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26-Year Secret Kept Innocent Man In Prison

Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret
Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret 12:07

This story was originally broadcast on March 9, 2008. It was updated on May 23, 2008.

This is a story about an innocent man who languished in prison for 26 years while two attorneys who knew he was innocent stayed silent. As correspondent Bob Simon reported earlier this year, they did so because they felt they had no choice.

Alton Logan was convicted of killing a security guard at a McDonald's in Chicago in 1982. Police arrested him after a tip and got three eyewitnesses to identify him. Logan, his mother and brother all testified he was at home asleep when the murder occurred. But a jury found him guilty of first degree murder.

Now new evidence reveals that Logan did not commit that murder, something that was not new to those two attorneys, who knew it all along but say they couldn't speak out until now.

Alton Logan's story cuts to the core of America's justice system.

Simon met Alton Logan in prison, where he's spent almost half of his life.

Asked if he still counts the months and days, Logan told Simon, "There's no need to count the months and the days. Just count the years."

Logan said that during the first five or six years he was "consumed" by anger. "Then I come to the realization that 'Why be angry over something you can't control?'"

Logan, who maintains he didn't commit the murder, thought they were "crazy" when he was arrested for the crime.

Attorneys Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz knew Logan had good reason to think that, because they knew he was innocent. And they knew that because their client, Andrew Wilson, who they were defending for killing two policemen, confessed to them that he had also killed the security guard at McDonald's - the crime Logan was charged with.

"We got information that Wilson was the guy and not Alton Logan. So we went over to the jail immediately almost and said, 'Is that true? Was that you?' And he said, 'Yep it was me,'" Kunz recalled.

"He just about hugged himself and smiled. I mean he was kind of gleeful about it. It was a very strange response," Kunz said, recalling how Wilson had reacted.

"How did you interpret that response?" Simon asked.

"That it was true and that he was tickled pink," Kunz said.

"He was pleased that the wrong guy had been charged. It was like a game and he'd gotten away with something. But there was just no doubt whatsoever that it was true. I mean I said, 'It was you with the shotgun-you killed the guy?' And he said, 'Yes,' and then he giggled," Coventry added.

The problem was the killer was their client. So, legally, they had to keep his secret even though an innocent man was about to be tried for murder.

"I know a lot of people who would say, 'Hey if the guy's innocent you've got to say so. You can't let him rot because of that,'" Simon remarked.

"Well, the vast majority of the public apparently believes that, but if you check with attorneys or ethics committees or you know anybody who knows the rules of conduct for attorneys, it's very, very clear-it's not morally clear-but we're in a position to where we have to maintain client confidentiality, just as a priest would or a doctor would. It's just a requirement of the law. The system wouldn't work without it," Coventry explained.

So that was the dilemma. They couldn't speak out, they felt, but how could they remain silent?

Asked if they contemplated doing something about it, Coventry told Simon, "We wrote out an affidavit. We made an affidavit that we had gotten information through privileged sources, that Alton Logan was not in fact guilty of killing the officer, that in fact somebody else did it."

"We wanted to put in writing, to memorialize, you know, to get a notarized record of the fact that we had this information back then so that if, you know, 20 years later, 10 years later, if something allowed us to talk, as we are now, we could at least we we'd at least have an answer to someone who says, 'You're just making this up now,'" Kunz added.

They sealed the affidavit in an envelope and put the envelope in a lockbox to keep it safe under Coventry's bed.

While the attorneys kept silent about Logan's innocence, a jury convicted him of murder. Then the jurors had to decide whether to sentence him to death.

"I was in court the day they were dealing with the death penalty," Coventry recalled.

Asked why he went to court, he told Simon, "'Cause I had this information that this innocent guy was up there and the jury was deciding whether they're gonna kill him or not."

Coventry said his heart was racing when he went into the courtroom. "It was just creepy. Knowing I was looking at the jurors thinking, 'My God, they're going to decide to kill the wrong guy.'"

In the end, the jurors spared Logan's life.

"It was a 10 to 2 vote. Ten for, two against. Two individuals saved my life," Logan explained.

And the jurors saved Kunz and Coventry from coming forward. "We thought that somehow we would stop at least the execution. We weren't gonna let that go," Coventry told Simon.

"But instead he was sentenced to life in prison, and you did not do anything?" Simon asked.

"Right," Kunz said.

"So it's just okay to prevent his execution if necessary, but it was not okay to prevent his going to prison for the rest of his life?" Simon asked.

"Morally there's very little difference and were torn about that, but in terms of the canons of ethics, there is a difference, you can prevent a death," Coventry replied.

"But the minute he was not sentenced to death, the minute he was sentenced to life in prison, you decided to do nothing?" Simon asked.

"Yes," Kunz said. "I can't explain it. I don't know why that made the difference but I know it did."

"There is no difference between life in prison and a death penalty. None whatsoever. Both are a sentence of death," Logan told Simon.

