A former Chicago cop who was shot 28 times in a skirmish with police a decade ago was preparing to spend the rest of his life behind bars — until the 63-year-old’s 40-year prison sentence was commuted last week.
Last Wednesday, Howard Morgan walked free after his was among 43 clemency petitions that were granted by former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on the final day of his term.
Morgan’s release from prison comes almost 10 years after the run-in with police that forever changed his life. On Feb. 21, 2005, he was pulled over for driving the wrong way on a one-way street while off-duty from his job as a detective for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad line, a position he took after working some eight years for the Chicago Police Department.
What happened next is in dispute. Police say Morgan became belligerent, then opened fire with his service weapon when four officers attempted to arrest him. Morgan contends that the officers began firing at him as soon as they saw his weapon and that he never fired a shot, to which the only independent eyewitness testified. As MSNBC reports, Morgan was shot 28 times — 21 of them in his back — while three of the officers were wounded (Morgan's attorney at the time suggested they were hit by "friendly fire").
In 2007, a jury found Morgan not guilty on three counts, including discharging his weapon, and deadlocked on a charge of attempted murder. At a retrial in 2012, a second jury found him guilty of attempted murder and he was later sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The decision prompted an outcry from many who believed Morgan was unfairly convicted in a violation of the Constitution's double jeopardy clause, which generally forbids a defendant from being prosecuted twice for the same offense. Critics also say physical evidence in the case, including the van Morgan was driving that night, was either destroyed or hidden. Over 40,000 people signed onto a Change.org petition calling for his release from prison.
“What I really believe this is is an example of driving while black,” Morgan's current attorney Benjamin Crump told MSNBC. “And we don’t need to go much further than that.”
While Morgan is no longer behind bars, his conviction has yet to be reversed, something Morgan said at an emotional press conference last Friday that he hopes to achieve soon.
“Right now I’m just concentrating on clearing my name, dealing with this conviction,” Morgan said, according to WGN. “Clearing it because I’m absolutely innocent of those charges.”
Meanwhile, John Wrigley, one of the CPD officers wounded in the skirmish with Morgan, told ABC Chicago he doesn’t believe the governor carefully considered all the evidence in the case before making his decision.
"I was never asked any questions, never given a chance to give my side of the story or tell the facts of the case, the true facts of the case,” Wrigley told ABC.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is reportedly angry with the governor’s decision, as is Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president Dean Angelo, who told Fox he considered it “truly a slap to the faces of those very officers who were wounded that night.”