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Cary's Corner Post No Bill

Posted on Feb 21, 2012 10:21am

­Ah, the grand jury. A prosecutor's best friend, especially in Chicago. Because the burden of proof is so low, grand juries overwhelmingly vote to indict, which make the rare cases when a grand jury returns a "no bill" an unusual occurrence. But a vote of no bill can come with its own consequences… One of the most controversial events in Chicago history, the death of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, featured several grand juries, including a federal grand jury investigation. Early in the morning on December 4, 1969, on the order of State's Attorney Edward Hanrahan, police raided the apartment of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton. Police fired at least 90 times and eventually killed Hampton with two shots to the head. Police and Black Panther accounts of the raid varied wildly. The police claimed to be under heavy fire from Panthers and insisted that the Panthers had fired first. A county grand jury indicted the seven surviving Panthers for attempted murder and weapons charges. Meanwhile, the police department's Internal Investigations Division quickly exonerated Hanrahan and the police. A subsequent coroner's inquest later found the deaths of the two men to be "justifiable homicide". The U.S. Justice Department, facing growing pressure from civil rights groups, empanelled a federal grand jury to determine if the police and their supervisors, including S.A. Hanrahan, violated the civil rights of the Panthers. The charges against the surviving Black Panthers were dropped. They refused to testify to the federal grand jury. Based on their refusal, the jury returned no bill, even as they issued a lengthy and damning grand jury report that indicated the physical evidence was sufficient to charge the police with violation of their civil rights. The families of Hampton and Clark filed a $47.7 million civil suit. The case was dismissed after 18 months of testimony. The families appealed the decision and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and ordered a new trial. Eventually, more than a decade after the suit was originally filed, it was settled for $1.85 million dollars. In 1971, the release of several confidential files detailing a secret FBI program called "COINTELPRO" revealed that the FBI had made a deal with the deputy attorney general who led the 1970 federal grand jury investigation. In order to conceal their role and their still-secret program, the FBI had agreed to drop criminal charges against the seven surviving Black Panther members. In exchange, the federal grand jury ruled in favor of Hanrahan and the police. The federal grand jury's no billing of Hanrahan and the police officers was the result of this secret deal with the FBI. Given this ugly chapter in Chicago's not so recent past, issues of judicial bribery and the perceived integrity of the S.A.'s office are particularly freighted in Cook County. While I don't think Will Gardner needs to fear a federal grand jury – Wendy Scott-Carr simply doesn't have that political juice at the moment – history can be a strong reminder that a no-bill can be just the beginning…