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And Justice for All

November 14, 2012

In 1976, I investigated the brutal sexual assault and slaying of nine-year old, Lisa Cabassa.  The coroner’s post-mortem examination concluded she had been sexually violated in every way conceiveable by multiple offenders.  A pubic hair was recovered from the body and seminal fluid from the victim’s anus.   Later, an eyewitness identified two men she saw abducting the little girl.  Eyewitness identifications are sometimes not deemed reliable, however, in this particular case, the eyewitness knew the offender personally.  The offender lived two or three doors away from the witness.  We did not have DNA in 1976, so we couldn’t prove beyond a doubt who may have been the sperm donor, but we could absolutely eliminate someone as not being a donor.  Both arrestees were eliminated as being the men that had anal sex with the nine-year old victim.  The prosecuting attorneys stipulated to that at trial.  Both defendants were subsequently convicted of murder by a judge.  The eyewitness feared for the safety of  herself and her family after testifying so the State’s Attorney’s Office paid for her moving expenses.  The appelate court ruled the State had erred by not notifying the defense of providing moving funds to the witness, and a new trial was ordered.  The defendants asked for a jury trial this time.   Both defendants were again found guilty of murder.

With the advent of DNA technology, twenty-nine years later the semen recovered from Lisa Cabassa’s rectum was subjected to DNA testing, and it was found not to belong to either of the two defendants.  No surprise to anyone.  We knew they weren’t the donors 29 years ago at the first trial, and we knew they weren’t the donors at the 2nd trial.  They were pardoned by the governor of Illinois.   Of course, pursuant to their release, all the policemen involved in the investigation, and the City of Chicago, were sued for the tidy sum of $70 million dollars.  For those of you that have never been the subject of a civil lawsuit, or sat on a jury in a civil lawsuit, this is what usually happens.  The plaintiffs ask for an outrageous amount of money, like $70 million, and the jury awards them some lesser amount to appease them.  The plaintiffs go home with their $10 million, so they’re happy, and the defendants don’t get whacked for the whole $70, so they’re happy.  A compromise.  That didn’t happen in our case.  The plaintiffs were awarded zilch, nada, nothing. 

So, you may wonder why I’m still ragging about this incident after celebrating such a resounding victory.  Several reasons.  The two defendants in this case were tried and convicted twice for murdering Lisa Cabassa.  They’re out on the street, and Lisa Cabassa is still dead.  The two murderers were portrayed in the media as victims of the system. 

Then, while our civil trial was in progress, the federal judge gave a statement to the press saying he thought we (the police) were lying about certain police department policies and practices that existed in 1976.  Do you think a judge’s comment like that could adversely influence a jury’s decision?  I don’t like being called a liar, not even by a federal judge.  Does the federal judge know how often we were required to take our squad cars in for an oil change in 1976?  Or how often we had to qualify at the range?  Does he know anything, anything at all, about the Chicago Police Department policies and procedures that don’t pertain to criminal law?   I have difficulty believing a federal judge can unintentionally be that stupid?

I was peeved with the media for their coverage of the incident.  I wrote a letter to a columnist named Judy Topinka explaining to her how the two defendants had been convicted twice, first by a judge and later by a jury, despite the DNA evidence, and why the jury in the civil suit against the police officers declined to award damages to the plaintiffs.  Ms. Topinka excerpted segments of my letter, put it into a different context, and I must admit, quite successfully, made me sound like a fool.  Some other dweeb excerpted a part of that letter, too, and finished his article with something like, “Yeah, right.  Chicago’s Finest.”  I’m certain he’s well-versed in criminal investigations, too.

Lastly, I wanted to sue the People’s Law Office, et al,  for falsifying and tampering with evidence in this case and their persistent and malicious prosecution of all cases involving Area Two Homicide personnel.  I learned it is not easy to get lawyers to sue lawyers or bring lawyers before a judge, who was a lawyer.  Closed shop.  I guarantee you this, if a copper had ever pulled what the People’s Law Office pulled, he’d be on his way to jail.  I’ll post that letter later.  

For now, here’s the letter I sent to Governor Blagojevich before he went to prison.  It may help clarify my position.

 Governor Rod Blagojevich

Illinois State Capitol Building

2nd and Capitol

Springfield, Illinois

Dear Governor Blagojevich,

 I was shocked and dismayed to learn that on or about January 6, 2005 you granted a full pardon to both Michael Evans and Paul Terry, both serving life sentences for the brutal sexual assault and slaying of nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa in 1976.  According to Evans’ and Terry’s attorneys in their pursuant lawsuit filed against the City of Chicago and the members of the Chicago Police Department involved in the investigation, you reportedly called Evans’ and Terry’s wrongful convictions, “tragic” and went on to say that thanks to DNA technology, these men are now exonerated. 

