted, Reddick set him free on bond while awaiting a second trial.

Clay was arrested days after Lewis was murdered. He confessed after a lengthy interrogation and spent 12 years in jail awaiting trial before charges were dropped. His confession also was tossed by an appeals court that ruled he, too, confessed after his request for a lawyer was ignored by detectives, and that his IQ was too low for him to understand his rights.

Lewis was killed at an Austin convenience store where he worked part-time as a security guard. His death came just days after he proposed to his longtime girlfriend on Christmas morning 2011. His fiance, Latrice Tucker, never married and died of cancer in June. Her wake was held the day prosecutors dropped charges against Clay and Colon. Lewis’ sisters were seated in the courtroom gallery Friday, as were about a dozen of Villa’s relatives and supporters.

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