Alton Logan (left) spent 26 years in prison for murder even though he was innocent of the crime. Detroit area author Berl Falbaum helped Logan tell his story in the book Justice Failed.
Book chronicles tragedy of a man wrongfully imprisoned for murder
by Linda Laderman
When veteran Detroit journalist and author Berl Falbaum heard about Alton Logan, an Illinois man who had been convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, he knew it was a story he couldn’t ignore.
Logan served 26 years of a life sentence for the 1982 murder of an off-duty Cook County corrections officer in a Chicago area fast food restaurant, despite the fact that three attorneys were aware that their client, Andrew Wilson, had committed the murder.
“I was watching 60 Minutes when a segment about Logan ran,” Falbaum said. “I could not fathom that story. I understand an innocent person going to jail, which happens too frequently in our justice system, but to knowingly permit an innocent man to stay in prison was what stuck with me.
“I’ve always cared about ethics and morals. It was a subject I taught to my journalism classes at Wayne State. I knew I had to write about it.”
After Falbaum made a bus trip to Chicago to meet Logan, the two men agreed to collaborate on a book that they hoped would not only expose how this happened, but also would motivate members of the legal profession to take steps to reconsider the regulations that govern attorney-client confidentiality.
Published this past October, their book, Justice Failed: How Legal Ethics Kept Me in Prison for 26 Years, looks at how Logan became a victim of a legal code of ethics that requires attorneys, who, even when they know their client has committed a crime that an innocent person is unjustly accused of, to remain silent unless they have permission from the guilty person to come forward.
“My hope is that the powers that be, on a state and national level, amend the code of legal ethics so if a situation like this occurs again the attorneys will be allowed to breach the code of confidentiality in order free an innocent person,” Falbaum said.
In an excerpt from Justice Failed, Logan described how he felt when he found out that he might be released because Wilson signed an affidavit permitting his attorneys to come forward after his death.
“Andrew Wilson, who was serving a life sentence for the killing of two police officers, died in prison,” Logan wrote. “Soon after, one of Wilson’s attorneys, Jamie Kunz, met with my lawyer, Harold Winston, to discuss my case. Kuntz told Winston about the signed affidavit containing Wilson’s confession.
“The document had been hidden away for years in a fireproof strong box at the home of another attorney of Wilson’s, Dale Coventry. At one point, he stored it under his own bed.
“When Winston called me with the news, I wasn’t initially all that confident the affidavit would help me,” Logan wrote. “Yes, it sounded good. But I had been through too much. I was also upset from the jump. If these lawyers had evidence that I was innocent, how could they not have said anything?
“While I slept on a prison bunk for 26 years, Coventry was sleeping above a box that might have spared me years in hell.”
Notwithstanding the 26 years Logan spent incarcerated, Falbaum said he has not found Logan to be a man who is resentful or vindictive.
“I have not seen a man who is bitter and angry. As a matter of fact, he expressed understanding for the attorneys. Logan told me, ‘I think they should have come forward but I understand why they didn’t.’ For the life of me I could not understand that,” Falbaum said.
Now that the book is published, Falbaum has contacted all 50 state bar associations hoping to persuade them to listen to his proposals to prevent another case like Logan’s from happening.
“I’m a one-man band right now. Even if you have an organization that is willing to talk about it, to change the culture and policy of any profession is challenging,” Falbaum said.
So far, Falbaum hasn’t met with any of the legal organizations he’s contacted, but when he does one of his recommendations will be that attorneys and judges be allowed to take into account the status of the culpable party at the time they admit guilt to their attorney.
“When the guilty party is already facing serious charges and another charge wouldn’t make any difference to his prison sentence, his attorneys should be able to speak out,” Falbaum said. “In this case, Wilson was already serving time for the murder of two police officers, another charge wouldn’t have hurt him. He wasn’t going anywhere.”
The author of eight other books, Falbaum calls Justice Failed,” the most important book he’s written.
“This is the most important work I’ve done in my 60 years of writing. It involves a man’s life. We’re dealing with life and death issues, with a man who lost the prime years of his life. He went in when he was 28, he came out when he was 55. So for me, this work is the most important.”
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