Defense attorneys for a man convicted of killing off-duty Chicago police officer Clifton Lewis were granted permission Tuesday to view internal Chicago Police Department investigative files on the matter.
Cook County prosecutors said in court Tuesday that they did not object to the defense’s effort to inspect the files, and Associate Justice James Linn approved the request. As for the defense’s accusations of police withholding key information, prosecutors said they would respond at a later hearing.
In a filing last week, Alexander Villa’s attorneys accused police of obscuring and manipulating evidence that could have supported Villa’s defense. Villa was one of three men charged with Lewis’s slaying in 2011. He was convicted by a Cook County jury in 2019, but has yet to be sentenced.
In court Tuesday, Linn indicated he was eager to move the case forward, urging attorneys to remain “optimistic” that a motion for a new trial could still be discussed later this month.
“This is killing me; I’m working nonstop on this case,” Jennifer Blagg, one of Villa’s attorneys, told Linn. “I keep finding things. I keep finding things.”
“I’m not sure what you’re finding is as fascinating as…” Linn said from the bench, trailing off.
In response, Blagg pulled out a decade-old map created by the FBI showing that the alleged getaway driver’s phone was not at the scene of the shooting at the time of the shooting.
“Never given to the prosecution, never given to the defense,” he said. “…I think that’s pretty momentous.”
Other details allegedly withheld include information that could have shown what Villa was texting his girlfriend at the time of the shooting.
Lewis’s murder made citywide news in 2011. A graphic security video shows two masked gunmen charging the M&M Quick Foods in the 1200 block of North Austin Boulevard and fatally shooting Lewis, who took cover behind from the counter and returned fire. The officer, described as a “gentle giant”, had just gotten engaged a few days before he was killed.
Ultimately, three men were charged with Lewis’s murder. Villa and Tyrone Clay were the two shooters, prosecutors allege. Edgardo Colón was accused of being the getaway driver.
A Cook County jury convicted Villa in an overnight verdict in 2019. Prosecutors argued that surveillance video of the shooting, while not particularly sharp, showed the large tattoo on Villa’s neck. They also relied on witnesses who said they heard Villa admit to the shooting, though they didn’t come forward until long after the murder.
Colón was convicted of murder in 2017, only to have the case overturned on appeal. His constitutional rights were violated when police continued to question him after he indicated that he wanted a lawyer, the appeals court concluded. Colón is free on bail pending a second trial, in which prosecutors will not be able to use his videotaped confession against him.
Clay has been in jail for more than a decade awaiting trial. Several years were spent in legal disputes over whether Clay’s videotaped statements could be shown to jurors. His attorneys argued that Clay’s “limited intelligence and verbal comprehension” made him unable to competently waive his Miranda rights to him. Cook County Judge Erica Reddick ultimately agreed and dismissed the statements.
Prosecutors appealed that decision; the state appeals court ultimately ruled that the confession should not be presented to a jury.
Clay is scheduled for a hearing this week to determine whether he should be released on bail pending trial.