Charges were dropped Wednesday against two of the three men accused of killing an off-duty Chicago police officer in 2011, the latest twist in a case marred by allegations of misconduct by police and prosecutors.
Tyrone Clay faced nearly 80 felony counts and Edgardo Colon was charged with 18 counts in connection with the fatal shooting of veteran Officer Clifton Lewis during the robbery of an Austin convenience store.
Those charges were dismissed ahead of a hearing where detectives and prosecutors were to be questioned under oath about their handling of the case. As the hearing was set to open, Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin DeBoni announced that all charges were dismissed.
“In light of previous rulings… and after thorough and exhaustive review of the remaining evidence in this case… at this time we do not believe we can meet our burden at trial,” DeBoni said.
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The dismissal comes a week after the state’s attorney’s office had filed a motion seeking to bar testimony from Andrew Varga, a longtime prosecutor often assigned to high-profile cases, and Nancy Adduci, a respected assistant state’s attorney who was removed from her post as head of the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit last year.
Clay, accused of being one of the gunmen, will be released from the Cook County Jail as soon as today after spending more than 12 years locked up awaiting trial.
Colon, suspected of being the getaway driver, was convicted in the case in 2017 but has been free on bond since the verdict was overturned three years into his 84-year sentence.
Lewis was shot the night of Dec. 29, 2011 as he confronted two armed men while working off-duty as security at M&M Quick Foods in Austin — a job he took to earn money for his upcoming wedding to his longtime girlfriend. Clay and Colon were arrested days later, both having confessed after lengthy interrogations. A third defendant, Alexander Villa, had been questioned around the same time, but wasn’t arrested until nearly two years later.
Colon was granted a new trial after Judge Erika Reddick ruled police had obtained his confession after he’d repeatedly asked for a lawyer during an interrogation that lasted some 50 hours.
Clay had yet to go to trial, in part because of a lengthy appeal by prosecutors of a judge’s ruling that barred Clay’s confession, finding that he also had repeatedly asked police for a lawyer before he gave his incriminating statement.
The murder case appeared to unravel further two years ago, amid a flurry of filings in the case of a third defendant charged in Lewis’s murder Alexander Villa.
Villa, who was arrested nearly two years after Clay and Colon, was found guilty in 2019 and still is awaiting sentencing. He is seeking a new trial after his attorney unearthed a trove of evidence he claims police and prosecutors should have turned before the trial.
Among those files was an FBI analysis of cell tower data that indicated the three men were not at the crime scene when Lewis was killed. Also not turned over were reports on hundreds of interviews conducted by police with members of the Spanish Cobras street gang in the weeks after the shooting – an investigation dubbed “Operation Snake Doctor.”
In hearings in the Clay and Colon cases, Judge Erica Reddick grew increasingly impatient with lawyers for the city and the state’s attorney’s office, and in November ordered a sweeping release of thousands of police records in the case.
Colon’s lawyer, Paul Vickrey, had asked the judge months earlier to sanction prosecutors for withholding information, a motion that was rendered moot when the charges were dropped.
“There was a shocking amount of hidden and destroyed evidence in this case,” Vickrey said in a statment. “But while we are gratified for Edgardo, our hearts go out to the family of Clifton Lewis. A rush to charge and convict was the worst way to honor the short life of a dedicated officer.”