Criminal Justice

Chicago Prosecutor Anita Alvarez Blasts 'One-Sided' Segment of '60 Minutes' in Letter to CBS Chief

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Skewered in a 60 Minutes segment about wrongful convictions that was broadcast Sunday, Chicago’s top state-court prosecutor complained in a letter to the chairman of CBS News that she was unfairly portrayed in selective clips from a lengthy interview that took place six months ago.

The CBS news program segment, “Chicago: The False Confession Capital,” focused on cases in which teenage males were convicted of violent crimes—based at least in part on alleged confessions now claimed to be false—but were later exonerated by DNA evidence.

In one of the cases, involving Cataresa Matthews, a 14-year-old victim who was raped and murdered in 1991, defendants known as the Dixmoor Five were convicted as teens. But in 2011, they were exonerated when DNA linked a serial rapist to the crime.

In what the Chicago Tribune describes as a “particularly damaging” portion of the 60 Minutes segment, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says on camera that the DNA evidence isn’t absolutely proof of the innocence of the Dixmoor Five. Then she seemingly speculates, in response to a follow-up question by the reporter, Byron Pitts, that the serial rapist might have happened upon the 14-year-old’s dead body and had sex with it after she had already been murdered.

However, she says in the Wednesday letter that the “one-sided and extremely misleading” program inaccurately portrayed a number of facts, including her involvement and position in the controversial case, and took her comments out of context.

As Alvarez notes, the program could be taken to point a finger of blame at Chicago police for the investigation of the Dixmoor Five case. But they had nothing to do with it; the case was handled by suburban Dixmoor and Illinois State Police. Alvarez also was not involved in the case until 17 years after the crime occurred, when she became state’s attorney.

She herself dismissed the charges against the defendants before the 60 Minutes interview was conducted, Alvarez wrote, and told Pitts only that we do not know, with certainty, what happened at the crime scene. Her statement about the serial rapist’s possible necrophilia was taken out of context, Alavarez said—this was not her own view and she had no intention of continuing to prosecute the case she had already dismissed against the Dixmoor Five. However, the theory that someone else had sex with Matthews’ dead body was propounded at trial, she notes. (What she says on camera is only that such conduct is “possible”—because it has actually happened in some cases.)

“Had I known that this story would completely distort my position and intentionally omit critical facts, I would never have agreed to your interview,” Alvarez writes.

A columnist for the newspaper, which has itself been critical of prosecutors in multiple news reports and editorials about wrongful convictions, described Alvarez in the Chicago Tribune’s Change of Subject blog about Sunday’s then-upcoming program as the “designated obtuse law-enforcement official.”

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