Logan said while he could sympathize with the attorneys' problem of not being able to speak up, he couldn't understand it. "'Cause if you know this is an innocent person, why would you allow this person to be prosecuted, convicted, sent to prison for all these years?" he asked.

"What did you do to see if there might be some loophole to get everyone out of this fix?" Simon asked the attorneys.

"I researched the ethics of attorney-client privilege as much as I could. I contacted people who are involved in making those determinations. I know Jamie did the same thing," Coventry said.

"I could not figure out a way, and still cannot figure out a way, how we could have done anything to help Alton Logan that would not have put Andrew Wilson in jeopardy of another capital case," Kunz added.

"Couldn't you have leaked it to somebody? To a reporter, to an administrator, to the governor, to somebody?" Simon asked.

"The only thing we could have leaked is that Andrew Wilson confessed to us. And how could we leak that to anybody without putting him in jeopardy?" Kunz replied. "It may cause us to lose some sleep. But, but I lose more sleep if I put Andrew Wilson's neck in the in the noose."

"He was guilty and Logan was not. So, yes his head should be in the noose. And Logan should go free. It's perfectly obvious to somebody who isn't a lawyer," Simon pointed out. "Andrew Wilson was guilty, was he not?"

"Yes. And that's up to the system to decide. It's not up to me as his lawyer to decide that he was guilty and so he should be punished and Logan should go free," Kunz said.

"Do you think you might have been disbarred for doing that, for violating attorney-client privilege?" Simon asked.

"I don't think I considered that as much as I considered my responsibility to my client. I was very concerned to protect him," Coventry explained.

"But here is a case where two men, you two were caught up in this bind. And chose to let a man rot away in jail," Simon remarked.

"It seems that way. But had we come forward right away, aside from violating our own client's privilege, and putting him in jeopardy, would the information that we had have been valued? Would it have proved anything?" Coventry replied.

Probably not, they say, because as a violation of attorney-client privilege, it would never have been allowed in court. They insist that for them, there was no way out.

"In terms of my conscience, my conscience is that I did the right thing. Do I feel bad about Logan? Absolutely I feel bad about Logan," Coventry admitted.

The attorneys say they were so tormented over Logan's imprisonment that they convinced Wilson to let them reveal that Wilson was the real killer after Wilson's death. Late last year, Wilson died. The two attorneys finally took their affidavit out of the lockbox, and they called Logan's lawyer, pubic defender Harold Winston.

Winston had already been trying to get Logan a new trial. He'd found two eyewitnesses who swore Logan was not the killer. Now, with Kunz and Coventry's affidavit, he thinks Logan will finally go free.

"I know the attorney general's office of Illinois is considering this. And I have a lot of respect for that office," Winston said. "And I'm hoping they will come to the right conclusion, that a mistake has been made. And if they do that, he would go free."

And even though Winston represents Alton Logan, he agrees the two attorneys had to remain silent until Wilson died. "I wish there had been a way this could have come out earlier. Under the…Illinois ethics code, I think the only way would have been if Andrew Wilson had released his lawyers earlier," he explained.

"There may be other attorneys who have similar secrets that they're keeping. I don't wanna be too defensive but what makes this case so different, is that Dale and I came forward. And that Dale had the good sense to talk to Wilson before his death. And get his permission. 'If you die, can we talk?' Without that, we wouldn't be here today," Kunz said.

"See, I never stopped giving up hope. I've always believed that one day is gone-somebody's gonna come forth and tell the truth. But I didn't know when," Logan told Simon.

Asked what they would say to him if they were able to visit Logan in his cell, one of the attorneys said, "There's nothing you can say. Well, it's been difficult for us. But there's no comparison what so ever to what it's been for this poor guy."

"How has it been difficult for them?" Logan inquired.

"Alton, whether or not you can understand it, we've been hurting for you for 26 years," Kunz said. "How often did I think about it? Probably 250 times a year. I mean I thought about it regularly."

"Everything that was dear to me is gone," Logan, who missed his mother's funeral, told Simon.

His brothers Eugene and Tony told 60 Minutes they've shared Alton's pain, and they always knew that he was no killer. "My brother ain't got the nature to do nothin' like that in his soul. He ain't gonna take nobody else's life. We weren't raised like that," Tony said.

"Your brother is 54 now. Can he start again at the age of 54?" Simon asked.

"I think we gonna make it," Eugene said. "If he get from behind them bars, I'm gonna turn him back on to life. And we gonna live it together. We're gonna live it together."

But Alton Logan is still behind bars. "They are quick to convict but they are slow to correct they mistakes," he said.

"All I wanted was the truth. All I want is the truth," he said.

"And the truth shall set you free," Simon remarked.

"Yes it will," Logan said.

One month after this report had aired, the truth finally did set Alton Logan free. A judge, citing the new evidence, threw out his conviction and released Logan on just $1,000 bond. Illinois' attorney general will not appeal the ruling and is deciding whether to retry Alton or to simply drop the charges.

Produced By Robert Anderson and Casey Morgan

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