That's what senior Kriston Kato listed as his ambition in the 1968 Senn High School yearbook.
"He always wanted to be a cop," says Jack Streicher, then and now a social-studies teacher at Senn.
For 15 years now Kato has been one. The last four years he has been a violent-crimes detective working on Chicago's brutal west side. He specializes in murder investigations.
He is renowned in the Police Department for his ability to extract confessions from murder suspects. When typed up by a court reporter, these confessions typically are seven to ten pages long, double spaced. Usually the person confessing answers questions put to him by an assistant state's attorney. The state's attorney begins by advising the suspect of his constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to have a lawyer of his own present. "Understanding these rights, do you wish to talk to us now?" the state's attorney will ask, and the suspect will answer "Yes." After the confessor details the crime, the state's attorney will ask him how he has been treated by the police. "Fine" or "good" the confessor usually says. The interview rarely takes more than ten minutes. The resulting statement will likely condemn the confessor to 20 years or more in prison.
Without the confession, the case in many instances will never get to court. Homicide victims can't testify, and other witnesses, out of fondness for or fear of the killer, tend to forget what they saw. Often killers only have to clam up to avoid prison.
But to Kato they talk. How he gets them to is the subject of fierce and frequent debate in courtrooms and jury rooms at 26th and California.
"He said, 'Why don't you just admit you did it? It'd be easier on you,'" Keith Washington is telling the court. "I said I didn't kill anyone. Then he slapped both sides of my face with his hands. I just folded up."
"When you say you 'folded up,' what do you mean?" Washington's attorney, Karen Shields, asks.
"I ducked down, covered my head. When I covered my head, he kicked me in my ribs."
"What happened then?"
"I just hunched over crying."
The jurors, some of whom were yawning and rubbing their eyes earlier, are sitting forward now, studying the defendant--a dark-skinned black man in a pressed white shirt and a skinny black tie. He is 30, but appears younger. His hair is closely cropped and his features are boyish; he doesn't look cold-blooded enough to strangle someone. But his neck is stout and his shoulders are broad; he'd have the strength to. He speaks softly--his attorney has to remind him to keep his voice up--but he doesn't hesitate or waver as he describes his 28-hour stretch at a west-side police station in February 1989. He came to the station a free citizen; he left in handcuffs in a squadrol bound for Cook County Jail. He has languished there ever since, charged with strangling 24-year-old Judy Boykin, then setting a fire to conceal the homicide. He didn't do it, he swears; he only confessed to stop the punches, slaps, and combat-boot kicks of his interrogator--Detective Kato. Now, more than two years later, in June 1991, Washington is having his day in court, in room 704 of the Cook County Criminal Courts building.
The gallery is nearly empty. Judy Boykin's mother, Julet, and one of Judy's sisters sit in the second bench on the left side of the courtroom behind the prosecutors. Keith Washington's mother, Emma, and one of his uncles sit in the second bench on the right behind the defense table. The mothers are mirror images of each other on the aisle end of the benches, eight floor-tile squares apart, in plain dresses and low-heeled shoes, hands folded in their laps. "I wanted to say something to Mrs. Boykin," Emma Washington will tell me later, "but I didn't know how she'd feel about me talking to her. I wanted to tell her so bad that I'm so sorry she had to lose her child that way--but, you know, my child didn't do it."
Keith Washington spent his 28 hours in the police station--Area Four Headquarters, at Harrison and Kedzie--in a 10-by-12-foot interview room furnished with a table and three chairs. A two-way mirror is on one wall, a steel handcuff ring on another. Washington tells the court Detective Kato would hound him for 10 or 15 minutes--accusing him of murder, threatening him, and frequently hitting him--then he'd leave. But he'd be back in another 15 minutes or half hour and start in again. Washington testifies he would insist to Kato that he hadn't killed anyone. "He said I was lying. He said I was blowing smoke up his ass." One time after Washington said he didn't have anything to tell Kato, the detective "kicked me in my ankles. He acted as if he was going to hit me in the face again, and I flinched, covered my face. Then he chopped me on my throat with the edge of his hand."
When Kato left the room this time, Washington says, "I was upset--so I got up and punched the wall with my fists. He came back in, said, 'Oh, you want to get tough with the wall,' and he punched me in my chest.
"He was wearing a watch and a gold ring," Washington tells the court. "I saw them [when he was] fixing to hit me. I seen them every time." The combat boots he said Kato kicked him with had "laces up the front, zippers up the side."
According to testimony from both sides, Washington's stint in the interview room began at about midnight on February 7, 1989. Kato questioned him periodically between midnight and 3:30 AM. Then he locked Washington in the room and went home. At this point Washington had not been placed under arrest or charged with anything. When the detective returned to work at 4:30 that afternoon, Washington testifies, "He asked me if I had anything to tell him. I told him I had nothing to tell him."
"What happened then?" Shields asks.
"He hit me a couple of times, choked me, said, 'You see what it feels like to be strangled?'"
Washington tells the court he was given nothing to eat or drink until after he confessed, and was taken to the washroom just once. He says he asked Kato if he could "talk to my mother, a lawyer, somebody," but that Kato just ignored him. He says Kato kept suggesting to him exactly what led up to the killing and what Washington did afterward. Finally, he says, he surrendered. He told Kato he would confess to the murder. The detective summoned an assistant state's attorney, Joe Barbaro, who took the statement from Washington at 4 AM on February 8.
"Why didn't you tell Joe Barbaro what Detective Kato had done to you?" Shields asks.
"I was afraid," Washington says.
"Of who? What?"
"Kato. He was standing right behind me. I figured he'd just beat me up some more."
The judge, Vincent Bentivenga, scrutinizes Washington and occasionally jots notes. Throughout the defendant's testimony, Bentivenga wears the impassive face judges strive for. Or it may simply be the look of one who has heard it all before--heard defendants insist they only confessed to a crime because a detective was beating them. It's one of the most common defenses in cases in which the state has a confession. It usually fails. Sometimes that's because witnesses or other evidence tie the defendant to the crime. Sometimes it's because the defendant's tale is a transparent ploy: he never says anything about being beaten until a few months before his trial, then claims every cop who came near him attacked him savagely and changes his story from one moment to the next on the stand.
Other times, as in Keith Washington's case, no witnesses or other evidence point to the defendant. There is only the confession. The defendant maintains from his first day in jail that he was beaten and describes his ordeal in credible, consistent detail in court. He usually loses anyway. It's his word against a police officer's, after all. Judges and juries know defendants have more reason to lie than cops, and no one likes to be suckered.
"Did you receive any stitches for these injuries?" asks prosecutor Al Lynn, smirking, his voice dripping with sarcasm, during his cross-examination.
"No I didn't."
"What hospital did you go to?"
"I wasn't taken to a hospital."
"Do you recall the state's attorney [Joe Barbaro] asking you how you had been treated by the police?" Lynn asks.
"Do you recall saying that you had been treated 'good' by the police?"
"I said that because Detective Kato was standing right there. If I would have said he beat me, he would have beat me some more."
Lynn approaches Washington and hands him a photo taken of him the night he confessed. He hands him a pen as well and asks him to circle the injuries he received from Detective Kato.
"That would be hard to do with my clothes on [in the photo]," Washington says.
"So you're claiming the statement was given only because it was beaten out of you?" Lynn asks.
"That's correct," Washington says.
"And you're also claiming that you were crying this whole time?"
"And were you crying when you gave your statement to Mr. Barbaro?"
"So the claimed crying had stopped by then?"
Lynn is through, and Judge Bentivenga announces a brief recess. In the hallway outside the courtroom I ask Washington's uncle, Roosevelt Bland, how he thinks his nephew fared on the stand. "When you're drilled like that, the truth can start to sound like fiction," Bland says. "But you know, someone told me once that you cannot tell the truth three times straight. It will start to sound false. But you can tell the same lie a hundred times--because you've rehearsed it."
Kato had testified the day before. He's 41 and strongly built--six feet tall, 200 pounds. He played football all four years at Senn and for a time after with a semipro team; he's still in shape. He has a full head of curly hair, a mustache, and bushy, arching eyebrows. He wore a dark blue suit, a white shirt, and a dark striped tie to the stand.
In answer to questions from prosecutor Lynn, he told the court that while Washington was at Area Four he took him to the washroom at least twice and brought him water, coffee, pop, sandwiches. He said he advised Washington repeatedly of his right to remain silent and his right to call an attorney, but each time Washington "indicated he would waive those rights" and continued to talk. He said that he had indeed locked Washington in the interview room when he went off duty, but that Washington had agreed to stay at the station. The door was locked not to keep Washington a prisoner, he said, but because of Area Four policy: prisoners and other suspects are frequently on the floor where the interview rooms are, so people are not allowed to roam freely. "We [he and his partner] instructed him that we were leaving," Kato testified. "We instructed him that we would be back the following day. He said he would remain there. I told him I would close the door, and if he needed anything to eat or to go to the washroom, that he was to knock on the door and my supervisor next door would take care of his needs."
Kato is to say the least a veteran witness. "It seems like he testifies almost weekly," says Kevin Smith, a supervisor of the public defender's Homicide Task Force. This is partly because he elicits so many confessions, partly because of how the confessions are challenged. For many of his cases that make it to court he is called to the stand three times: once at a pretrial hearing, when the defense tries to get the confession suppressed by maintaining it was beaten out of the defendant; once in the prosecution's case in chief; and once in the rebuttal stage, when he denies the defendant's claims of abuse.
Despite Kato's frequent trips to the stand, he does not appear at ease there, particularly when cross-examined by a defense attorney. He often studies the ceiling or the witness stand when responding; his fingers frequently brush his cheeks and lips. This may simply be shyness; friends say he's uncomfortable in the presence of those he doesn't know. What his edginess suggests to jurors depends on the juror. One juror in a January 1991 case told me he "knew that cop was full of shit the minute he opened his mouth"; another juror in the same trial said that of all the detectives he heard testify, Kato "seemed the nicest and the most genuine."
Kato does know to respond with police-school courtesy and a minimum of information when cross-examined. He limited most of his answers to Shields's questions to two or three words.
Shields asked him if there was a refrigerator in the interview room.
"No ma'am," Kato said.
"Is there drinking water in this room?"
"Is there a bed in this room?"
"Is there a couch in this room?"
"Are there pillows in this room?"
"Is there a washroom?"
"Well, Detective Kato, when you went home you were able to eat, weren't you?" Shields asked.
"And you were able to use the washroom?"
"Bathe, if you wanted to?"
"But Keith Washington couldn't do any of that, could he?"
"If he knocked on the door," Kato said.
Prosecutor Lynn later asked, "What kind of an investigation was this, detective?"
"A homicide investigation," Kato said.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," Lynn said. "Are there big-screen TVs and La-Z-Boy chairs at Area Four?"
"This wasn't a luxury motel, was it?"
Later, when the state called Detective Kato back to the stand to rebut Washington's brutality allegations, Lynn would ask him: "Did you ever slap, punch, kick in the ribs, kick in the ankles, kick in the shins, karate chop, or punch in the back of the head Keith Washington?"
"No sir," Kato would reply.
For various reasons, the prosecution was not able to acquaint the jury with the fact that Washington had been arrested three times before for battery, and that in each of these cases he was accused of beating a woman.
For various reasons, the defense was not able to acquaint the jury with the fact that at least 20 excessive-force complaints have been lodged against Kato since 1985, through the Police Department's Office of Professional Standards (OPS), and that at least 15 additional people--most of them defendants--have maintained in court or in legal documents that Kato beat them.
All the jury knew was that there were three possibilities. Either Washington or Kato was lying, or both were.
"It's silly," Kato says of the slew of brutality allegations against him. "They have to try to win their cases somehow." He declined further comment for this story.
"Total, absolute bullshit" is what James Maurer, commander of Area Four detectives, calls the allegations. "Kris Kato is one of the finest people I've ever met on this job. He's the kind of guy you just have respect for. He's a tenacious detective. He goes after the littlest things. We had a death investigation where the body was inside a catch basin for several days. Normally what we would do is get somebody out here from Streets and Sanitation to get us a little bit of room, make it easier to get in there. But Kato got inside that catch basin to retrieve some evidence, make sure it wasn't disturbed. I wouldn't get in a catch basin without a body. But he's extremely thorough, very conscientious. He's got a tremendous amount of pride. He's just a very honorable person."
