National

Fight Continues Despite Commuted Sentence for Former Cop

Left to right: Leonard F. Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Bishop Connie Bansa of Church of the Living God, Rosalind Morgan, Howard Morgan, Atty. Benjamin Crump, radio host Cliff Kelley at a press conference discussing the commuted sentence of Mr. Morgan by former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. (Starla Muhammad/The Final Call)
Left to right: Leonard F. Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Bishop Connie Bansa of Church of the Living God, Rosalind Morgan, Howard Morgan, Atty. Benjamin Crump, radio host Cliff Kelley at a press conference discussing the commuted sentence of Mr. Morgan by former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. (Starla Muhammad/The Final Call)

by Starla Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – When Howard Morgan turns 64 on February 1, for the first time in nearly a decade, he will celebrate at home with his wife Rosalind, family and friends. Mr. Morgan was released from prison after outgoing Illinois Governor Pat Quinn commuted his 40-year sentence.

For the Morgan family and supporters, the commutation of the sentence was a huge relief, but they have no plans to rest until his name is totally cleared.

Just four days after the governor’s decision, attorneys Benjamin Crump and Juan Thomas, Bishop Connie Bansa, Nation of Islam official Leonard F. Muhammad and WVON 1690AM radio personality Cliff Kelley, Mr. and Mrs. Morgan participated in a Jan. 16 press conference at Church of the Living God. They thanked Gov. Quinn and those who have supported their cause in a program broadcast live by WVON-AM, the city’s Black talk radio station.

Mr. Morgan is finally free. He was found guilty of attempted murder in 2012, following a mistrial on charges he opened fire on four White city police officers. The confrontation with the officers left him hospitalized with 28 bullet wounds. Mr. Morgan, who is Black, a former Chicago police officer and railroad patrolman, was hospitalized six months and underwent several surgeries. He denied being guilty, unsuccessfully appealed the verdict and a campaign was launched on his behalf.

“I want to give my condolences to the families across the country and across the world who have lost family members in similar ordeals such as this. My condolences go out to them,” said Mr. Morgan. “Right now I’m just concentrating on clearing my name and dealing with this post-conviction … because I’m absolutely innocent of those charges and I just want to thank you for taking your time out to come out and support me.”

According to police, Mr. Morgan began indiscriminately firing his gun at officers after they pulled him over for a traffic violation Feb. 21, 2005 just minutes from his home. Mr. Morgan and others dispute those assertions, saying the officers were the aggressors. Mr. Morgan identified himself as a fellow law enforcement officer and said he did not fire his gun. His only crime was driving while Black, his supporters argued. Two officers sustained minor injuries and none were charged with crimes.

Mr. Morgan was tried and acquitted in 2007 for aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm. The jury in the first trial deadlocked on the remaining counts and the judge ordered a new trial.

He was retried and convicted in 2012 of one count of aggravated battery with a firearm and four counts of attempted murder. Mr. Morgan, who had no prior criminal record or arrests, was sentenced April 5, 2012 and incarcerated at Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Ill. Gov. Quinn, a Democrat, granted a total of 43 clemency petitions, including two commutations, on his last day in office.

Key pieces of evidence were destroyed and suppressed and, in some instances, a lack of evidence contributed to Mr. Morgan being railroaded and unjustly convicted, said Atty. Crump.

Gov. Quinn’s decision to commute Mr. Morgan’s sentence was not without its critics, some of whom denounced the clemency process as “secretive.” The Fraternal Order of Police called his release a “slap in the face” to the officers involved and the “entire law enforcement community.”

“To say that we are disturbed is an understatement of the uppermost proportion,” said FOP Chicago Lodge 7 president Dean C. Angelo, Sr., in a written statement.

But for Black Chicagoans and those who said Mr. Morgan was unfairly targeted, some justice has finally been served.

“What Gov. Quinn did was not secretive or mysterious in any way. It’s what the constitution of this state gives him the power to do and it was in fact very public,” said Atty. Crump.  “There were thousands and thousands who signed the petition after they looked on the record as to what took place,” he added. Gov. Quinn should be commended for what he did, said Atty. Crump.

“He was shot 28 times and that will never end. The pain will never go away, but these are things that we will get through,” said Mrs. Morgan who has stood strongly by her husband’s side during the entire ordeal.

“I do believe that behind every great man there’s a great woman on his side and I stand for that; and I will stand for that until my husband is totally pardoned and expunged for everything because he’s innocent,” she said.

A commuted sentence means Mr. Morgan is released on time served but the convictions are not dropped from his record. There is more work to do, said Atty. Crump.

For the next several months Mr. Morgan is confined to the church, where he and his wife live, and is not permitted to leave the premises without permission from his probation officer.

“He’s really on house arrest. He really can’t leave his home or his church for three to four months, according to what we were told,” said Chicago-based Atty. Thomas who represents the Morgans locally. “They want to do that to make sure he’s not going to be a harm to the community which is absurd because he’s a former police officer. He upholds the law and he’s done nothing wrong to deserve that but they did put that as a stipulation as part of his commutation.”

For the attorneys, the next steps include scheduling a post-conviction and post-judgment relief hearing to begin the process of expungement or clemency through the federal appellate court of the 7th Circuit of Illinois.

The city of Chicago and its police department took a lot from Mr. Morgan, said Atty. Crump. “They took not only his job and his benefits and time away from his wife and family but his manhood, his humanity. I mean (shot) 28 times, 21 in the back?” asked Atty. Crump.

“They took all this away from him and they want to not have to atone, as Minister (Louis) Farrakhan says, for any of it,” added Atty. Crump. He thanked the Muslim leader, the Nation of Islam and WVON for standing strong for the Morgans.

The commutation of Mr. Morgan’s sentence should be viewed as a victory for our people but it is not over, said Mr. Crump, a high profile attorney who represented Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, the parents of slain teen Trayvon Martin.

“This day (is) not only for us here from the community but for the thousands and millions of people who see the Howard Morgan release as a victory that’s been long overdue and thousands of other cases where this has not happened. There are many, many others that are still seeking justice. We stand for them as well,” said Leonard F. Muhammad, who spoke on behalf of the Nation of Islam.

“We have a long journey to go; we’re not giving up now,” added Mrs. Morgan.

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