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David Protess

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Will the Father of the Bride Be Freed in Time for the Wedding?

Posted: 07/17/2012 11:08 am

Gail Scott is close to living her dream.

Scott, 31, is engaged to the love of her life, Cashell Lewis. The wedding is set for Aug. 12, when 200 guests will celebrate at the Martinique in South Suburban Burbank.

But the most important guest for Scott will be her father, Stanley Wrice, who she hopes will give her away. She will do whatever is necessary to make that possible, having already bought his wedding suit, a black tux with an apple red vest and tie, she tells me.

Whether her father is able to attend is another matter -- one that will soon be resolved. Wrice is incarcerated at the Pontiac Correctional Center, serving the third decade of a life sentence for a brutal rape he insists he did not commit.

Scott has always believed in her father's innocence. Now, compelling evidence supports her conviction.

The case against Wrice was built around a confession that resulted from torture by Chicago cops under the command of the infamous Jon Burge. That Wrice was tortured is no longer in dispute. Medical evidence documented it at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors conceded it in 2006. And, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously acknowledged it earlier this year.

The rest of the state's case essentially vanished when the only living witnesses to the gang rape told students with the Chicago Innocence Project that the evidence against Wrice was bogus. Two of the actual perpetrators said Wrice was not present for the crime, and an independent witness admitted he lied at trial in testifying against him. All three signed statements swearing that Burge's goons had also tortured them. (The victim did not identify Wrice as her assailant and no physical evidence linked him to the rape.)

So Gail Scott wants to know why her father isn't already home, enjoying life in the free world and sharing her excitement over the wedding. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system, while breathtakingly quick to lock up suspects, is agonizingly slow to rectify its mistakes.

It took six months for Wrice's case to make its way from the supreme court, which ordered a hearing on the new evidence, to the Cook County courtroom where a petition seeking his exoneration was filed last week. Lawyers for both sides will finally appear before Judge Evelyn B. Clay on Aug. 9 -- three days before Scott's wedding.

Now the ball is in the hands of special prosecutors appointed to handle all Burge torture cases. The prosecutors work under the direction of a respected former judge, Stuart A. Nudelman, chosen in 2009 to clean up Burge's mess.

Nudelman & Co. basically have two options in Wrice's case. They could argue that Wrice is guilty, fight a new trial and force a hearing on the evidence, leaving Judge Clay to decide the outcome. Alternatively, they could join Wrice's pro bono lawyers, Heidi Linn Lambros and Jennifer Bonjean, in recognizing there is no longer a basis for proving Wrice's guilt.

Option 1 is a lose-lose proposition. It will mean months or longer of wrongful imprisonment for Wrice and lead to certain defeat at the hands of Judge Clay. After all, the Burge cops who extracted Wrice's confession will plead the Fifth at the hearing, as they have in similar proceedings, and the other witnesses will testify for Wrice. Option 2 is a win-win. The taxpayers will be spared the expense of protracted and futile litigation and Wrice will get justice.

A dozen "Burge" prisoners have been exonerated in the last decade, but only two have been freed on Nudelman's watch. There are reasons for this, but none applies to Stanley Wrice. It would be unconscionable to keep a 58-year-old innocent torture victim behind bars. This may be Cook County, but it isn't Iran.

How is Wrice holding up? "He's living in a large bubble of hope right now," says Lambros, his attorney for 10 years. "He's hoping to celebrate his daughter's wedding in person."

Meanwhile, Gail Scott continues to fantasize about two big events: her father's court appearance on Aug. 9, and her wedding on the 12th. Since the day she became engaged, she has thought about a song for the father-daughter dance. It will be Luther Vandross's "Dance with My Father Again."

"I've pictured us dancing and it's gonna be funny [because] we'll be stumbling all over each other," she says. "But it will be the best dance ever."

"It would mean everything to me to have my dad at the wedding. It will be my dream come true."

 
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