Leroy Orange at Northwestern Law (Photo: Jennifer Linzer)
Leroy Orange was sentenced to death for four murders that his half-brother, Leonard Kidd, testified he alone committed without Orange's participation or knowledge.
The conviction rested primarily on Orange's confession, which he contended had been extracted by torture — beating, suffocation, electroshock — at the hands of Chicago Police Lieutenant Jon Burge and other officers at Area 2 police headquarters on the city's south side. Orange was among 14 Chicago men sentenced to death based in whole or part on confessions allegedly extracted by torture in south side police stations during the 1980s.
The only corroboration of Orange's confession was a statement by Kidd — also allegedly obtained through torture at Area 2 — blaming the murders on Orange. Before Orange's trial, Kidd recanted his statement inculpating Orange and, against the advice of counsel, testified as a defense witness at Orange's trial. Kidd's admission on the stand that he committed the crime virtually assured his own conviction and ultimate death sentence.
Arrests and confessions
Orange, 32, and Kidd, 29, were arrested on January 12, 1984, the day after the bodies of two women, a man, and a child were found in an apartment at 1553 West 91st Street. The victims — Renee Coleman, 27, Michelle Jointer, 30, Ricardo Pedro, 25, and Coleman's 10-year-old son, Tony — had been bound and stabbed. Two fires had been set in the apartment.
Kidd, who was wearing Pedro's watch when he was arrested, initially told officers that he and Orange had been at Coleman's apartment in the early morning hours of January 11. Sometime around 4:30 a.m., according to Kidd's initial statement, Orange began arguing with Pedro. Fearing the situation would turn violent, Kidd left the apartment just as "two dudes" armed with knives arrived. Kidd claimed that he waited outside, where a little later he saw the two men leave, one wearing a jacket drenched in blood.
Orange's confession followed — after more than 12 hours of interrogation and, he said, intermittent torture. The confession consisted of answers to leading questions based on Kidd's initial story.
After obtaining the confessions, the police brought Orange and Kidd face to face, whereupon Kidd offered a different account of the crime. He now admitted lying about the two other men arriving at the scene and said that he had been present when Orange killed the victims. Kidd then led the police to knives used in crime, which had been discarded in garbage cans.
Based on their statements, Orange and Kidd were indicted by a Cook County grand jury for murder, concealment of homicidal deaths, aggravated arson, and armed robbery. Orange promptly told virtually everyone with whom he came into contact — his cellmate, a physician who examined him, relatives and friends who visited him in jail, the assistant public defender assigned to his case, and the judge before whom he was arraigned on January 14 — that he had been tortured.
Orange and Kidd were eligible to be represented by the Cook County Public Defender's Office, but their family rejected that option and retained private counsel — Earl Washington. Despite the conflict inherent in representing co-defendants with conflicting defenses, Washington accepted both clients. Three months later, recognizing the conflict, he withdrew from the Kidd case.
Although Orange promptly told Washington about the torture, Washington did not investigate. He filed a motion to suppress the confession, but withdrew it when Circuit Court Judge Arthur J. Cieslik deemed it inadequate. Cieslik offered Washington an opportunity to file a more detailed motion, but Washington failed to do so.
At Orange's 1985 trial, his confession was virtually the entire prosecution case. Orange took the stand in his own defense, claiming innocence. He testified that he had been with the victims the night before the crime, but had left them alive and well around 2:30 a.m. Kidd then took the stand, testifying, against the advice of the public defenders appointed to represent him after Washington withdrew from the case, that he alone committed the murders after Orange left the apartment.
In rebuttal, the prosecution called Area 2 officers, who denied torturing either man. A jail physician, who examined Orange two days after the alleged torture, testified she observed no sign that he had been mistreated.
After the jury found Orange guilty, Washington stipulated to his client's eligibility for the death penalty. When Cieslik asked if he wished to present evidence in mitigation, Washington responded, "No, your honor. Other than to state to your honor that we feel that there is a lack of significant criminal history on the part of this defendant. We are mindful of the two juvenile convictions, but we feel that that does not fall within the category that is anticipated by the statute in which a lack of significant criminal history should be considered as a mitigating factor. Other than that, we have no mitigation." Absent mitigating evidence, the jury found nothing to preclude imposition of the death penalty, and Cieslik sentenced Orange accordingly.
