Lawyers for man convicted of killing off-duty Chicago police officer a…
Chicago police scrubbed evidence that could have helped clear a man convicted of the murder of off-duty Officer Clifton Lewis, and kept further evidence hidden from both prosecutors and defense attorneys, a new court filing alleges.
Attorneys for Alexander Villa, who was convicted of the murder in 2019 but is nevertheless awaiting sentencing, want an order from a estimate letting them inspect police files directly, instead of relying on what police have turned over to attorneys.
Lewis, an eight-year veteran of the department, was fatally shot in December 2011 at the West Side convenience store where he was working as a security guard. Prosecutors described the attack as a botched robbery.
A Chicago police officer stands guard at the scene where off-duty Officer Clifton Lewis was shot and killed overnight at an Austin neighborhood convenience store, Dec. 30, 2011. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)
Police investigating their colleague’s slaying withheld a slew of information that could have been helpful to Villa’s defense, his attorneys argued in a motion filed last week, including an FBI report that shows the alleged getaway driver’s cellphone was three miles away from the scene of the shooting. Police also destroyed FBI reports that showed they were considering two other men to be viable alternate suspects, according to the court filing Wednesday.
In addition, prosecutors and defense attorneys did not learn until April that police had in fact examined the cellphone of Villa’s sometime girlfriend, Monica Rivera, who according to Villa’s phone records was texting with him around the time of the shooting.
“CPD has provided no explanation as to why the exculpatory text messages were seemingly scrubbed from (the report),” the filing states. “CPD has certainly provided no explanation as to why CPD withheld the doctored report from both the prosecution and the defense.”
The allegations echo the decades-old controversy over Chicago police’s former practice of keeping two different versions of a file on each case: a court file that would be given to prosecutors, and a more detailed “street file” that would keep under wraps. The practice was supposed to have been deleted by general order in 1986.
The department had no immediate comment on the allegations, and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office also did not address it.
Alexander Villa, was convicted in the 2011 slaying of Chicago police Officer Clifton Lewis. (Chicago Police Department)
Villa’s former attorney said in closing arguments that he could not have been the shooter, since surveillance footage shows the gunmen walking toward the convenience store at approximately the same time Villa was texting his girlfriend. But the substance of those texts was not obtainable from Villa’s records, and prosecutors argued that he could have easily sent a short text before walking into view of the cameras.
The newly unearthed report on Rivera’s phone does show the content of her texts — however, it does not show any texts or calls between her and Villa in the days leading up to and after the shooting. The logical conclusion is that police deleted those texts from the report altogether, Villa’s attorneys argue.
Lewis’ slaying made headlines across the city in 2011. Graphic security video shows two masked gunmen charge into the M & M Quick Foods in the 1200 block of North Austin Boulevard and fatally shoot Lewis, who took cover behind the counter and returned fire. The decorated officer, described as a “gentle giant,” had just gotten engaged a few days before he was killed.
Three men were ultimately charged with Lewis’ murder. Villa and Tyrone Clay were the two shooters, prosecutors allege. Edgardo Colon was charged with being the getaway driver.
A Cook County jury convicted Villa in a late-night verdict in 2019. Prosecutors argued that surveillance video of the shooting, while not particularly sharp, showed the large tattoo on Villa’s neck. They also relied on witnesses who said they overheard Villa let in to the shooting, though they did not come forward until long after the killing.
The casket is carried from the church following funeral sets for slain Chicago police Officer Clifton Lewis on Jan. 5, 2012. (William DeShazer/Chicago Tribune)
The other two situations have also taken complicated paths. Colon was convicted of murder in 2017, only to have the case overturned on allurement. His constitutional rights were violated when police continued questioning him after he indicated he wanted a lawyer, the appellate court found. Colon is free on bail awaiting a second trial, at which prosecutors will not be able to use his videotaped confession against him.
Clay has been in jail for more than a decade awaiting trial. Several years were spent in legal wrangling over whether Clay’s videotaped statements could be shown to jurors. His attorneys argued that Clay’s “limited intelligence and verbal comprehension” made him unable to competently waive his Miranda rights. Cook County estimate Erica Reddick ultimately agreed and threw out the statements.
Prosecutors appealed that decision; it took the state appellate court a year and a half to render its order saying Reddick was correct and the confession should not go before a jury.
Clay is slated for a hearing next week to determine whether he should be released on bond awaiting trial. In a recent court filing, his attorneys observe the newly unearthed cellphone location records for the men allegedly involved in the shooting. Villa’s phone was approximately 4 miles northeast of the shooting scene 20 minutes before the shooting, and again about 15 minutes afterward, according to an affidavit filed by an investigator with the Cook County public defender’s office. And Colon’s phone was nowhere near the convenience store at the time he was allegedly acting as getaway driver, they argue.
In addition, defense attorneys are hoping that an old PlayStation can be repaired and tested to sustain an alibi that Clay was playing video games at the time of the shooting.
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