Kato has earned five department commendations and 79 honorable mentions in his 15 years on the force.
A Senn High classmate remembers Kato as "the tough guy of the class. He was an intimidator: a stand-up fist fighter--fast, very fast. The story was that he had gotten picked on a lot in grade school, so he learned how to fight. He didn't get picked on in high school."
"He was a thug, basically," says another classmate.
Yet another says, "The guy was always just a bully, out to beat up anyone who crossed paths with him."
But Senn High teacher Jack Streicher remembers Kato as "a very likable young man. He was a decent student, in school all the time. He was a tough kid. He had a couple of friends who I didn't care for, who I would call bullies. But I didn't think Kris was ever that way."
Streicher says Kato belonged to a group called Delta, which some people considered a gang. "It was not a gang with guns or knives. It was more of a club. A lot of kids were in it--Irish kids, Swedish, Norwegian. They had their fistfights, but they never caused trouble in school."
Classmate Larry Swoboda, who still considers Kato a close friend, describes him as "a stand-up good guy. You know where he's coming from--he ain't going to bullshit you. And if you need anything, he'll give you the shirt off his back."
Kato worked construction after high school, Swoboda says. "His foremen always talked about what a bull he was, what a hell of a worker. I'm not surprised he's a good, aggressive policeman."
Swoboda, who tends bar in Edgewater, thinks little of the brutality charges against Kato. "He's dealing with dirtball west-side gangsters. They're hardened criminals. I just know they all get in the shit house together and collaborate stories."
A former assistant state's attorney says, "I never saw him hit people, but I think he has." This person, now a defense attorney, requested anonymity; I'll call him Bob Johnson. Three years ago during a stint in felony review--the unit whose lawyers decide whether to approve felony charges--Johnson took statements from several suspects soon after Kato interrogated them. "I don't know how to explain it to you other than that you get a feeling for it," he says. "You have an idea of what has gone on before you get in the [interview] room.
"It's hard to imagine why there are some guys in his unit who have no beefs [OPS complaints] and he's got this extraordinary number," Johnson says. "I've been to all the areas, and it always comes down to the same guys--the same guys in Area Four, in Area Three, in Area Six. It's the same guys who have reputations for whacking people around. In Area Six [headquartered at Belmont and Western], I can think of ten detectives who I've never heard anyone accuse of whacking people around.
"I don't think there's a detective in this city who would try to beat a confession out of a person he thinks is innocent. But that doesn't mean they don't make mistakes."
Commander Maurer acknowledges that Kato has gotten more brutality complaints than any of his other detectives. He thinks this is partly because Kato's "extremely easy to identify--he's six foot one and Oriental. His appearance is intimidating, and maybe that's part of it too. I don't mean this in a derogatory sense, but--he's Oriental, and he looks sinister. Certainly when you're trying to get a confession out of somebody, you use whatever verbal techniques or body language you can. He's in very good shape, and when he comes in there and sits down he just looks like somebody you wouldn't want to mess with."
Shirley Hill smelled smoke coming up into her bathroom on April 14, 1988, a little after 10:30 in the evening. It's coming from Judy Boykin's again, Hill figured. Boykin lived on the first floor, in the apartment beneath Hill's. Boykin burned food frequently and had small grease fires; Hill would have to bang on her door to get her to put them out. When Hill went downstairs and rapped on Boykin's door this time, she got no answer. She called 911.
A few minutes later fire trucks pulled up in front of the three-story brick building at 3245 W. Warren. One fire fighter went to Boykin's front door, and finding it dead-bolted, pried it open with an ax. Another fire fighter entered through the rear door, which was unlocked. There wasn't much smoke in the apartment and the fire fighters didn't need the masks they carried on their backs. The blaze was confined to the living room in the middle of the flat. At the foot of a bed in this room flames were dancing from a pile of debris--clothes, towels, bedding, a handbag, a box of laundry detergent. A portable TV sat atop the heap. One fire fighter removed the TV, and then two of them doused the pile with water from hand pumps, pulling debris off the heap as they extinguished it. In minutes the fire was out.
Under the pile they found a naked body--an obese black woman in a sitting position but doubled over at the waist, her head resting on her chest. One fire fighter reached for her wrist in a hopeless quest for a pulse. The fire fighters yelled out that they had found a body. A police officer who had been called to the scene to assist the fire fighters hurried into the living room and told them not to touch anything else.
The detectives who arrived at the scene were immediately certain that the woman had been killed first and that the killer had then set the fire in a naive attempt to hide his crime. Detective Leslie Smulevitz felt the woman's eyelids and jaw--which is where rigor mortis begins--but found them not at all rigid. Her death had been very recent.
There was no evidence of forced entry to the apartment, other than the fire fighter's assault on the front door. Nothing else in the flat seemed to have been disturbed. The detectives searched the apartment for likely weapons, but found none. A purse lying near the pile of rubble contained a job application made out by Judy Boykin. Neighbors also identified the woman as Boykin.
In his autopsy the next morning, a deputy medical examiner found bruises under Boykin's chin and bleeding in her larynx and at her right vocal cord. The burns on her body--on a thigh, a forearm, and the back of a hand--proved to be postmortem, and there was no sign of smoke inhalation. The medical examiner concluded that Boykin had been strangled before the fire.
Julet Boykin, Judy's mother, told detectives that Judy had mental problems and might have worked as a prostitute. She also said Judy had one daughter, a six-year-old, but that the state had taken the child away several years ago and had given custody to Julet.
The detectives also spoke with a caseworker for the Department of Children and Family Services, who told them Judy Boykin had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and that she was known to solicit men on the street.
The detectives ran a check to see if Boykin had been the victim of any earlier crimes, and found that in 1987 a man named Roger Williams had been charged five times for assaulting her. In each instance Boykin had told police that Williams had threatened to hurt her. On one occasion she told them he had acted like he had a gun in his coat and had threatened to blow her head off.
At his west-side residence, Williams told detectives he had known Boykin for about five years and that almost every time they got together they would argue. He said Boykin had a violent temper and once stabbed him in the arm during a fight. He said he hadn't seen her since February.
Williams told detectives that Boykin hung out in the streets and had numerous male friends--and that she was not particular about who she went with as long as he had money to spend. He also said that she liked smoking "happy sticks," marijuana joints laced with the horse tranquilizer PCP, and that when she did she would act crazy.
Neighbors told detectives that an elderly man had been living with Boykin until the last few weeks. The detectives were able to locate the 73-year-old man, who said he had known Boykin about two years and had moved in with her in late '87. He too said Boykin had worked as a prostitute. He also said that she had a habit of taking money from customers who picked her up and then jumping out of their cars and running. And sometimes she robbed clients she brought home with her. Because he had feared these robberies might lead to violence, he had moved out two months before.
Police canvassed Boykin's building, but none of the neighbors said they had heard or seen anything unusual before the fire. The buildings on either side were abandoned. But detectives also canvassed the building across the alley from Boykin's apartment and found three young sisters with promising information. The three girls, Bridgette, Yvonne, and Johnice Wooten, shared a bedroom with a window that looked out across the alley to Boykin's back porch.
According to notes Detective Smulevitz took during his interview, Bridgette Wooten, 15, said she had heard an argument between a man and a woman about five minutes before she heard the fire engines. The man was calling the woman a bitch and saying "I'll hurt you," and the woman was cursing back. She heard another man yell, "Come on, man, let her go." Then she said she saw the lights from a car pulling out of the parking area behind Boykin's building. The argument continued after the car drove off, but Bridgette said she couldn't make anything else out and had fallen asleep soon after.
Yvonne Wooten, 14, said she heard the argument, looked out the window, and saw a dark-complected black man, about five feet eight inches tall, wearing a cap with a bill cocked to the right. He had curls stretching down his neck, she told Smulevitz. She heard another man yell, "Get in the car." The man with the curls did, and the car pulled off.
Johnice Wooten, 12, told Smulevitz she heard a man calling a woman "all kinds of names," and said the man took off in a large blue car that headed east down the alley.
A few days later Roger Williams told police that a friend of his named Keith might have helpful information. Williams said Keith had told him he had seen Boykin and a man argue over some keys a couple of days before she was killed.
Before detectives were able to locate Keith, they brought Williams to police headquarters at 11th and State for a lie-detector test. Police records don't say what exactly Williams was asked, just that he flunked the test. Detectives brought him back to Area Four headquarters and questioned him further. According to the detectives' report, Williams "vehemently denied any involvement with the death of Judy Boykin." He was released.
That evening Keith Washington came into the Area Four station and spoke with Detective Smulevitz. Washington said he hadn't known Boykin personally but had heard about her murder on the news. That made him think about a fight he had witnessed on Boykin's block one morning a couple of days before she was killed. Washington told Smulevitz he was outside his mother's apartment building, at 3200 W. Warren, when a large woman started arguing with a man who was washing his car across the street from 3245 W. Warren, the building where Boykin lived. Washington said he heard the man yelling something about car keys, then saw them go into the building at 3245. About a half hour later they appeared on the fire escape in front of the building, still arguing, the man hollering about his car keys, the woman shouting back that she didn't have them. Then the man started hitting the woman on her body and arms with a piece of wood that looked like a two-by-four. Washington said he walked away then and saw no more of the fight.
Smulevitz showed Washington a photo of Boykin, and Washington said she was indeed the woman he saw. According to the detective's report, Washington described the man as black, slim, of medium height, with medium-short hair, wearing a dark, short-billed leather cap. He said a couple of "gangbangers" who live across the street from the 3245 W. Warren building had also witnessed the altercation.
In his report on the Washington interview, Smulevitz listed as "to be interviewed" the "unknown male blacks who live across the street of 3245 W. Warren." But if he or any other detectives made any attempt to contact these men during the next nine months, there's no record of it. In fact, there are no police reports indicating that any action was taken on the Boykin homicide between April 22, 1988--the date Roger Williams flunked his lie-detector test and Smulevitz talked with Keith Washington--and February 1989.
Detective Smulevitz told me last summer he couldn't remember why he stopped pursuing the case in April 1988. He said his leading suspect at the time was Roger Williams, but that if Boykin really was a hooker who sometimes robbed her clients, her killer could have been any one of numerous men. "Sometimes you drop cases because you don't think you're ever going to be able to prove the guy did it. Or it could be I got tied up on too many other cases." Smulevitz agreed to review his notes on the case to refresh his memory and to talk to me again. But when I called him back, he declined further comment.
On February 3, 1989, a supervisor assigned Kato and his partner, Ralph Vucko, to the Boykin homicide. Five days later they had a murder confession.
During City Council hearings on police brutality in 1989, Kriston Kato was one of the police officers identified as the subject of numerous brutality complaints. Commander Maurer put him on desk duty while he reviewed the OPS investigations of the complaints. None of the charges had been sustained, and the commander found "no validity to any of them." He says that after two or three days he reassigned Kato to his regular detective duties.
From his reading of the OPS files, Maurer says he thinks all of the complaints against Kato should have been deemed "unfounded" (without factual basis) by OPS instead of "not sustained" (unable to be proved true or false). Kato has "all these unsustained complaints, and the inference is always that where there's smoke there's fire," Maurer says. "They've got a screwball policy at OPS. They neglect the police side of the story. They just take the word of these scumballs making the complaints. You'd think they'd be smart enough to say, 'Look, this is nonsense.'
"We need reasonable grounds to make an arrest. We need probable cause for a charge. We need proof beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. But if a cop tries to beat an OPS allegation, he needs proof beyond human comprehension. I mean, Jesus could be there, and they wouldn't take his word."
Maurer says the complaints to OPS almost always are made "weeks, months, or even years" after the alleged beatings by Kato. He also says the complaints are prompted by defense attorneys. "The family talks to the lawyer and says, 'How bad is it?' The lawyer says, 'Gee, it's pretty bad. You got a confession here, and the only thing we can do is try to get it suppressed.' They say, 'How do you do that?' And he explains to them, 'Well, you know--if he had been beaten, for instance--' The next day the family's calling up OPS, getting a complaint against him."
But of the 20 OPS complaints filed against Kato for excessive force between 1985 and 1990, 18 were made within a month of the alleged beating. Fifteen of the 18 were made within a week; eight were made the day of or the day after the alleged incident.
