Steve Mills and Maurice Possley navigate between different versions of reality.
One world they know is official and on the record, where criminals confess to their crimes, justice is blind but fair, and society is comfortable with punishments that are sometimes harsh in the extreme.
The other reality they discovered is harder to pin down. It lurks in claims of innocence by convicted and often despised murderers and rapists and in alibis already rejected by courts. When it exists, this version of the truth is at the far end of an inverted spyglass, and few have the acuity to sense it, the tools and determination necessary to pursue it or the requisite compassion to seek it.
Mills and Possley, reporters for The Chicago Tribune, were honored in October with the 2003 Elijah Parish Lovejoy journalism award for their dogged pursuit of the sometimes-elusive truth. They received Colby’s highest honors-the award and honorary doctor of laws degrees-for daring to listen to men whose deaths, according to the state of Illinois, would improve society.
Possley and Mills cover the criminal justice system for the Tribune. As a team they have uncovered evidence so compelling that Illinois has released convicts from death row after being convinced that innocents had been wrongly convicted. When former Illinois Governor George Ryan announced a moratorium on executions, he credited Mills and Possley’s work with helping to change his thinking. They proved that the system is fallible, and they showed that reforms and safeguards are well advised if the state is to resume capital punishment.
In their talk in Lorimer Chapel on October 15, Possley and Mills inspired a large audience with stories like that of Aaron Patterson, an inmate convicted of the murder of an elderly couple in South Chicago. Patterson told the reporters that, though he had done some bad things in his life, he had not stabbed Vincent and Rafaela Sanchez-a crime for which he was sentenced to die. H e told them he was beaten by police and suffocated with a typewriter cover, tortured to confess to a crime he hadn’t committed. Their investigation revealed that there was virtually no evidence in his case and that the forced confession along with testimony from a teenaged girl-testimony she told them was false-were the reasons Patterson was condemned to execution.
They told of Daniel Taylor, a 17-year-old serving a life sentence for a different double murder. Again a forced confession led to his Conviction, despite the fact that there was evidence—official Illinois court records—showing Taylor was locked up in police custody when the murders occurred.
“We followed the Aaron Patterson trail, and we followed the trail of Daniel Taylor and so many other trails to give voice to those who have no voice, to help them to expose the myths of the criminal justice system and, if we are lucky, to correct an injustice, to restore freedom to someone who has had freedom taken away,” Mills said.