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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Deal on Wrongful Conviction

This article appeared in the Chicago Tribune on October 31, 2006:

Deal on wrongful conviction
City panel approves $2 million settlement

By Maurice Possley and Gary Washburn
Tribune staff reporters

The Chicago City Council's Finance Committee unanimously approved a $2 million settlement on Monday of a wrongful-conviction lawsuit alleging that police coerced a false confession from a 15-year-old youth, then falsified and destroyed reports to cover it up.

The settlement, which was forwarded for full City Council approval on Wednesday, came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Eric Kittler, who was 15 when he was arrested. Kittler, who had never been arrested before, was charged as an adult with the robbery and murder of Abdel Khalil, a candy salesman who was in Adam's Grocery, 2625 W. 59th St., when two men robbed it on March 9, 1997.

At the time, police said that Kittler confessed. Convicted in 1999, Kittler was sentenced to 35 years in prison.However, his trial attorney, Steven Greenburg, appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court and won a new trial after the appeals court ruled that Kittler's arrest was illegal and therefore, any alleged confession was improper.

Kittler was acquitted at a retrial and released after 5 years in prison. Greenburg contended that Kittler had been falsely implicated by another youth, Thomas Harvey, who was 17 at the time. Harvey was ultimately charged with the crime, convicted of it and is serving a 25-year prison term.

At the time of trial, police officers contended that Harvey told them only that someone named Eric was involved in the crime. The officers said they went to Kittler's home and he voluntarily came to a police station and confessed almost immediately, according to court documents.

However, attorney Michael Kanovitz, who filed the civil lawsuit, said Kittler signed a statement prepared by the officers after being held in an interrogation room for 12 hours.

Kanovitz also found records that showed the officers actually were looking for another man named Eric with a different last name who lived less than a block from Kittler.

Kanovitz said that after Kittler signed a statement admitting involvement, the officers created false reports to show that they were looking for Kittler all along, Kanovitz said.

The civil lawsuit alleged that Detectives Steven Buglio and Thomas Coughlin improperly coerced the confession and that other officers, including Detective Sergio Rajkovich, suppressed evidence that showed Kittler was innocent, destroyed notes of interviews and created false police reports.

The lawsuit alleged that after the detectives obtained a confession through interrogation tactics that "crossed the line," they "fabricated a story about how they had [Kittler] as their suspect all along and then buried independent proof that contradicted their account."

"Nobody with a brain on either side of this case believes Eric Kittler had anything to do with this crime," Kanovitz said Monday. "And those detectives knew they weren't sitting in a room with a murderer, but they didn't care."

Kent Sinson, who was a Cook County prosecutor at the time of the arrest, testified in a deposition that he took the statement directly from Kittler, that he took a Polaroid photograph of Kittler and that Kittler signed the back of the photograph.

A handwriting expert examined a signature and determined it was not Kittler's handwriting, Kanovitz said."Sinson took down a confession that the detectives gave him and falsely claimed that Kittler was the source of the confession," Kanovitz said. "Kittler was innocent, and the Sinson statement was riddled with errors."

Sinson was initially named as a defendant in the case but was later dismissed. Efforts to reach Sinson on Monday were unsuccessful.

mpossley@tribune.comgwashburn@tribune.com
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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