"If an officer in my command has gotten a lot of complaints from a whole variety of sources, I might think the guy has a serious problem," Maurer says. "But Kris Kato never ever gets a complaint from anyone who hasn't been convicted of murder! I mean, he certainly confronts people on the street that he doesn't charge. He brings suspects in here on other types of cases. Never--not once has he gotten a complaint from someone who says 'He pulled me over for a traffic violation, and he punched the shit out of me,' or 'He brought me in here to be questioned as a witness, and he beat the shit out of me.' It never happens! It's always a guy who's been convicted--or he's waiting for trial."
Maurer ought to read the records again. OPS purges files of complaints against officers after five years, so I don't know what, if any, complaints were made against Kato during his first nine years on the force. But sources provided me with OPS records of complaints made against him from mid-1985 through 1990. It's impossible to determine the veracity of the complaints from the files. But what's clear is that it's not just people who confess to murder who have accused Kato of working them over.
September 20, 1985: Eddie Vasquez, 18, who has no criminal record, complains to OPS that Kato jumped out of his squad car, started searching him, and threw him against the car twice. Vasquez says that when he asked Kato what was going on, he "said he had nothing better to do." Vasquez's brother and mother also tell OPS they saw Kato throw Eddie Vasquez against the car.
A woman who was with Vasquez, Renada Lott, tells OPS that Kato grabbed her wrist, jerked her arm, and snatched her purse from her to search it. "I told him he couldn't take it, [that] I know my rights," she says. "He said I didn't have any rights. They [Kato and two partners] acted like they enjoyed being violent. They laughed and said, 'Have a nice day.' Then they left."
Kato tells OPS he and his partners searched Vasquez and his companions believing they had been part of a drug transaction. Kato also says he didn't throw Eddie Vasquez up against a car, or jerk Lott's arm, or snatch her purse. He and his partners found no drugs and let the three go. His partners give similar accounts to OPS, which deems the allegations against Kato "not sustained."
June 1, 1986: Vernice Green tells OPS that Kato and his partner threw one of her sons to the ground and punched another one in the chest.
Kato and his partner deny the charges. They tell OPS they arrested the Green brothers, ages 32 and 22, for drinking beer on a public way. Kato says that when the brothers resisted being handcuffed, he and his partner used "necessary force" to arrest them. Both officers deny throwing either brother to the ground or punching either in the chest. One witness, a 55-year-old woman who lives next door to Vernice Green, says she heard the two officers raising their voices and saw one of them "grab Tracey Green in the chest." OPS rules the allegations "not sustained."
June 22, 1986: Three weeks after the complaint from Green, 28-year-old Robert Taylor tells OPS that Kato roughed him up on the street.
Taylor, of south-suburban Justice, says he was on the west side to visit relatives when Kato stopped his car for no apparent reason. Taylor charges that when he wouldn't answer all the questions Kato asked him about one of the occupants of his car--his cousin--Kato hit him in the throat with his gun, choked him, and threw him against his car. Then Kato and his partner handcuffed Taylor, his cousin, and Taylor's brother Charles, who had also been in the car, and drove them to the station at Harrison and Kedzie. Kato charged Robert Taylor with disorderly conduct and gave him a ticket for an illegal U-turn. Kato also charged Taylor's brother with possession of a controlled substance and his cousin with disorderly conduct.
Kato tells OPS that after he and his partner stopped Taylor's car for an illegal U-turn, they found a tin packet of marijuana treated with PCP in Charles Taylor's clenched fist. Kato says that when he arrested Charles, Robert Taylor and his cousin "began screaming and yelling that the only reason we stopped them was because they were black." Kato also says they called neighbors off their porches, and when they refused to stop, he arrested them too. He says the only physical contact he had with the three was in searching and handcuffing them. The allegations are deemed "not sustained."
Robert Taylor, an accountant, told me last summer that he had never been arrested before and hasn't been since. He was still fuming over his run-in with Kato.
He said he couldn't understand why Kato had stopped his car or why Kato was asking him questions about his cousin instead of putting the questions directly to his cousin. "I told him his name and that he lived on Sawyer. Then I said, 'If you have any more questions, why don't you just ask him? He's standing right there.' He [Kato] said he could ask me whatever he wanted. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me against the car."
Taylor told me things escalated when he asked Kato for his badge number. "He said, 'So you don't think you're an ordinary nigger? You really messed up now--nobody gets my badge number.' Then he said, 'I'll tell you what: I'm gonna let you see my badge number on your police report.'"
Taylor said neither he nor his companions beckoned onlookers off their porches. "People did gather around. They could see me getting hurt. They said, 'If you need a witness, we're here.'" He also said, "I believe if I would have rolled over and played dead, he would have insulted me, and that would have been the end of it."
Taylor said he doesn't think his brother had any drugs on him and that Kato picked on his brother because he was an unemployed west-sider, an easier mark. "On the west side people are uneducated, and they don't know their rights. And they're used to being kicked around. They figure, 'What's one more kick?' So they usually don't complain. That makes them vulnerable to someone like him."
July 28, 1987: Anthony Johnson, 17, charges that Kato and his partner Ralph Vucko beat him after stopping him for a traffic violation.
He tells OPS that Kato grabbed him by the groin and tossed him to the ground, causing his head to strike the pavement. He says he got up and grabbed Kato, but Kato seized him by the collar and punched him in the face and Vucko kneed him in the back while handcuffing him. Johnson tells OPS he came away from the encounter with three traffic tickets, a disorderly conduct charge, a sore back and jaw, and a bump on his forehead.
Kato and Vucko say they saw Johnson run a stop sign and had to chase and curb his car when he ignored their siren. They say he couldn't produce a driver's license, and when they told him he was under arrest, he resisted. They say they forcibly handcuffed him, but deny throwing him to the ground, punching him, or kneeing him. The incident occurred late at night outside a Sears warehouse, and OPS could find no witnesses. The charges were deemed "not sustained." Vucko declined to discuss the incident for this article.
July 9, 1988: Lossie Carter, 52, complains that Kato charged onto her porch and into her building, knocking her over, while chasing a phantom gunman.
Carter tells OPS that she and several relatives were sitting on the front porch of her building when Kato and a partner pulled up. The partner ran to the rear of the three-flat, and Kato raced up the front steps, his gun drawn. Kato stumbled on the steps and fell, knocking Carter out of her chair and her one-year-old grandson out of her arms. She tells OPS this seemed accidental, but when they got to their feet, Kato struck her intentionally in the face with an open hand.
She also tells OPS that Kato said he was going to "kick this motherfucking door open" and then broke into the first-floor unit, even after she told him that the flat's tenant was in the front yard and would let him in. She says she asked him "why he would go and tear up people's houses this way" and that he replied, "Bitch, if you don't shut your mouth, I'm going to shoot you."
Kato and his partner at the time, John Summerville, tell OPS they had spotted a man in a red jogging suit who was carrying a sawed-off shotgun on the 1100 block of South Francisco. Kato says they saw him run through the front door of Carter's building, at 1142 S. Francisco, though the people on the porch claimed no one had run past them. He says he broke into the first-floor flat only after they denied him entry. According to Kato, he never stumbled on the stairs, never struck Carter, and did not curse. He and Summerville didn't catch the man with the shotgun, but in the third-floor apartment they found an open window that overlooked the roof of the two-story building next door. Kato tells OPS the man must have escaped by jumping from the window. (Summerville declined to comment for this story.)
The three other women who were on or near the porch tell OPS essentially the same story Carter tells. One of them says two officers who arrived after Kato and Summerville told her the police had gotten a call about a man carrying a shotgun in the 1100 block of Sacramento, not Francisco, which is two blocks away. Indeed, Kato and Summerville apparently had been confused about what street they were on; when they radioed for help from inside the building on Francisco, they gave the address as 1142 S. Sacramento. ("[The] idiots don't know where they're at," a dispatcher had said over the radio when it was determined where Kato and Summerville were.) The OPS investigator discovers this when she checks the police communication tapes. But Kato and Summerville are cleared of the charges of breaking into the apartments without cause, and the charges of abuse against Kato are deemed "not sustained."
"I never had any trouble with the police before," Lossie Carter told me recently. "It still makes me angry whenever I think about it. An officer told us they [Kato and Summerville] were confused, they were really supposed to be on Sacramento. Then when they don't find what they're looking for, they act real mean. The doors in this building are still not right--the woodwork is still busted loose. They think that just because they wear a badge, they got every right in the world."
July 19, 1988: Ten days after Lossie Carter's complaint, David Carter (no relation) charges that Kato and Summerville beat him up in an alley.
Carter, 37, tells OPS that Summerville hit him in the head with his gun, kicked him in the groin, slapped him in the face, and spit on him, and that Kato kicked him in the stomach. He received stitches for his head wound at a hospital.
Kato and Summerville say they saw Carter, who has a lengthy record, selling drugs to another man. They tell OPS that Summerville chased Carter into an alley, while Kato apprehended the other man. Summerville says Carter fell headfirst against a Dumpster, injuring his head. OPS deems the charges "not sustained."
December 28, 1989: Kevyn Williams, 27, tells OPS that Kato beat him in an Area Four interview room while questioning him about a murder.
A 25-year-old woman had been shot to death in the vestibule of a west-side building. At the time of the slaying, Williams was alone at his girlfriend's apartment in the building. Some circumstantial evidence pointed to him. Kato and Vucko brought Williams to Area Four on Christmas Eve. Their report doesn't say how long Williams was questioned, but apparently he was released early Christmas morning. According to the detectives' report, Williams "agreed to take a polygraph exam on a later scheduled date."
Williams was soon cleared of suspicion when eyewitnesses came forward and identified another man as the killer.
When Williams contacted OPS on December 29, he said Kato had kept him in the interview room from about 7 PM on Christmas Eve until his release at 5 AM on Christmas day. He said Kato had handcuffed him to a ring on the wall in the room, had struck him in the temple and chopped him in the throat, and had slowly tightened the handcuffs until they cut off the circulation in his hands. He said the detective also threatened to force him to take a lie-detector test.
Kato told OPS he never laid a hand on Williams and didn't even handcuff him. Vucko said he never saw Kato touch Williams. Williams's allegations were ruled "not sustained."
Williams told me recently that when Kato interrogated him, "He got in my face--maybe a foot from my nose--and yelled things at me. He accused me of murder. He told me I would kill somebody's grandmother if I had the chance. He asked me if I would like him to take the handcuffs off me so we could box."
Williams said he didn't scream when Kato hit him because he didn't want the detective to know he was hurting him. He said he also figured that if he screamed, Kato "was just going to retaliate more."
He didn't ask Kato if he could speak to a lawyer. "I thought that would have provoked him even more--because everything I said, it seemed it just made him angry. I felt he didn't want me to say anything but what he wanted to hear."
Williams said that when the detective asked him if he would take a lie-detector test, "I said if I knew they was reliable, I'd be glad to take one. He punched me when I said that. He kept insisting he was going to set me up to take a lie-detector test the next week. He told me I'd better be there.
"He told me I probably had gotten into it with the girl [who was killed] because she wouldn't give me any sex, and that I had shot her and discarded the gun--all sorts of stuff. It was as though he was telling me, 'This is what you ought to say happened.'"
Williams told me his temple and his wrists hurt for some time after the interrogation, but that he didn't seek medical treatment because he was unemployed at the time and didn't have a regular doctor.
When I asked Commander Maurer about Williams's charges, he said he didn't know what had motivated them "unless he was just aggravated that he was brought in here and detained."
The interrogation "made me feel they could do whatever they wanted to do," said Williams, who now works in food service at Rush Presbyterian Saint Luke's Medical Center. He said he never considered giving in and telling Kato he had committed the murder, but that he believed that "at a certain point, after so much, you might confess to get them to stop--even if you didn't do it."
According to Kato's testimony at the trial, after he and Vucko were assigned to the Boykin homicide, they read the reports in the case file and decided to talk with Keith Washington first. Washington "was the only witness to any kind of altercation between the victim and anyone," Kato told the court. "He was my best witness."
The detectives left a business card with Washington's mother on February 3. Washington came into Area Four the following evening.