Did you not read the file, Governor, before you executed this egregious miscarriage of justice and issued such an irresponsible, irrelevant statement?   While it is true that DNA technology was not available in 1976, it is a moot point.  If DNA testing had been available at that time, I don’t believe it would have changed the judge or the jury’s findings.  In fact, the defendants were tried twice for this crime, once in a bench trial before the Honorable Judge Earl Strayhorn and later by a jury.  Both Judge Strayhorn and the jury returned guilty verdicts in both instances. If you had bothered to review the file before rubber stamping the petition for pardon and returning these two criminals into society, you would have learned that there was semen recovered from rectal area of nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa’s body.  The rectal swab was tested by the Chicago Police Department’s Crime Laboratory and determined not to have come from either of the two defendants, a fact which the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office was aware of and stipulated to at trial twenty-nine years ago.  So, the fact that twenty-nine years later DNA testing concluded that the physical evidence recovered from nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa’s body does not belong to either of the two offenders comes as no surprise to the prosecutor or the detectives involved in the prosecution.  How can this be then, that Michael Evans and Paul Terry are responsible for this horrific crime if the DNA doesn’t match?  Perhaps you should have asked yourself that question before releasing them.  Nine-year-old Lisa Cabassa suffered a horrendous death.  The Medical Examiner’s Office conducted a postmortem examination and determined that Lisa Cabassa had been raped vaginally, orally and anally and concluded that there had been multiple offenders.  Therefore, the fact that the recovered physical evidence does not belong to Evans or Terry, did not then, and does not now, preclude Evans or Terry from being at least two of the perpetrators of this heinous crime.  It does not exclude them as the offenders that abducted Lisa Cabassa, nor that raped her vaginally or orally, or strangled the child to death. They were convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony, not physical evidence.  And, as I stated earlier, they were convicted not once, but twice.  Both Judge Strayhorn and a jury found the eyewitness’s testimony credible, despite the results of the physical evidence and convicted Evans and Terry of criminal sexual assault and murder.  Twice. 

With all due respect, sir, had the eyewitness recanted her identification I would have to concur wholeheartedly with your decision to release the subjects, but that is not the case here.  Absolutely nothing has changed since Evans and Terry were convicted of this heinous crime twenty-nine years ago.  The facts remain exactly the same.  Your decision to release them undermines the jury process and dissuades potential witnesses from coming forth.

                                                                                    Sincerely,

                                                                                    Ret. Lt. Dennis M. Banahan

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6 Comments
  1. Anne Lewis permalink

    It seems Karma gave Blago a big ol’ bite in the ass.

    • Hey Anne, you know the old ghetto saying: What goes around comes around. Blago probably is getting bitten in the ass, but I’m sure they’re love bites. 666

  2. Did Rod get a chance to respond to your letter before he was sent to the Big House?

    • No, I’m sure he wanted to, but he was probably too busy preparing his response to the upcoming criminal charges against himself. It’s too bad he released Michael and Paul so early. I’m sure they would have loved to learn they were getting a new cellmate named “ROD”.

  3. Dennis, knowing Judge Earl Strayhorn’s reputation for being a fair jurist and will give all doubt to the defendant, the fact that he found these two guilty means they were guilty, and not victims of the police. Judge Strayhorn is the type of judge all defense lawyers love. He will give your clients a fair trial. That doesn’t mean that he’ll find them not guilty. But you can rest assured that when he finds a defendant guilty, there’s no question like with some other judges. I’m really surprised that a US District Judge would issue a public statement. Judges just don’t do that. For one thing, they aren’t supposed to be biased, and should be above the politics of the trial. But there’s nothing so close to God on earth like a federal judge. Enough said on that. During my 35 years as a criminal defense lawyer I have learned that there is a certain percentage of the population that are so anti-social that they belong behind bars for their entire lives. Michael and Paul took part somehow even if it were by accountability. I think you have every right to be angry.

    • George, thank you for visiting my blog. As you said, Judge Strayhorn was widely known as a defense-oriented judge. Given the circumstances of this case and the evidence available, I was quite surprised when he rendered a guilty verdict. There was an appeal and a re-trial was ordered. The defendants were convicted for a second time, this time by a jury, so I was stunned when 27 years later, former Illinois Governor and current inmate, Rod Blagojevich, pardoned them. Naturally, pursuant to their release, I anticipated the lawsuit against the city and the police. I was far more than surprised, I was shocked, when the federal judge hearing the case issued a public statement to the media while the case was still in progress. To the best of my knowledge, that is unheard of, and like you said, a federal judge is as close to God as anything on this earth, and how do you tell God He made a flagrant boo-boo? Or was it a boo-boo? Anyway, it’s over. We won, but the victory was bittersweet. Lisa Cabassa never got to live her life.

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