With his half-brother on death row, Kidd pleaded guilty before Judge Cieslik in August 1985 to the murders he already had testified he alone committed. Cieslik accepted the plea and scheduled a death penalty hearing before a jury beginning three days later.
Before jury selection began, however, Kidd's attorneys made an oral motion to withdraw the plea. Cieslik asked for the motion in writing and proceeded with the hearing. After a court reporter read the testimony Kidd had given at the Orange trial, the jury found Kidd eligible for the death penalty, at which point Cieslik denied the defense motion to withdraw the plea.
The prosecution then presented evidence in aggravation linking Kidd to a 1980 arson fire in which 10 children had died. Kidd took the stand on his own behalf, acknowledging the 1984 murders to which he had pleaded guilty but denying that he had anything to do with the 1980 fire. After the jury found nothing in mitigation to preclude imposition of the death penalty, Cieslik sentenced Kidd to join his half-brother on death row.
Three years later, Kidd went on trial before Circuit Court Judge James M. Schreier and a jury for the 1980 murders. Before the trial, Kidd's public defenders attempted to waive the jury for sentencing. They wanted to do this because, under Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1969), prospective jurors who say they would not impose a death sentence may be excluded from sitting in the guilt-determination phase of a trial if they also might participate in sentencing. A sizeable body of research had shown that excluding such jurors made juries more prone to convict, and a conviction-prone jury was something Kidd's lawyers wanted to avoid.
Schreier refused to allow the waiver and a death-qualified jury proceeded to find Kidd guilty of the murders. At the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury found nothing in mitigation to preclude imposition of the death penalty, and Schreier imposed a second death sentence against Kidd.
Two years later, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned Kidd's death sentence for the 1984 murders, holding that Cieslik had abused his discretion by denying Kidd's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. People v. Kidd, 129 Ill. 2d 432 (1989). Three years after that, the Supreme Court overturned Kidd's death sentence for the 1980 murders, holding that Schreier had abused his discretion by denying Kidd's motion to waive the jury for sentencing. People v. Kidd, 147 Ill. 2d 510 (1992).
Prosecutors retried Kidd and won death sentences in both cases. This time, the convictions and sentences were affirmed. People v. Kidd, 175 Ill. 2d 1 (1996), People v. Kidd, 178 Ill. 2d 92 (1997). Kidd remained on death row until January 11, 2003, when Governor George Ryan commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole.
The Orange appeals
After Orange's conviction and death sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, People v. Orange, 121 Ill. 2d 364 (1988), he filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in the trial court. Bluhm Legal Clinic Director Thomas F. Geraghty and clinic students entered the case and filed an amended petition alleging that Earl Washington's failure to investigate the torture allegations and to present evidence in mitigation constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.
Because Judge Cieslik had retired, the case was assigned to Judge Thomas F. Durkin, who denied the petition without an evidentiary hearing. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed Durkin, ordering an evidentiary hearing. People v. Orange, 168 Ill. 2d 138 (1995). The case then went to Judge Daniel Locallo, who vacated Orange's death sentence and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
At this point, Geraghty filed a successor petition for post-conviction relief based on new evidence supporting the torture claims, but Locallo denied it without a hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the successor petition, People v. Orange, 195 Ill. 2d 437 (2001), and the case went to Judge Schreier — who had been reversed in the Kidd case — for a new sentencing hearing.
The hearing was pending when Governor Ryan on January 10, 2003, granted Orange a full pardon based on innocence, criticizing prosecutors and the judiciary for relying on "procedural technicalities at the exclusion of the quest for truth" throughout the case.
"In some way," said Ryan, "I can see how rogue cops, 20 years ago, can run wild. I can see how, in a different time, they perhaps were able to manipulate the system. What I can't understand is why the courts can't find a way to act in the interest of justice."
— Rob Warden