Kato and Vucko asked him to describe again the fight between Boykin and a man that he had told Detective Smulevitz about nine months earlier. Washington did so. Kato later testified that he then reread Smulevitz's summary of his interview with Washington and found that Washington had changed some details in his story. "There was a discrepancy of where [Washington] was and where the victim and the unknown male black was during the argument," he said. What discrepancy is unclear. Smulevitz's report does not say where Washington was when he claimed to have witnessed the fight; Washington told Kato he was on his mother's porch. According to Smulevitz's report, Washington said Boykin and the man first argued on the street, then went into the building, and later appeared on the fire escape out front; according to Kato's report, that's exactly what Washington told him. Kato asked Washington if he was willing to take a polygraph test in a few days, and Washington agreed to.
Two days later, on Monday evening, February 6, Kato and Vucko picked up Washington at his apartment on North Ashland and took him to police headquarters at 11th and State for the polygraph test. Washington flunked it.
Washington told me after the trial that he had agreed to take the test "because I had nothing to hide." He said the examiner asked him, 'Do you believe Roger Williams killed her [Boykin]?' I said no. 'Did Roger Williams ever tell you he killed her?' I said no. 'Did you kill Judy Boykin?' 'No.' He asked me about the fight I saw. Then he left the room. And when he came back, he said, 'I think you're lying to me. I think you've blocked things out of your mind about this.' Then Kato came in. He put my coat on me, pushed me into a wall, cuffed me, said, 'I told you we had ways of finding the truth. We had to come down here, waste our time--'"
Kato and Vucko drove Washington back to Area Four and put him in an interview room. It was about midnight.
According to Kato's testimony, he and Vucko then pressed Washington on his story about the fight he said he had witnessed, but Washington insisted he was telling the truth. Washington said the two gangbangers who had also seen the fight were Disciples named Willie and Greg. The detectives gave him photo albums of west-side gangbangers, but Washington couldn't find them in the mug books. Washington said they hung around some buildings at Lake and Damen in the Horner Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority project. Kato testified that he and Vucko said they'd go look for them, and Washington agreed to remain in the interview room while they did.
Kato testified that he and Vucko spent a half hour to an hour at the Horner Homes looking for the two gangbangers Washington had named, but had no luck. Then they went to Roger Williams's apartment and spoke to him for ten minutes. Williams told them Washington knew he and Boykin were seeing each other, and that Washington had seen the two argue in front of Boykin's building several times.
Kato said the detectives returned to Area Four headquarters around 3 AM and again advised Washington of his rights. Then, Kato said, Washington admitted he had made up the story about the fight between Boykin and a man. He said he had had no reason to lie, and he was sorry he had.
According to Washington, during much of the time Kato says he was on the streets looking for witnesses, he was really at Area Four questioning and beating him. Washington told me he felt trapped like never before in the interview room. "I cried like a baby in there. I've been jumped by gangbangers, five or six guys--I knew I was going to eventually get away from them. But when I was locked in that room, and he kept coming back, kept coming back--I didn't think I was going to be able to get away from him. If there had been a window and we were on the fifth floor, I would have jumped out."
He said he cried in response to the detective's blows, but he never screamed. "It could have been embarrassment. And I didn't think no one would react, to tell the truth. I knew they would all collaborate together to make it look like you were wrong."
When Kato and Vucko went off duty and left him locked in the room, Washington said, "I tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I'd doze off for five to ten minutes--then wake up like, 'Wow, it's not a dream--I'm still here.' I'd count the square blocks on the floor--I stepped in every one. Read the little gang insignias on the walls. I had to use the washroom so bad. I thought about taking a leak over in the corner, but I thought that would really make him mad. The urge passed when he came back. I was hungry as hell. I was thinking about all the money I had brought home that day--more than $400, two weeks' pay plus overtime. I thought about my girlfriend messing up all that money."
According to Kato's testimony, the detectives returned to the station at 4:30 that afternoon. He said he took Washington to the washroom and got him a sandwich before he left and again when he returned. Then, he said, he and Vucko again went out to talk to witnesses.
At a pretrial hearing Kato told Judge Bentivenga that the witnesses he and Vucko went to talk to this time were the Wooten girls. He said they showed Johnice and Yvonne photos of a number of individuals, and both of them picked the photo of Keith Washington as the man they saw in the alley behind Boykin's building just before the fire trucks arrived. According to Kato, Yvonne said she had seen Washington in the neighborhood several times before the murder and that she remembered his name was Keith. He said he and Vucko brought the two girls to the station and conducted a lineup at 10 PM, at which the two girls positively identified Washington. (Because the prosecution didn't call the Wooten girls as witnesses at the trial, neither side was allowed to ask Kato any questions about them or the lineup.)
According to Kato, after the Wootens identified Washington, the detectives told him he was under arrest. They told Washington he had been seen leaving the building before the fire. Washington insisted he had never been in Boykin's building, and that he wasn't in the neighborhood at the time of the incident. Kato said the detectives told him not only that he had been picked out of a lineup, but also that the people identifying him knew him from the neighborhood. They asked him if he had ever worn his hair longer, and Washington acknowledged that he had had longer hair and curls the year before but had cut his hair at the end of the summer. Then, Kato said, Washington confessed to killing Boykin and told how it happened. The detectives summoned an assistant state's attorney and a court reporter to get the confession on paper.
According to Washington, when Kato returned to the interview room that afternoon, he picked up where he had left off the night before, beating him and making accusations. Washington told me the accusations became more specific. "He said, 'Seeing how your girlfriend is big, you probably like big women, don't you? [Kato had seen Washington's girlfriend when he picked Washington up at his apartment the night before.] When you saw her, you probably said you would go get some cocaine, have you a real good time, didn't you?' I told him, 'I'm not going to give a prostitute money--I got a girlfriend at home I can do anything I want to.' But he kept on. 'You two really got down, didn't you? But something went wrong, didn't it Keith? What went wrong?'"
Washington told me that as the hours wore on and the slaps, kicks, and punches continued he stopped disagreeing with the detective. "He said, 'You got something for the cocaine, didn't you?' I said, 'Yeah--she sucked my dick.' He said, 'Then a fight started.' So I said she was pulling at my clothes. It was just something I made up. I would have said anything to get him to stop beating me."
The assistant state's attorney from felony review, Joe Barbaro, started taking his statement at 4 AM on Wednesday, February 8. Kato stayed in the interview room while Barbaro questioned Washington.
Washington told Barbaro he had met Judy Boykin, whom he did not know, in an alley behind her apartment on the evening of the murder. "I asked her name and I asked did she get high, where was she going?"
"What did she say to you?" Barbaro asked.
"She was going home and that she did get high."
Boykin agreed to get high with him, Washington said, but told him she only got high off cocaine. She told him he could get some for $25 at Spaulding and Monroe. He said he went there and got the cocaine, then brought it to Boykin's apartment.
"What happened when you got inside her apartment?" Barbaro asked.
Washington: "We were inside the bedroom and I asked did she stay with a man."
Barbaro: "And what did she say?"
Washington: "She said no."
Barbaro: "What happened after that?"
Washington: "I sat down on the bed and I asked her if she wanted to do something."
Barbaro: "What did you ask her if she wanted to do?"
Washington: "If she would give me head."
Barbaro: "When you asked her if she wanted to give you head, do you mean you asked her if she wanted to suck your penis?"
Washington then said that after Boykin gave him head, he smoked a marijuana joint and gave Boykin the package of cocaine. "She finished the cocaine and she wanted more. I told her I didn't have the money."
Barbaro: "And what happened after you told her you didn't have the money?"
Washington: "She told me I was lying because she saw the money."
Barbaro: "And what did she do after she told you you were lying?"
Washington: "She left the bedroom and came back with a butcher knife."
Barbaro: "And what did she do with the butcher knife?"
Washington: "She pointed it at me and said I was going to give her money."
Barbaro: "What did you do?"
Washington: "I stood up from the bed and she waved the knife at me."
Barbaro: "What did you do?"
Washington: "I reached and grabbed her wrist and twisted it and took the knife."
Washington said he tried to get out of the bedroom then, but Boykin "blocked the doorway and she was grabbing my clothes and pulling me."
Barbaro: "Did you try to walk out of the apartment at that time?"
Barbaro: "And what happened?"
Washington: "The fight began and we were wrestling in the doorway."
Barbaro: "During the fight, did you grab her in a headlock?"
Barbaro: "What happened to her after you grabbed her in the headlock?"
Washington: "She fell to the floor."
Barbaro: "When she fell to the floor, was she limp?"
Barbaro: "Was she moving?"
Washington said he panicked and "grabbed some clothing and put it on her and poured grain on her body."
Barbaro: "Did you pour the grain alcohol on the clothing that you put on the body?"
Washington said he lit the clothes with a match, and then walked out of the apartment and into the alley. A friend happened by and gave him a lift home.
Barbaro asked Washington if he had made up the story about a fight between a man and a woman over car keys. Washington said he had. Barbaro asked him if he had worn his hair differently at the time of the Boykin murder. Washington said yes, he had "a Care Free Curl" then.
"And it was quite a bit longer than it is now, isn't that correct?" Barbaro asked.
Barbaro: "Now, how have you been treated by the police and myself since you have been here?"
The statement was completed in seven minutes.
Even if Washington did murder Boykin, the killing didn't happen the way Washington said it did in his confession. No cocaine was found in Boykin's system by the assistant medical examiner, and oral, vaginal, and rectal swabs analyzed by the police department's crime lab were negative for semen. An empty bottle of rubbing alcohol was discovered near the pile that had been set ablaze, but no bottle of grain alcohol was found. Police couldn't determine whether the rubbing alcohol was used as an accelerant, since it would have burned off in the fire. No butcher knife was found either. At the trial the defense maintained that these inconsistencies supported Washington's assertion that he was just making up a story to get Kato to desist. The state argued that Washington had simply changed some of the details of the murder in his confession to make it look like self-defense.
Keith Washington isn't the only person to charge that Kato relies in part on karate in his interrogations. The aforementioned Kevyn Williams, who was cleared of suspicion of murder, also maintains that Kato chopped him in the neck while beating him.
Kevin Murray too claimed in court that he had received a chop to the neck from Kato. Murray had confessed to a 1988 murder. At a hearing on a motion to suppress the confession, Murray said Kato and his partner John Summerville had beaten the confession out of him at Area Four. Murray testified that Kato also slapped him in the head, punched him in the stomach, and kicked him in the chest, and that Summerville kicked him in the groin. The defense introduced into evidence a white sweater with a footprint in the middle of it. Murray's original lawyer, George Zuganelis, testified that Murray had been wearing the sweater and that the footprint had been on it when Zuganelis talked with him at the station shortly after Murray confessed. The same evening, according to Zuganelis, Murray told him that he had been kicked and beaten by detectives, and showed him bruises under the sweater. But the state maintained Murray could have been beaten by other prisoners in the station's lockup. Murray was convicted of the murder last year.
Kato "gave me a kick in the chest, like a karate kick, as he was standing to my side and swung his leg around," Chris Haywood, 20, told OPS in May 1990. Haywood charged that Kato also punched him in the chest and backhanded him in the face while interrogating him about a murder on April 19, 1990, at Area Four. Haywood never confessed, but he was charged with the murder and convicted earlier this year. Kato told OPS he hadn't even participated in that homicide investigation.
One public defender told me of a client of his--a veteran criminal--who claimed Kato had beaten him during an interrogation two years ago. This client "mainly seemed insulted by the way Kato did it," the attorney told me. "The guy said, 'He used that kung-fu shit on me. I've been beat by cops before, but that kung-fu shit--that's un-American.'"
Kato has been asked several times in court by defense attorneys whether he has had any training in any of the martial arts, and he has always said no. I could find nothing to contradict this.
Several defense attorneys informed me that they had heard from people who knew Kato in high school that Kato was proficient in martial arts even then. But the classmates I spoke with--friends and detractors alike--said Kato was known for his punching, not for his karate chopping or kick boxing.
I contacted more than a dozen people who taught classes in martial arts on the north side in the 1960s and 70s--instructors of karate, judo, aikido, hapkido, tae kwon do, and kung fu. Several of them at first thought they remembered training Kato, but it always turned out to be someone with a similar name or a different Chicago police officer.
"I think it's kind of racist, these charges of karate-chop stuff all the time," Detective Smulevitz told me during a recess in Keith Washington's trial. "As far as I know, Kris doesn't even know karate."
