Justice for Richard Wash
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Richard Wash is servicing a natural life sentence for a crime he did not commit. At age 24, he was convicted of being involved in the killing of a fellow gang member based on “purchased” testimony, gross and blatant misconduct by the prosecution, and in spite of the fact that another person was identified as committing the murder.
On May 7, 1995, Darryl Johnson was gunned down on a street on the south side of Chicago. He was part of one of Chicago's larger gangs, the Gangster Disciples, whose leadership was facing major federal drug charges. According to police, the 18-year-old teenager was killed due to suspicion that he was going to turn state's evidence.
A few days after the murder, a young woman told a detective that while looking out her window, she saw a man she knew shoot Darryl Johnson point blank in the head after an argument. A man working at an auto-repair shop told the cops that the suspected shooter brought in a car for a paint job and to get blood cleaned out the car's interior. While the suspect was arrested on murder charges, he was released after a year.
Richard Wash was at his family's home with friends and relatives, when he got a phone call informing him that Darryl Johnson was shot and killed. Not only was the killing a shock, as the victim was not simply a fellow gang member but a good friend, Richard Wash had no inkling that in a little over a year, he would be charged in the murder, accused of being the driver of the car that brought Darryl to the location where he was killed.
In 1998, a 24-year-old Richard Wash was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Darryl “Blunt” Johnson. The sentence was natural life, with no chance of parole.
The case against Richard Wash was built on a toxic mix of police and prosecutorial misconduct, unreliable witnesses, and the artful use of fear-mongering to manipulate the jury.
- Louis Caesar, one of the lead detectives on the case, was part of a police torture ring led by the infamous Commander Jon Burge, responsible for coercing false confessions from over 100 black men. Caesar “convinced” a key witness to turn state's evidence and testify against Richard Wash.
- One of the four main witnesses, all ex-gang members turned state's evidence, who changed his testimony on whether he actually saw Richard Wash at the murder scene from “no” to “yes”, admitted that his daily alcohol consumption affected his memory.
- The three other witnesses, had all been facing possible life in prison for murders and other crimes. In exchange for testimony implicating Richard Wash and ongoing cooperation with the prosecution, they received very generous plea deals. For example, the man who admitted to helping plan Darryl Johnson's murder walked in less than nine years. The other two witnesses are also free today.
This was a case that screamed “reasonable doubt,” but rather than risk a verdict of “not guilty,” the prosecution made sure that the last words the jury heard before deliberation were not arguments supported by evidence and fact, but blatant distortions of the law and outright appeals to fear and prejudice.
- To convince jurors who believed testimony implicating the shooter but had doubts over testimony implicating Richard Wash - the prosecution falsely claimed that the law says you can't pick and choose what you believe.
- To dispel the doubts of jurors rightfully concerned that plea deals can purchase false testimonies and wrongful convictions, the prosecution argued that should a witness who takes a plea deal fail to tell the “truth” (as defined by the prosecution of course), their deal would be voided and they would face certain “death at the hands of their former gang members.”
- To play on jurors fears of gang violence, the prosecution turned the trial into a referendum on gangs, making wild claims that if Richard Wash was acquitted, gang rules would take the place of the rule of law, gang colors would hang over the courtrooms, and “the Gangster Disciples and Richie Wash would run the world.”
With the prosecution handing the jury a stacked deck, the guilty verdict was all but guaranteed.
In the 20 years since his wrongful conviction, Richard Wash has had time to reflect on what brought him to where he is today. Despite the love of his family, the support of teachers and efforts of others in his life, he made some serious mistakes. At age 15, he got caught up in the gang life and drug trade, at one point ending up in the middle of a gang shooting that killed a bystander. He didn't pull the trigger, but in the eyes of the law, he was as culpable as the one that did.
Looking back at his life, Richard Wash has taken responsibility for the actions he took that as he put it, “helped destroy his community.” But while accepting the consequences for what he did, he does not believe he should be punished, and left to die in prison, for what he did not do.
This injustice should not be allowed to stand.
Please lend your voice and demand that the Cook County State Attorney's Office review this case and give Richard Wash a new trial.
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