Too many red flags in ’02 trial of poor, black man.

By: Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times: June 17th, 2007

Carl Chatman is the man who was convicted for raping a woman in the Daley Center on May 24, 2002. He was picked up six blocks from the crime scene and 15 hours later dictated a confession that was handwritten by a prosecutor.

It took jurors just 30 minutes to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt even though there was no saliva, no semen, no blood and no hair found on the victim. His sentence totaled one year for every minute the jury deliberated. Today, Chatman is in a mental wing at the Dixon Correctional Center.

That could be the end of the story.

But it turns out, unbeknownst to the jury, the Daley Center rape victim reported a similar rape at 625 N. Michigan 26 years ago. Although the alleged assailant – a Polish immigrant who worked as a janitor in the building – fled the country and was never prosecuted – two years later, the rape victim sued four entities: the building’s owner, the management company, the janitorial company and the security company.

That case settled for an undisclosed amount of money.

Accuser’s history of lawsuits

From one defendant alone, the rape victim asked for a judgment in the amount of $1,000,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $250,000, claiming that she “had incurred great pain and suffering both physically and emotionally” and has been unable to “attend to her usual pursuits and occupation.”

In 2002, before Chatman was convicted, the rape victim filed another multimillion dollar civil suit, this time against the Public Building Commission, Cook County, the Cook County sheriff, and four other entities, including the security company. But jurors were barred from hearing about that lawsuit.

“We were literally walking to the bench when the state’s attorney made an oral motion which precluded me from asking the witness about any civil actions,” said Thomas Brandstrader, the attorney who represented Chatman in the criminal trial. “I didn’t know about the earlier civil suit until after the conviction.”

The fact that both sexual assaults occurred during early morning hours when no one was around and happened in downtown office buildings is either a tragic coincidence or a miscarriage of justice.

“I would wholeheartedly agree with latter,” Brandstrader told me.

Apparently Chatman, who started suffering from mental illness after he was discharged from the military, had been at the Daley Center four days before the rape and wandered into the courtroom where the victim worked. When he appeared to be lost, she made a phone call in an effort to help him locate another courtroom.

Chatman was definitely memorable.

He was disheveled, smelly, dirty and was wearing a “Blackhawks jacket” – the same jacket he had on when he was stopped by a traffic cop who thought Chatman fit the rapist’s description. Chatman was taken into custody after he told the officer that he had picked up a “Rules of the Road” book from the Daley Center.

Fits profile of wrongfully convicted

During a subsequent lineup, the rape victim was so confident about his identification, a police officer had to caution her to view everyone before picking out Chatman.

Unfortunately, the 47-year-old homeless veteran fits the profile of other men who have been wrongfully convicted of rape.

He is black. He is poor. And he is accused of raping a white woman.

Of those exonerated after a rape conviction, 85 percent were black men accused of assaulting a white woman, while black men are accused in 33.6 percent of rapes or sexual assaults of white women, according to a recent article published in the Washington Post.

“What it says to me is that, ultimately, if you are a black man charged with sexually assaulting a white woman, the likelihood that you will be convicted, even if you are stone-cold innocent, is much, much higher,” Peter J. Neufeld, a co-director of the Innocence Project, told the Post.

Frankly, had jurors known about the earlier rape allegation and civil suit, they would have had to ask themselves a tough question: Why would a woman who had been traumatized by a rape at 7 a.m. in an empty office building take the same risk 26 years later?

Lack of physical evidence

Lawyers specializing in civil rights cases also are asking questions.

“How was he able to sneak out of the building?” asked Russell Ainsworth, an attorney with Loevy & Loevy. “We watched the security tape from 6:30 a.m. to 8:20 am. The crime was reported within 10 minutes of the occurrence, and the building went immediately on lockdown” he pointed out.

There are several other troubling aspects to the case.

For instance, Carl Chatman allegedly told prosecutors that he “peed” in a cup and tossed it in the wastebasket at the crime scene. Although evidence technicians went through the crime scene with a fine-tooth comb, no cup was found and no fluid belonging to Chatman was ever identified.

Ainsworth also is concerned about some of the language used in Chatman’s confession. For example, he described the victim’s blouse as ”burgundy.”

“I don’t know of any man who would describe the color of a shirt as burgundy,” Ainsworth said.

Last week, the insurance company for the Public Building Commission, one of the defendants in the civil suit related to the second rape, agreed to settle the victim’s claim.

“This woman is trying to make a lot of money off of six different pockets,” Ainsworth said. “You sue six people with six different insurance companies. The strategy is not to go to trial.”

Sent to psychological ward

His firm is working pro bono to get Chatman a new criminal trial, although it is also within the power of the state’s attorney’s office to vacate the conviction.

Brandstrader, Chatman’s trial attorney, also argues that Chatman’s mental illness prevented him from understanding what was going on when he was in police custody and confessed to the crime.

“Doctors examined him and they concluded that if he was not taking medication there was no way that he understood (what was going on when he was in custody)” Brandstrader said. “And there’s no indication that Carl was taking any meds when he was arrested.”

Twenty-four hours after giving a confession, Chatman was confined to a psychological ward at Cook County Jail.

Sister vows to fight for new trial

Despite the alarming rate at which confessions — when given in the absence of corroborating evidence — have later proved to be false, and even though the doctor who examined the victim testified he could not find evidence that she had been sexually assaulted, the jury returned a swift guilty verdict.

“He was given 30 years in prison for a Class X felony. This is a guy who had no record of felony convictions,” Brandstrader pointed out. “What do you give a guy who violently cuts up women?” he asked.

The suspect in the 1979 case didn’t try to defend himself against the rape charge.

A Polish immigrant, who spoke only a couple of words of English, he fled the country before going to trial. But he left behind a note for his sister in which he vigorously proclaimed his innocence, saying the charge had “ruined his life.”

Chatman’s sister, Theresa Chatman, has vowed to fight for a new trial for the brother she calls “Chattie.”

“What I see is a black man being unfairly convicted of raping a white woman,” she said. “I’m sure prosecutors call themselves doing the city a service by picking up a homeless man and getting him off the street,” she said.

“Little did they know, I am not going to go anywhere until my brother is let go.”