Area Four commander Maurer says, "I don't know if Kris has had any former martial-arts training. I have a black belt in karate, and when I was in the peak of training, I would carry myself in certain ways--and I don't see that in him. I mean, maybe he does know martial arts--could very easily."
Even given the complaints against his detective, Maurer says he's never asked Kato if he knows any martial arts because "I try to stay as limited personally with these guys as I can."
Maybe Kato doesn't want his reputation as a martial-arts master entirely rubbed out, suggests former assistant state's attorney Bob Johnson. "He might like people to think, 'If you mess with me, I'll break your neck with a karate chop.'"
News travels fast among criminals on the west side, Maurer says: one guy claims in court that Kato chopped him in the neck, and pretty soon everyone's claiming the same thing.
News flows smoothly through the jail grapevine too, Johnson says. "If someone beats a motion by claiming he was abused, he goes back in the bull pen [the courtroom lockup] and tells everybody there what happened--and then those guys go back to their respective wings in the jail and tell the people there what happened."
When I was in one courtroom listening to lawyers argue over whether Kato had or had not beaten a statement out of a defendant, I met an attorney who said, "The problem is, once the word gets out that a guy's a beater, a whole lot of defendants jump in and say the guy beat them--and it muddies the waters. You have some complaints that are totally legitimate and some that are totally illegitimate."
Washington would have had little hope of winning his case if Yvonne and Johnice Wooten had come to court and told the jury, yes, they had picked him out of a lineup, and yes, he was the man they saw behind Boykin's building on the night of the murder. But they weren't brought in, and after the trial, prosecutor Al Lynn refused to tell me why. "I choose my witnesses, just like the defense chooses theirs."
Washington's attorney, Karen Shields, told me she believed the state didn't bring in the Wootens because they never positively identified Washington in the first place.
Shields sent an investigator from her office to the Wooten home in April 1990. Yvonne Wooten told the investigator that she believed she had picked Washington out of the lineup, but that she had explained to detectives the lighting had been poor on the night of the crime and she couldn't be sure the man she had seen was Washington. Johnice said she had picked a different man out of the lineup than her sister had.
The Wooten girls would repeat this account when I spoke with them a few days after the trial concluded. But as we talked, it became clear that they were describing a lineup they had viewed shortly after the murder, not ten months later. When I asked them about the lineup they viewed in February 1989 (on the night Washington confessed), they thought I was confused. They said they were never brought to the station--or even contacted by police--in February 1989. Both girls insisted they had never even talked to a Detective Kato. Their mother, Betty Wooten, concurred: the only time police had questioned her daughters about what they had seen the night of the murder was shortly after the killing.
The police were required by the court to produce all records of their investigation for the trial. No record was produced of a lineup being held shortly after the killing. But Roger Williams told me that after he flunked his polygraph test--on April 22, 1988--he was brought back to the Area Four station and put in a lineup.
Perhaps this was the lineup the Wooten girls viewed. But if so, it doesn't account for how Yvonne Wooten could believe she picked Washington out of a lineup--for Washington says the only lineup he was in was the one conducted by Kato and Vucko on February 6, 1989. Yvonne couldn't explain this discrepancy either. She said she had seen Washington around the neighborhood before the slaying and knew his name was Keith. I showed her a photo of the February 6, 1989, lineup. She pointed to Washington, and said she believed that was Keith. She said she hadn't seen clearly enough the face of the man behind Boykin's building the night of the murder to know whether he was Washington. She said the other four men in the lineup photo were not, as best she could remember, the men in the lineup she had viewed. Johnice also said a different set of men were in the lineup she viewed.
Would Kato have staged a lineup with no one viewing it just to bluff Washington into believing he had been identified by witnesses? It's hard to believe Kato and Vucko wouldn't have at least contacted the Wootens in February 1989, even if they weren't able to persuade the girls to view a lineup--but the Wootens insisted they never even got a call.
In a pretrial hearing Vucko testified that assistant state's attorney Joe Barbaro talked to the Wooten girls briefly at the station after the February '89 lineup and before he took Washington's statement. Barbaro told me he believed he had met the Wootens at the station that night because he had made a notation indicating he had interviewed witnesses. But he couldn't recall specifically talking to the Wooten girls and had no notes of a conversation with them. Nevertheless he said, "I think that they're liars. They just don't want to get involved."
If so, it was a strange way not to get involved: pick someone out of a lineup and then claim--after the trial was over, to a writer they didn't have to talk with--that they were never even at that lineup, just an earlier one. If the Wootens were afraid to admit they had identified Washington, couldn't Yvonne and Johnice just have said they went to the station, picked out different men, and told police they couldn't be certain who it was they saw?
The only thing clear after talking to them was why the state hadn't brought them in to testify. After they met with the Wootens before the trial, the prosecutors must have realized that if they were going to win this case, they'd have to win it solely on Washington's confession.
Callie Wallace, a paramedic who examines prisoners upon their arrival at County Jail, testified for the state. She told the court she examined Washington the day he was brought to the jail, and according to the form she filled out, she found no bruises, cuts, or evidence of any sort of recent injury. She said that when she had asked him about his present health, Washington had described it as "good." He told her nothing about a beating by police.
On cross-examination, she allowed that she rarely spends more than five minutes with a prisoner, in which time she must check blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiration, and ask dozens of health-related questions. She also said that prisoners strip only to the waist for her exam.
Reverend Sidney Draper, a Baptist preacher who lives across the street from Keith Washington's mother, testified for the defense. He said Washington was "like a son of mine. He did odd jobs for me--cutting the yard, trimming the hedges. He was in and out of my home--I would see him most every other day, sometimes every day." Draper also said Washington's hair in 1988 was "very short--a crew cut. He never wore long hair."
Gloria Hayes, a welfare caseworker, followed Draper to the stand. She said Washington was one of the clients on her caseload in 1988, and that year he came into her office "quite often--sometimes every other week" asking for carfare to use for job hunting. Defense attorney Shields asked Hayes if she remembered Washington having long hair or curls. "No--he had a close haircut," she said.
Shields was trying to show the jury that Washington's assertion in his confession that he had longer hair and curls in '88 had, like the entire statement, been coerced. The jurors must have wondered why he was asked about his hair in the confession; since the Wootens didn't testify, their description of a man with long curls behind Boykin's building never made it into the trial.
In her closing argument Shields reminded the jurors that when they were being selected "We asked you, 'Would you believe a police officer over anyone else?' And each of you assured us that you would consider each testimony independently. We ask you just to use your common sense. . . . Do you believe that Keith Washington was locked in that room 10 or 12 hours [while Kato and Vucko were off duty] voluntarily? That he was so helpful and volunteering that they couldn't let him go home and pick him up the next day?
"Imagine if the police wanted you to come down to a station and questioned you about a murder," Shields said. "You know you didn't do it, but it would make you nervous. And then you're locked in a small interview room. And a detective walks in--'You killed somebody.' 'I didn't.' Whack--your face into the wall. 'You killed her.' Whack--a kick. Whack--a slap. It goes on. After 24 hours, you say, 'OK, I'll tell you anything you want me to.' And that's what Keith did. And Detective Kato filled him in--'This is what happened, and this is what happened, and this is what happened.'
"Now, Keith was not beaten to a bloody pulp," Shields said. "We know some of us bruise more easily than others. . . . But ladies and gentlemen, how much would it take--if someone kicked you, punched you, slapped you?"
Shields said if Washington really had had long curls at the time Boykin was killed and didn't cut them until the end of that summer, Detective Smulevitz must have noticed them when he interviewed Washington a few days after the murder. Smulevitz had testified about his early investigation into the homicide and his interview of Washington; why, Shields wondered, hadn't the prosecution asked him about Washington's hair?
Shields said the only evidence against Washington was his statement, a statement he made "with the hope that someone more powerful would end his nightmare. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm asking you to do that. End his nightmare. He's been in it long enough. Find him not guilty."
Prosecutor Lynn began the state's wrap-up by holding photos of Boykin in front of the jury: a snapshot of her taken before the murder and one of the grisly photos of her naked body in the charred pile. "This is Judy before she met Keith Washington. This is Judy after she met Keith Washington." Lynn's voice rose angrily. "Who is the victim in this case?"
Lynn said Detective Kato could not have beaten Washington without something being noticed by other people--his partner Detective Vucko, assistant state's attorney Barbaro, the court reporter who took the statement, the paramedic at County Jail. According to Lynn, it was Washington's word against all of theirs. "Who do you believe? Better yet, who has a motive to lie?"
Lynn asked the jurors to "notice certain phraseology" in Washington's confession. "Question: 'What happened after you told her you didn't have the money?' Answer: 'She told me that I was lying because she had seen the money.' There's no way that Detective Kato could get him to rehearse that and be able to recall that line.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, the murderer wasn't handled with kid gloves in this case," Lynn said. "Area Four is not a luxury hotel. The defendant was entitled to certain things. But we're forgetting about certain things Judy Michele Boykin was entitled to. She was entitled not to die. Ladies and gentlemen, do not let Judy Michele Boykin be remembered as 'April-309' of the medical-examiner's office."
After the jury retired, I asked Detective Smulevitz if he recalled what Washington's hair had been like when he talked with him in April 1988. "I was surprised nobody asked me that [on the stand]," Smulevitz told me. "He had Jheri curls--or what I would call a Care Free Curl. His hair wasn't real long, but it was longer [than Washington's hair was in court]."
Later, I asked prosecutor Lynn why he hadn't asked Smulevitz about Washington's hair when the detective testified. "Stupidity," Lynn said. "We just forgot."
Shields said, "They wouldn't forget to ask something like that." She said that if Washington had matched the description of the man in the alley given by the Wooten girls, Smulevitz would have noted this in his report of his interview with him and pursued him more vigorously as a suspect. (Smulevitz noted nothing about Washington's appearance in the report.)
But Roger Williams too later told me that Washington had had long curls at the time of the murder.
If suspects were being beaten in Chicago police stations, Commander Maurer says, surely they'd tell the assistant state's attorneys who come to take their statements, and surely the attorneys would see signs of the beatings. "Policemen are very suspicious by nature," Maurer says. "I don't believe they would want to do something like this, and then bring in a state's attorney and assume he's going to go along with whatever they might have done. An attorney has got a lot more to lose than a detective--he could be disbarred, at the very least, if he participated in this stuff."
But a former assistant state's attorney who worked in felony review in 1980 and '81 says: "I was never privy to any abuse against an arrestee--but my feeling was there were some guys who were softened up before I got there [to take their statements]. They were pretty damn pliant."
This lawyer, now a defense attorney, says that as an assistant state's attorney, "You aren't going to be killing yourself trying to find instances of abuse, because you and the police are in the same business." And, he adds, "I would guess most state's attorneys are simply not aware of what's going on, or turn a deaf ear to what's happening."
"It's not a question of looking the other way," says former felony-review attorney Bob Johnson. "It's 'You do your job and you get out.' Your job is to put together the strongest case possible, working with police, to send this guy away. You're there to record this guy's statement. Your job isn't to convince the guy that he can trust you enough to tell you that these cops beat him. You go in and tell him, 'I'm a lawyer working with the police.' I mean, if a guy told me 'These guys are knocking the snot out of me--can you help me?' now what am I going to do? Now I'm really stuck. And I'm glad it never happened to me.
"They don't call the state's attorneys in until the people [suspects] are ready--until they're adequately malleable, until they're going to do what they're supposed to do," Johnson says. He believes some detectives go so far as to warn suspects "If you say something to this guy and it's out of line, your ass is mine as soon as he leaves."
Johnson says suspects are also often reluctant to tell the paramedic at County Jail that they've been beaten, because "they come to the jail really intimidated. They've gotten their ass kicked, and now they're in jail and they're afraid. They don't want to get whupped anymore."
A defense attorney says he had a case "where my guy said he was beaten, and the paramedic came to court and said he didn't have a scratch, a bruise, nothing. I had pictures of the guy when he was arrested--he was bleeding from above the eye, and his lips were split. I showed the paramedic, and he said, 'I didn't mark it down because I didn't consider those significant injuries.'" The paramedics "aren't working for the guys that are locked up," he says. "They're working for the people that lock them up."
