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An Innocent Man Finally F-R-E-E, Readjusting to the City

After spending 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Alton Logan says he is now “F-R-E-E, free” to do what he wants, when he wants while getting reacquainted with Chicago.

“Everyone is looking for me to be bitter and angry and revengeful,” said Logan in a speech to a Columbia College Chicago journalism class. “I don’t feel none of that. All I feel is relief.”

Logan, 56, was sentenced to natural life without parole in July 1983 in connection with the fatal shooting of a McDonald’s security guard. He was spared a death sentence only when two of the 12 jurors at his trial voted to give him a life sentence instead.

The case stemmed from an attempted armed robbery at a South Side McDonald’s in January 1982. The shooter was later identified as Andrew Wilson. One of the victims died.

Logan maintained that he was at home sleeping at the time of the shooting. His mother and his brother testified in his defense.

Wilson was later in jail awaiting trial in connection with the murder of two Chicago police officers. While there, he confessed to his Chicago attorneys that he was the one who shot the security guards. Because of rules dealing with attorney-client privilege, his attorneys believed they had to keep the confession a secret.

The attorneys wrote an affidavit and locked it in a safe under a bed.

For his first few years in prison, Logan was angry with the judicial system that allowed an innocent man to be put away for life. During his fifth year behind bars, Logan realized that being angry was not doing him any good.

“Because when you’re angry at any situation, you’re hurting yourself,” Logan said.

To make better use of his time, Logan attended high school and college classes in prison and independently researched cases similar to his own. Logan said he never gave up hope that he would someday be released.

Images of inmates killing themselves still haunt him.

“How can you tie a bed sheet to a metal pipe and tie that same sheet to your neck and then jump off a bed?” Logan said.

Wilson died in 2007 and his attorneys felt they were finally free to reveal what they knew about the crime he had committed. They went to Logan’s attorneys and turned over the affidavit.

One day in April 2008, Logan was brought to the Cook County court house for a hearing. The judge heard testimony from the two lawyers who had defended Wilson, as well as other key witnesses in the case. A woman present in the McDonald’s during the time of the shooting testified that it was Wilson, not Logan, who committed the crime.

The judge offered the state’s attorney the option of retrying Logan, but the state decided there was insufficient evidence to merit another trial.

Court proceedings concluded by noon, and Logan was walking the streets of Chicago by 5 p.m.

To celebrate his freedom, Logan drank half a bottle of champagne in two minutes.

Logan said his biggest struggle is readjusting his thinking because he can “no longer only think about [himself].” The most important lessons Logan received from his experience are to think, react and accept that the world will change.

Readjusting to city life, Logan said he cannot “just sit around and do nothing,” so he has been busy looking for work. He lives with his girlfriend in Bronzeville and is considering taking classes in construction.

The state pronounced Logan innocent in September 2008.

Meanwhile, he received $190,000, the most the state can award, from the court of claims.

Logan and his attorney have a civil suit pending against the city of Chicago. Logan’s attorney is suggesting $1 million per year as an award for damages.

Elliot Slosar, an investigator at Loevy and Loevy, the law firm handling the civil suit, said he has uncovered a lot of police misconduct in Logan’s case. He noted that the police involved in the case have not yet hired attorneys, so the case is still in its preliminary stages.

“The case is fascinating,” Slosar said in a phone interview. “It’s so entwined with the Andrew Wilson case.”

Slosar added, “We’ll be able to uncover the truth — and it will certainly not be what was presented at Alton Logan’s trial,” he said.

Mary Jo Cain-Reis, a friend of Logan’s, has launched a web site to try to help him. “When I heard he was incarcerated for 26 years despite the fact that two attorneys knew he was innocent, that really upset me,” she said in a phone interview. “I couldn’t imagine how these attorneys could go on with their everyday lives knowing that Mr. Logan was innocent.

“I looked at my own life and thought about how much I had accomplished in the span of 26 years,” she continued.  “Mr. Logan was robbed of his life. He missed many milestones that we all take for granted.”

Cain-Reis said she considers herself lucky to have met Logan. She called him “a class act.”

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