Man freed from jail 29 years after wrongful arson conviction
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
by Mitchell Armentrout
A 66-year-old South Side man took his first steps of freedom in nearly three decades on Tuesday night, after a judge tossed his murder conviction stemming from a 1988 arson case, and Cook County prosecutors declined to press the case further.
“I just want to be around my family, and enjoy a good meal. Hopefully sleep in a real bed,” Arthur Brown told reporters outside the Cook County Jail on Tuesday evening.
Brown was 37 when he was arrested hours after a May 1988 fire at a video store near 63rd Street and King Drive, which spread to a restaurant next door, killing two people, according to court documents.
Brown, who worked maintenance jobs at the store, has said that Chicago Police detectives beat him into signing a false confession that he helped the store’s owner burn the store down for insurance money. He was first convicted in 1988.
A judge granted a second trial 10 years later when another man — serving a life sentence for numerous armed robberies — testified that he burned the store down in retaliation for a debt he said Brown owed to him. Nonetheless, a jury convicted Brown again in 2008.
In the second trial, Cook County prosecutors maintained that Brown told police where to find the gas can that was used in the arson — a point contradicted in detectives’ testimony during the first trial.
Citing the gas can discrepancy, as well as alibi witnesses for Brown that weren’t chased down by his public defenders, Judge Joseph Claps granted Brown another new trial this October.
“After the case was brought to the attention of the executive staff, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office determined there were significant evidentiary issues that raised deep concerns about the fairness of Mr. Brown’s conviction,” a spokesman for the office said, adding that charges were dropped “in the interest of justice.”
Brown’s attorney, Ronald Safer, said the case marked a “culture change” for the state’s attorney’s of\
“I think [Cook County State’s Attorney] Kim Foxx and her staff were interested in serving justice rather than clinging to a wrongful conviction,” Safer said. “Previous administrations have clung to wrongful convictions in the face of direct evidence.”