Yet Maurer says it would be virtually impossible for a detective to beat a suspect in an Area Four interview room and get away with it. He says the rooms aren't soundproof, and when he's working, he's "out here all the time asking guys what's going on, looking in the interview rooms. I'm not going to tolerate conduct up here by anybody that's going to jeopardize my job."
He paints a picture of an office that bustles day and night, with nondetectives passing through constantly. "There are witnesses and complainants sitting around out here all the time. There's a City News [Bureau] reporter who's here, usually on the 4 [PM] to 12. There's all kinds of command people that come from headquarters who are in and out of here. I challenge you to come down here anytime of the day or night--you don't have to tell us when you're coming--and see for yourself."
I took Maurer up on his offer. On a Saturday early in October I visited the station at Harrison and Kedzie at 10:30 PM. Headquarters for the 11th District are on the first floor of the building. The two officers behind the front desk were engaged in paperwork; I walked unheeded over to the stairs and up to the Area Four Detective Division Headquarters on the second floor. A uniformed officer who was heading downstairs stopped me as I entered the waiting room. "What are you doing up here?" he wanted to know. "How'd you get up here anyway?" I told him I was a reporter and that Commander Maurer had said I could come by anytime. He said he "didn't know about that" and instructed me to talk to one of the detectives before hurrying off.
A row of eight gray molded plastic chairs faces a front desk in the waiting room of the Area Four detective division. A short metal gate stamped "Authorized Personnel Only" separates the room from a large open area with a dozen desks. A handful of detectives--Kato among them--sat at the desks, typing reports and chatting. Four of the office's six interview rooms are around a corner, out of sight from the waiting room; I'm not sure where the other two are. One of the detectives rose from his desk and walked over to the waiting room immediately upon seeing me. "You're with City News, right?" he asked me. I told him I wasn't, but that I was a reporter. He asked me to show him some ID, then pointed at the gate between us, cautioning, "You know not to go past here."
I noticed nothing peculiar in the two hours I spent in the waiting room, reading a magazine and jotting some notes, and no one seemed particularly concerned about my presence. Kato spent most of the time on the phone. Around midnight he and the detectives who were working when I arrived departed, and other detectives filtered in.
A photocopy machine behind the front desk drones constantly, even when not in use. Typewriters clatter and detectives gab regularly. But the office still is not a very noisy place. Whether screams from the interview rooms could be heard in the waiting area depends more, I'd guess, on how much sound is muffled by the rooms themselves. And on whether anyone would be there to hear them--for the office was not the beehive Maurer had described, at least not on the evening I visited. The other seven chairs in the waiting room sat empty; no City News reporter was around, no officials from downtown dropped by. At 11:30 PM, two detectives escorted a shabbily dressed man into the office and around a corner--to an interview room, I imagine. They reappeared a half hour later, the man walking meekly between the detectives out of the office. I don't know if he was a witness or a suspect or a complainant, but as far as I could tell, he was the only nondetective besides myself at the office during my two hours there. When I left, at a quarter to one in the morning, only one detective remained in the open area of the office--Smulevitz, tapping at a typewriter. The others had left, presumably for fieldwork.
Beatings of suspects by detectives "aren't rampant," a police official who works in a south-side area headquarters later tells me, "but they do happen." He says there are plenty of occasions when no one else is around in the area headquarters but other detectives.
Why don't detectives report abusive ones to their superiors? "That'd be like a doctor going to the other end of the hospital and looking at someone else's patient," former state's attorney Johnson says.
Johnson thinks most suspects--particularly those from the west side--aren't likely to yell much during a beating. "In Area Four you're dealing with people who have been beaten their whole lives, one way or another. If a police officer is kicking them around and says 'Shut the fuck up,' they're going to shut the fuck up. It's not the same as if you were beating a kid from Skokie."
Once when he was in felony review, Johnson says, he suspected that someone in an interview room was complaining noisily. Johnson had arrived at an area headquarters--not Area Four--"and there were five detectives seated outside an interview room singing Christmas carols. And this was in July. Now, I don't know for a fact what was going on in there, but I'm not stupid--I have a strong suspicion they were doing it so you couldn't hear someone in there. I thought, I'd better go get something to eat, and they'll call me when they need me. They did not call me during my shift for that case. I never found out what was going on. It was none of my business."
Liz Carvlin, 26, a City News Bureau reporter, recalls an evening three years ago when she was working at Area Six: "A couple of detectives brought in this real scraggly-looking black guy. He might have been giving them a hard time--the detectives looked sort of pissed. They took him to the far end of the office, to this hallway that leads to the lockup downstairs, and they closed the door. Then I heard this guy just screaming. There was only one other detective around, and he came up to me and said, 'Look, you got to leave.' So I went downstairs. I came back a couple hours later, and I saw them take this guy out of one of the interview rooms. He wasn't bleeding or anything, but he definitely looked worse--he was limping, and bent over like he was hurting."
Carvlin told her boss about this the next day. He told her to try to find out who the man was and to talk to him or his family. Like many of the City News reporters assigned to cover the cop houses, Carvlin was young and green--a 23-year-old rookie reporter. "I felt really uncomfortable about the idea of saying to the detectives, 'Hey, who was that guy I heard screaming in here last night?' So I didn't ask. I did feel very guilty about it. Because something happened."
In her six months on the police beat, Carvlin never actually saw a detective assault anyone. Her sense is that beatings by detectives "are not that common. They may even be rare. But I think they do happen."
She says the occasional presence of reporters won't prevent them from happening and adds that the reporters are in a compromised position anyway because they work nightly with the detectives. "You learn their rules and ways of doing things. I mean, if they're beating people, I don't think that's justifiable at all. But I do understand how it could happen. These guys deal with so much garbage. One detective told me, 'We're everybody's asshole'--and it's true. They get shit from the people who call the police and from the people who commit the crimes. They see what people do to each other--the lowest forms of human behavior. And some of these detectives get really wired--they have no release for any of this stuff. Some of them are going to get to the point where they burst."
"I think he's innocent," Doug Sharp, who had been one of the jury alternates, told me while the jury deliberated Washington's fate.
Sharp, a 24-year-old apprentice carpenter, had watched the whole trial from the jury box before being dismissed after closing arguments. "I got bad vibes from Kato the first day he came out here [to testify]," he said. "It was something in his attitude, how he talked."
Sharp didn't believe Washington had consented voluntarily to stay in the interview room for hours. "I've been arrested before," he said, "and I know that's bullshit." Wasn't he suspicious of Washington's brutality charges, given that he had no obvious injuries? Sharp shook his head. "Kato's a cop. You got to figure he knows where to hit him without leaving bruises."
The other alternate, Luis Pacheco, would tell me later, Washington "seemed not guilty to me, because there was no hard evidence proving that he was there."
Pacheco, a printing-press operator, said his brother had had run-ins with the police and that he knew that "when cops have you in that interview room, they treat you harshly if they think you're guilty."
At 3:15 PM, the court clerk began spreading the word that the jury had reached a verdict. The jury had been out only one hour and 45 minutes and had spent some of that time eating lunch. Shields was cheered by the news; she thought brief deliberations in a case as dubious as this one likely meant an acquittal. But in a meeting room off the courtroom she cautioned Washington that juries were unpredictable.
At 3:22 PM, the jurors were back in their seats, stealing glances at the defendant, as the foreman read their verdict.
Washington sat still and expressionless. His mother looked the same. Judy Boykin's mother closed her eyes and lowered her head, and one of her daughters, sitting next to her, squeezed her arm. Judge Bentivenga set sentencing for July 19. The guards escorted Washington out of the courtroom. A woman in the gallery--an attorney representing another man who alleges that Kato beat him--muttered something about "the fucking jury system." Outside the courtroom, she shook her head repeatedly and said, "This just sends a message back to Kato that he can do this stuff and get away with it."
"I think it's very possible that Keith might have been slapped around a little bit," one of the jurors told me a few days later. "But I don't think the detective could have cracked him across the throat and done all those other things Keith said he did. It would have taken too many people cooperating in too many places, inside and outside of the police department--the state's attorney, the paramedic at the jail. They would have figured out what was happening.
"Keith was kind of a big guy, and even though the detective was a big guy too, I just found it hard to believe he was intimidated by Kato into confessing to killing someone when he didn't do it." She said the jurors agreed that people aren't going to confess to a crime they haven't committed, regardless of what is done to them. "All of us basically said we would have to be near death for them to get us to do that."
Reaching the verdict, she said, "was kind of a relief, but it was also very hard. Because even though all the evidence says he's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, there's still always that little doubt in everyone's mind. The only ones who knew for sure who did it were Judy and the killer."
In England, in 1660, a man named William Harrison disappeared one day. Circumstantial evidence pointed to a man named John Perry, who was brought in for questioning. After several days in custody and extensive interrogation, he confessed to murdering Harrison. His statement implicated his mother and brother as well. On the basis of his statement alone, all three Perrys were convicted and executed. Two years after their execution, Harrison surfaced, alive and well.
There are on record many cases in which a suspect, under pressure from police, confesses to a crime it was later proved he did not commit. The question is not whether this ever occurs, but how often, and under what circumstances.
In a 1988 article in the journal Medicine, Science, and the Law, a clinical psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist wrote that, while the frequency of false confessions was impossible to determine, enough cases have been identified "to warrant concern." They stated that when we grant police more latitude in their questioning of suspects, we make it easier to extract confessions from the guilty--but the proportion of innocent people confessing to crimes is likely to rise too.
To determine what might persuade someone to confess to a crime he didn't commit, the authors, psychologist Gisli Gudjonsson and forensic psychiatrist James MacKeith, both of Great Britain, studied one such case that occurred in Great Britain in 1987.
Two elderly women were found beaten to death in their home, and their savings were missing. Police brought a 17-year-old neighbor in for questioning several days later. Neighbors had contradicted the statement he had given police about his whereabouts at the time of the murder. They also said the 17-year-old, whom the researchers called FC, had been spending money freely after the murder. No physical evidence, however, implicated him.
After the police grilled him for hours, FC, who was not allowed to talk to a lawyer, confessed to the murder, giving a highly detailed account of how he did it. He repeated his statement the following day in front of a prosecutor.
But FC insisted on his innocence to his lawyer and family. About a year later someone else confessed to the murders. This person insisted he had acted alone, and his confession was supported by other evidence. FC, in jail awaiting trial, was released.
The researchers interviewed FC a year after his release. They said he gave four reasons for his false confession:
"The police kept on and on at him; he thought they would carry on questioning him forever;
"He desperately wanted the questioning to stop and felt very tired;
"He claimed to have been hit on the head with a book by the senior detective and remained frightened of the police throughout the interviews;
"At first he was determined not to give in to the police, but after a while he lost his sense of control over the situation and eventually gave the police what he thought they wanted to hear."
FC said he was "given a great deal of information by the police and it was recorded as if it had come from him." Thus, the detailed confession. He said he thought the police honestly believed he had committed the murders.
In questionnaires given them by the researchers, FC and his parents rated him as "very weak, timid and submissive" prior to his arrest. His mother said that FC, unlike his two brothers, would sometimes take the blame for minor misdeeds he hadn't done. The researchers found FC to be surprisingly self-assured when they talked with him, and concluded that his experience had hardened him. FC said he was now more assertive than ever before and had much less respect for people in authority.
He was of average intellectual ability, the researchers noted, and there was no evidence he suffered from mental disorders at the time of his arrest. "Specific psychological vulnerability, such as the tendency to give in easily to interrogative pressure, may not always be evident among people who falsely confess to serious crimes," the researchers wrote. "Much may depend on the particular circumstances prevailing at the time of the interrogation, the method of interrogation, and the severity and type of pressure a person is placed under. Furthermore, some people who are generally able to stand up to pressure may readily give in under certain circumstances--if deprived of sleep, when bereaved, when ill or under a great deal of stress and having to cope with unfamiliar surroundings."
Once upon a time, long ago, Chicago detectives probably did beat suspects into confessions, Commander Maurer says. "Yeah, 20, 30 years ago it probably went on to some terrible degree. But these guys today can make a lot of money as a detective. They're not going to jeopardize a good job to get somebody who hasn't personally hurt them.
"Maybe there's a time in some guys' careers, when they're young, when they get this Wyatt Earp syndrome. But I'm not dealing with kids up here. Kato's no kid.
"Most times what we do is just ask [suspects], 'What happened? Where were you?' And they'll make up a story. You check it out, find it's all a lie. When you walk back into that room and say, 'Look, your cousin says you weren't at his house'--by that time it's, 'OK, you got me.' A lot of people who confess to murders, they want to tell somebody. In gang killings especially, they want that badge of honor. They figure they can beat the system anyway--which isn't too unreasonable around here."
With murder suspects who don't give in so easily, "the whole thing is tricks," Maurer says. "It's convincing them you know more than you do. We get an awful lot of information from the public--from people who aren't willing to testify. We can't use what they tell us in court, but we can use it when we're asking questions. Think about when you were a kid, and your mom or dad caught you doing something or you cheated on a test in school. It's something you hope no one knows about--then someone says something that suggests they know about it. You know that feeling you get? All of a sudden, you're empty? Can you imagine somebody pursuing that? We don't give suspects a chance to sit back.
"If we have to do the good-guy bad-guy thing we will. Do we intimidate suspects? Sure we do. We're talking about somebody who just took a life perhaps--I would hope we would intimidate them. But you do it verbally--it's not grabbing the guy, throwing him around the room, stepping on his balls."
Are innocent people ever intimidated into confessing to a crime they didn't commit? "Certainly not around here," Maurer says. If their confessions don't match the known facts of a case, "We won't get charges approved by felony review. You got to have a real airtight case to get murder charges approved by felony review."
On January 8, 1990, Kato secured a confession from 18-year-old Angelo Rogers in the murder of his roommate, 50-year-old Norman Scaggs, the previous September. Rogers said in his confession that he beat Scaggs over the head with a pipe, then stabbed him numerous times in the chest with a ten-inch kitchen knife.
But in a motion to suppress the confession Rogers maintained that Kato had slapped him, shoved him repeatedly into a wall, and kicked him in the groin during his interrogation. Rogers also testified that Kato told him he would stop hitting him if Rogers would confess to killing Scaggs.
Rogers's confession did not square with the facts of the case. According to the medical examiner's office, Scaggs was indeed beaten to death, but he was not stabbed. The original police report, which Kato presumably had in his file when he questioned Rogers, incorrectly stated that there were stab wounds in Scaggs's chest. Scaggs did indeed have abrasions on his chest; but the final autopsy report (which may not have been in the file when Kato questioned Rogers) showed no penetration of the chest and no internal bleeding.
A knife could have caused the chest abrasions if it was used "in a scraping manner," a spokesman for the medical examiner's office told me, but "it was really stretching it to think this was some sort of a knife attack." The spokesman, who preferred anonymity, said he explained this to the attorneys who prosecuted the case before it reached trial. He also said that because there were lacerations on the face, he doubted whether a pipe inflicted the blunt-trauma injuries. If a pipe was used, he told me, it probably was a very narrow one, narrow enough to cause the lacerations and abrasions. Yet in his confession Rogers said the pipe he used was so thick he couldn't get his hand around it. The medical examiner said, "I told the state's attorneys the injuries were more consistent with some sharp-edged blunt weapon--like an ax or a machete, or even a sword."
The state prosecuted the case anyway. In January of this year a jury acquitted Rogers.
When offenders lie about the details of their crimes during their confessions, "they try to make themselves look better, not worse," Rogers's attorney, assistant public defender Kathleen Pantle, told me. "Angelo had nothing to gain by saying he stabbed him too."
"His confession didn't match the evidence," juror Ken Zaleski, a tax lawyer from Mount Prospect, told me recently. "They said he stabbed him in the chest a couple times, and all he had was one little hole in his T-shirt. The prosecutors said it was from the knife, but it looked like it was just where the shirt was fraying apart.
"I just don't think it happened the way the police said it happened--where they put him in the [interview] room, and he spent the night, and they came in the next morning and he confessed."
Zaleski said he didn't know whether Kato had beaten Rogers, but felt certain Rogers had been intimidated into giving a statement that was not true.
The jury deliberated for three hours; Zaleski said it ultimately decided there was too much doubt to convict Rogers. He said some jurors wondered at first whether an innocent person could ever be persuaded to confess to a crime he didn't commit. "But the trial went on at the time of the war with Iraq. You'd see some of these captured pilots, who were trained to withstand interrogation, saying they did all sorts of things. You don't know what a person's breaking point is. And if you're an 18-year-old kid in a Chicago police station, and there's no one there who's on your side, and you're black and they're all white--it doesn't seem unlikely for you to say whatever you have to to get out of that situation."
Zaleski was trained in military intelligence in the Army at the time of the Vietnam war. He says when he was taught interrogation techniques, "We were told that one thing you cannot do is harm a prisoner. You could intimidate someone, but you weren't supposed to beat anybody. And yet I know it did go on--I heard stories from people who were over there, about how intelligence people in the field sometimes beat the Vietnamese they were questioning. Even in our war-games training, there were people who would drip candle wax on our own guys. It just shows that with some people the power goes to their heads."
Kato got involved in the Scaggs homicide investigation a month after the slaying. An informant was claiming that two men who were in police custody on another matter had been involved in the death, and Kato was assigned to check it out. He interrogated both men; they each denied participating in the murder. The person who had named them then admitted to Kato he really didn't know who killed Scaggs and had only made up his story "to feel important."
I was able to reach one of the two men Kato questioned--Michael Salazar. I asked him to describe his interview by Kato. He said Kato "put me in one room and the other guy in another room. He handcuffed me to a chair, and he sat down. He put his foot on my balls and he said 'You know what the hell went on over there--what happened?' I said I didn't know what he was talking about. He said, 'Shut up. You killed somebody, you and your friend.' He was putting pressure on with his foot. I was screaming, but nobody did nothing. He left twice and came back. Once he grabbed me by my neck and said, 'What the hell happened?'" After about an hour in the room, Salazar was released. He says the other man who was questioned told him Kato had roughed him up too. Salazar did not complain to OPS. "I didn't think twice about anything like that. I just wanted to get out of that situation."
A few days after Keith Washington's trial concluded, I went to the Daley Center to check some arrest records. I knew Washington had been charged with battery three times before, and that the complainant in each case had been a woman; but I wondered what the circumstances had been.
All three arrests occurred in a six-month period in late 1982 and early 1983. The first was on November 7, 1982, at the Henry Horner Homes. He was arrested on the signed complaint of a woman named Levoria Blakeney, who told police, according to their report, that Washington had "struck her about the face and body." The charges were later dropped.
Three months later he was arrested on a second complaint by Blakeney. The police report said Washington struck her "about the face with his fists." This case also was never prosecuted.
Two months later, on March 7, 1983, Washington was arrested after another complaint by Blakeney. She told police that she and Washington lived together and that he had beaten her. The battery charges were dropped when Washington agreed to participate in the county's domestic-violence counseling program and to comply with an order of protection requiring him to stay away from Blakeney. Washington missed the weekly domestic-violence class so routinely that three years later he still hadn't completed the one-year program and a caseworker had recommended to a judge that he be jailed. Instead, the judge gave him another six months to complete the program, which he did in late '86.
But what intrigued me most was what Blakeney said Washington had done to her the third time, according to her petition for the order of protection: Washington "did punch, kick, and forcibly rape petitioner while strangling her with his hands on her neck."
Washington had sat nervously in a small lockup down a hallway from the courtroom while the jury deliberated. "I tried sitting still, praying silently," he told me a week later in County Jail. "Then I went in the bathroom--it's just a wall, really, with a toilet behind it--and I got on my knees and I prayed. I asked the Lord to have those people come back and find me not guilty."
The only other person in the lockup was snoring loudly. This man had been in the courtroom lockup for Washington's entire trial, because his case was next on the court's list. "He heard the whole case on the speaker," Washington said. "When it ended, he told me, 'Man, you're going home.' I said, 'I'm not going to celebrate until I hear what the jury says.'
"When Karen [Shields] told me the jury was back, I asked her what she thought they had decided. She said you could never tell about a jury. I thought they had found me guilty because of all the security that came by--there was an officer next to me in court, another one in a white shirt behind me. I sat on the edge of my chair. I just had an uneasy feeling. The verdict was hard to hear, but I was prepared--I had already said to myself, 'If it happens, it happens.'"
We were sitting at a small Formica table in a hallway in the basement of Division One. The inmates with the most serious charges are housed in this building, which has been Washington's home since his confession more than two years ago. He said his head was spinning when he came here. At his bond hearing, he said, he tried to tell the judge he had been beaten into confessing, but his public defender at the time advised him to keep quiet, that it wasn't time to talk about that. (The public defender's notes reflect that Washington did indeed maintain to him that he had been beaten.) The judge set his bond at $700,000; Washington remembers his girlfriend screaming. When they processed him at the jail, he told me, he saw a couple of guards kicking a person in the butt in one of the bull pens. "I said, 'Oh, I don't want no part of that.' So I cooperated with everything.
"They told me I was going to Division One. I thought, I'm going where the hard-core criminals are. On the tier where they put me there were a lot of gangbangers. They introduced themselves to me. I said I wasn't hooked up with anyone. They treated me like an outcast--a 'neutron' they call you if you're not with any of the gangs. Neutrons are looked down on. If there's not enough chairs for Vice Lords and Folks, neutrons either stand up or sit on the floor. You get extorted for little things--packs of cigarettes, bags of chips."
He said he was deeply depressed his first several months in jail. "My girlfriend stuck by me at first, but then she 'broke bad,' as we say in here--started going with someone else. But the worst part was when my sister died. We were real close: if she had a dime, I had a nickel--she'd give me half." She had a cancerous brain tumor and a bad kidney that ultimately failed. When she died, a month after he was jailed, "They jerked me around in here, told me to let them know three days in advance when the funeral was, that I would be able to go. But I let them know, and no one ever got back to me.
"I had been trying so hard to keep my head on straight--not join a gang, not get in arguments. But after she died, I didn't care what happened. I had thoughts about taking my life. But I knew that would hurt my mom more than help her."
After several months a friend persuaded him to start reading the Bible and going to the Sunday services in the jail. He recalled that the friend told him "If you know you didn't do anything, you're going to come out of this all right." He took comfort in particular psalms, "like the one that says, 'Contend with me, oh Lord, and fight against those who fight against me.'" He met other inmates who told him Kato had beaten them until they made confessions.
Then the depression began to lift and his confidence started to return. "I said, 'All right, the truth's going to come out: Kato is going to get caught lying.' He started visiting the jail's law library and reading up on cases involving coerced statements. He'd tell his attorney what he learned, but the attorney already knew most of what Washington had found out, "so I stopped trying that and I started just praying."
When he told other inmates about being beaten into confessing to murder, some of them nodded. But he could tell that some of them thought he was either lying or stupid. "They'd say, 'I wouldn't have never given him no statement--I would have taken that butt whupping.'"
They didn't know what it felt like, being stuck in that interview room, Washington told me.
He said it was difficult at times to maintain his composure at the trial, particularly when prosecutor Lynn cross-examined him in such mocking tones. "I think he tried to get me angry to show the jury I could get hostile with someone. I didn't want to let it show that he was getting next to me. I almost did a few times."
I asked Washington what he remembered most about his childhood. He recalled moving with his mother to Peoria when he was small in a beater of a car that caught fire after they arrived. He remembered an afternoon when he and his aunt were sitting on a couch on a front porch and discovered a beehive in it--he was stung repeatedly. The kids in Peoria were in awe of him, he said. "Hey, you're from Chicago--they kill a lot of people up there," they'd tell him. "They kill people everywhere," he'd reply.
He told me his mother drank and his father wasn't around, that life was no picnic, and that he'd rather not talk much more about his childhood. But he did say that one of his fondest memories of growing up was getting involved with a grown woman--she was 26, he was 17--leaving home, and moving in with her. "I had so much freedom. I didn't have to be in at 10:30. I had two stepchildren that looked at me as a father figure. I got a job." He worked as a laborer in a chemical factory.
The woman he moved in with was Levoria Blakeney.
I asked Washington about the three battery complaints Blakeney had made against him. "You know, when you get alcohol in your system, and people tell you what to do--I slapped her, and I got put on supervision for that."
I told him that according to Blakeney's last charge, he hadn't just slapped her but had "forcibly raped her while strangling her with his hands on her neck."
"That was a lie she told," Washington said. "We were arguing over my check. She put me out, and she told me, 'I'm gonna tell them you raped me and robbed me.' So they arrested me, and I told them I didn't do this. I said, 'You can look in my back pocket, I got plenty of girlfriends to call--why would I rape her?' They started questioning her, and she told the truth--she said that she had lied."
Washington was looking to the future optimistically despite his conviction. "I have great grounds for an appeal. I may have to sit another three years. But sometimes, like my mom says, you just have to be patient. I can't get negative, join a gang, get beat up, get put in the hole [solitary confinement]. I've been here two years and some-odd months, and never once been put in the hole or been written up. If I was a killer, you'd think I'd be getting in more trouble." He plays basketball and softball when he can; he attends religious services on Sunday. "That hour and ten minutes, it brings me up, gives me a lot of hope."
If he had it to do over again, Washington said, "I'd know that I didn't have to go with him [Kato] anywhere. I'd know I wouldn't have to talk to him at all. I got smart through the system. I learned the wrong way."
After two hours we had to stop talking because another visitor was waiting to see Washington and visiting hours were nearly over. I met this visitor on the way out. It was Levoria Blakeney.
"Keith does not have a killing bone in his body," Blakeney told me later, "'cause if he did, he could have killed me for the shit I did to him."
They lived together for four or five years at Horner Homes, said Blakeney, a bank teller who now resides in south-suburban Dolton. "When we first went together, he was 15. His mother was watching me. I told her, 'I'm gonna take your son away from you.' And one day he ended up with me.
"He was a good person, very good. He was clean, he was always fixing something, or making something to make me feel good. He did have a temper--he would get so mad. But then he would just take a walk, get away from me."
Their fights happened mainly when they were high, Blakeney said. "We would get high off of cough syrup. When he would take these pills with the cough syrup, it would make him real evil. It made his blood pressure go up. He had a smart-assed mouth then--'You better not do certain things, or we going to fight.' So we would fight. I would take everything off the shelf, throw it at him. Once he went off on me and he was steady hitting me with his flat hand on my thighs. I just called the police, I don't know why, he never did hurt me. He would never try to really hurt me. He would just pop my meat--hit me with a flat hand.
"I would do shit to make him mad. Like I had two boyfriends on him at one time. He would just do things to make me love him more--like draw me cards, tell me that he loves me. He made me feel special a lot."
Once Washington "was messing around with this other girl, and I got mad. I said, 'If you leave me, I'm going to call the police and say you raped me or something.'"
Later, when they were still living together, "Keith had got hold of some money, and he promised to pay his share of the bills. But when he started drinking and stuff, it just made him a different person."
She got the order of protection "because I wanted him to stay away from me. I was going with this guy, and I didn't want him to mess things up for me. He didn't know how to let me go."
She said she might have told authorities that Washington raped her, but that he never really did and she doesn't recall accusing him of it. "I knew what it took to get an order of protection," she said. And the part about him trying to strangle her? "I don't remember saying anything like that. That never happened."
She has never doubted that Washington was innocent of the murder charge. "They got a man in jail for something he didn't do--oh, that's such a shame."
On July 19 Judge Bentivenga sentenced Washington to 32 years. Washington's mother, Emma, walked stone faced up to Bentivenga's bench after the judge announced the sentence.
"Down in your heart you know my son is not guilty," she told the judge.
"I suggest you read the confession," Bentivenga said.
"Most people aren't going to lose sleep over a guy who did a murder, who got convicted of a murder because he got punched [by a detective]," former state's attorney Bob Johnson says. "Some judges are real strict in applying the law. But other judges aren't strict because they don't want a murderer to go free because he got knocked around a little. They think, 'OK, so he got kicked in the balls--he confessed to something he did.'"
There never has been much sympathy for criminals, or even for criminal suspects. Now, with soaring violent-crime rates, there may be even less. Commander Maurer may express the frustration of many big-city detectives when he says of the west side: "The poor people who live in this area are just getting shit on constantly. And it's by the same dirtballs all the time."
Following a trip to China this summer, Chicago police superintendent LeRoy Martin said he found much to admire about the Chinese system of justice and recommended that the U.S. Constitution be altered to curtail the rights of criminal suspects. He said his proposals have broad popular support. Reminded by a reporter that Hitler's ideas were popular in Nazi Germany, Martin said, "And they had a very low crime rate then."
Another police department might at least monitor closely any detective accused repeatedly of beating confessions from suspects--but a department with a man with Martin's sentiments at its head?
For years the department has tried to shake the image that it gives free rein to rough cops. But its notoriety continues.
Earlier this year Amnesty International, in its annual survey of human-rights violations around the world, singled out the Chicago Police Department for mention. The human-rights group reported recent allegations that officers in the south-side Area Two district had "systematically tortured or otherwise ill-treated more than 20 people" between 1972 and 1984. The Amnesty International inquiry was prompted by a January 1990 Reader story by John Conroy detailing allegations of torture, some of it electroshock, by Area Two detectives trying to secure confessions.
In October a $16 million lawsuit was filed against the city by a man whose murder conviction was overturned because police beat a confession from him in 1983. Gregory Banks, who was imprisoned more than seven years before his conviction was reversed by a higher court, said in the suit that Area Two detectives put a plastic bag over his head in the course of an interrogation that led him to falsely confess to a murder. The suit charged the city with promoting a long-standing policy of police torture, describing 23 other incidents at Area Two in which suspects allegedly were beaten by detectives between 1972 and 1985.
Superintendent Martin was commander of detectives in Area Two in 1982 and '83.
A growing number of cities now videotape police interrogations. Police and prosecutors in these cities say this not only protects suspects from coercive interrogations, but also safeguards detectives from phony charges of abuse. Videotaping interrogations in a police station is not a cure-all; detectives could still beat a suspect into submissiveness outside the station, or a suspect could claim that's what happened. But cities that have instituted videotaping are reporting a money-saving decline in coerced-confession claims.
The Chicago Police Department is not considering videotaping interrogations. "There are just too many interviews being done in a department our size to videotape all of them," spokesman Tina Vicini says. "We just don't have the budget."
Maurer says he'd have "no problem" with detectives' interrogations being videotaped. "Nothing is done here that would cost a policeman his job or send him to jail. So if we're doing something that can be construed as technically wrong, like tricking them or telling them something that isn't true--which the Supreme Court has virtually held is OK now--if it's going to cost convictions, who is it going to hurt? Is it going to hurt me? It's going to hurt the public.
"But there's a danger in having the public see everything that's going on. I'm a pretty conservative guy, but I'll tell you what: I wouldn't want the public to see the nonsense that goes on in terms of suspects--the lies and the horror of some of these crimes. Because the reaction could be a swing too far to the right. I don't want the day to come when we tell our officers, "OK, I don't care how you get the confession, just get it."
In October Judge Michael Getty heard a motion to suppress a confession given by defendant Michael Cage.
Cage had confessed to participating with two other men in an armed robbery in December 1988, in which a 21-year-old man was shot in the head and killed. In the statement he gave after his arrest that same month, Cage said one of his two companions had shot the victim. Cage and the other two men were charged with murder.
Cage's attorney, Bryan Schultz, argued at the hearing that Cage's statement was "nothing more than a parroting under duress of information he had been indoctrinated with by the use of threats and physical abuse."
Cage testified that he was interrogated by several detectives in an interview room at Area Four. He said that when he told the detectives he knew nothing about the murder, one of them began slapping him in the face while another--Summerville--read a statement to him describing the circumstances of the crime.
Then, Cage testified, Kato entered the room. He said the detective pulled up his sweater and connected to his chest a gadget that resembled an electric shaver with antennas attached to it. He said he felt a shock and lost consciousness. When he came to, Summerville read the statement to him again several times. Cage said that at one point Kato stretched his leg into the doorway of the interview room and slammed the door on his ankle. When the assistant state's attorney from felony review arrived, Cage confessed to the murder and said nothing about a beating.
Schultz offered as evidence photos taken of Cage the day after his arrest--photos that showed marks on Cage's chest, which Schultz contended were blisters sustained from the probes of the shock device, and a photo of Cage's swollen ankle. He asked Getty to "send a message to police officers who might be persuaded to adopt this method of interrogation that such tactics will not be tolerated."
Getty ruled that the evidence showed Cage had sustained injuries in police custody and that the state had failed to prove that the injuries did not lead to Cage's confession. He granted the defense's motion to suppress the statement.
Also in October, Michael Waslewski, 23, was tried for the September 1989 murder of 21-year-old Jose Vivas.
After questioning by Kato and other detectives at Area Four on March 29, 1990, Waslewski confessed to killing Vivas. He said he and a friend, Dan Gasca, had fought with Vivas in an alley behind a bar near Archer and Harlem. Waslewski said after he and Gasca each stabbed Vivas several times, they laid his body against a tree in a nearby prairie. According to the confession, they drove two miles in Waslewski's car to where Vivas's car was parked, drove Vivas's car back to the scene of the crime, put his body in the trunk of his car, and drove it to 23rd and Spaulding, where they left it. The body was discovered that evening.
The day after Waslewski confessed, his father complained to OPS that his son had been beaten into confessing to a crime he did not commit.
Waslewski told the OPS investigators who interviewed him at County Jail that Kato had chopped him in the throat, kicked him in his groin and his calves, and slapped him. He also said Kato threatened "that he would kick me in my kidneys and I would be pissing blood for a week, and that he would keep me for 72 hours. He told me that if I did not make up a story as to how I killed the guy, that he was going to make up his own story that I robbed the guy and then killed him."
At a pretrial hearing on a motion to suppress his confession, Waslewski testified that Kato "would say something about how it could have happened--and I was just so confused I would go along with some of the stories. And I would just all of a sudden break and say, 'These are all lies.' And then he would tell me to stand up, and he would start kicking me."
After he agreed to confess, Waslewski testified, Kato "made sure that I knew word by word what to say. Because he says when she [the felony-review attorney] came in, he didn't want me to look to him for answers."
Waslewski's friend Dan Gasca, 24, testified during the hearing that Kato and another detective arrested him at his home and brought him to Area Four in the early morning hours of March 29--the day Waslewski confessed. He said that when Kato came in the interview room, "He looked at me and said, 'You made one mistake--you left the body in my neighborhood.'"
Gasca, who acknowledged that he was a friend of Waslewski's, maintained that Kato chopped him in the throat, choked him, hit him in the temple, struck him in the chest with the heel of his palm, and screamed in his face. The detective offered him several scenarios of how the murder may have occurred, Gasca said, but he never agreed to adopt any of them. He was eventually released without charge.
At his trial Waslewski's attorney focused on aspects of the confession that did not square with the known facts. Chief among them was that, according to jail records, Dan Gasca had been in County Jail the night of the murder.
The jury deliberated just over an hour before returning with a verdict of not guilty.
The jury foreman, Daniel Anderson, told me Waslewski's confession "just had too many inconsistencies in it. And apart from the confession, the state had absolutely nothing."
Anderson, 37, a north-side salesman, said he "started with the understanding that he [Waslewski] was innocent. But when they said he had made a confession, I have to admit it was difficult not to suddenly shift to feeling he was guilty. I kept thinking, 'I don't care what a policeman would do to me, I wouldn't say anything--or I'd get a lawyer there.' I was skeptical when he said he had been abused, because the experiences I've had with police have been positive." But after hearing all of the evidence, Anderson came to believe that Waslewski gave a false confession to escape the intimidation of Kato and the other detectives who were questioning him. He told me, "I would not be surprised if there was some physical abuse" as part of that intimidation.
"It was strange how this case was open for so long," said another juror, Deborah Walczak, 29, a supermarket cashier. "And then all of a sudden this detective talks to him [Waslewski], and one, two, three, the case is closed. I feel sorry for this kid, for all the time he spent in jail. You wonder how many other people have gone through this."
"My eyes were opened" by the trial, juror Madalyn Friedman, a 32-year-old management consultant, told me. "It made me more cynical, at least about Chicago. It showed me that the police here sometimes have other motives besides finding and convicting the right person. There are frustrations and power trips going on. And it showed me that there are victims of the system."
After 18 months in County Jail, Waslewski is now home. Keith Washington is in the Pontiac Correctional Center, awaiting his appeal. Kato is still on the west side, doing what he always wanted to.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Steve Mendelson.