Last September, I was subpoenaed to appear in Cook County Circuit Court to testify in the retrial of a murder suspect. My role was anything but dramatic. In December of 1995, I had pointed out to police officers in a passing patrol car the direction the suspect and an accomplice had gone as they darted between my house and the one next door.
This had put police back on the suspects' trail at a time when the officers had momentarily lost them. During the trial, I often was introduced to others involved in the case as "The Pointing Guy."
In the course of the second trial, I got a chance to speak with Linda Shorter, the wife of the murder victim, 58-year-old Ervin Shorter, and was taken by the affecting way she talked about their life together and how the smooth fabric of routine suddenly could be torn to shreds. I also was struck by the fact that, although she hated having to relive the nightmare each time, she showed up at every hearing, no matter how minor, during the last decade.
"I had to see it through," she told me.
The Shorters were working people. In his job with the Department of Streets and Sanitation, Ervin lifted cans of garbage. After his murder, Linda's job became watching the slow grind of justice to be sure the system did not neglect her husband.
Ervin Shorter's murder was one of 824 in Chicago in 1995. In the play "Death of a Salesman," Linda Loman notes the despair and financial ruin weighing upon her husband. "Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper," she says. "But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person."
Linda Shorter might well have made such a speech.
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Justice meted out for killers, accomplice
Richard Morris was sentenced to death at the end of his first trial. He also was sentenced to consecutive terms for vehicular hijacking and aggravated kidnapping. In 2003, his death sentence was commuted to life without the possibility of parole when then-Gov. George Ryan granted blanket commutations to all of the state's Death Row inmates just before leaving office.
Morris' second trial, which was prompted by an appeal filed before the commutation, ended in a sentence of 105 years: 60 years for murder, 30 years for aggravated hijacking with a weapon and 15 years for aggravated kidnapping with the infliction of harm. He is serving his sentence at the Stateville Correctional Center. At the moment, the Department of Corrections calculates that he could be eligible for parole in 2048. He'd be 75.
In a separate trial, Tywon Knight was sentenced to 145 years: 100 years for murder plus the same 30- and 15-year terms as Morris for the other two charges. He is serving his time at the Tamms Correctional Center. He would be eligible for parole in 2046. He'd be 72.
According to court testimony, Morris explained that he needed to rob a bank for money for hiding out because of a "problem in Kenosha": his role in the murder of a fellow drug dealer, Fred Jones, in Morris' apartment the night before Ervin Shorter was killed. Morris was upset that Jones had sold him some bad cocaine. He held Jones in a bear hug while an acquaintance, Bryan Hoover, beat Jones with a four-iron golf club. Morris then strangled Jones with a towel. Morris and Hoover tied the body up with television cable and put it in the trunk of a car they borrowed from Tywon Knight. Morris, his wife and Hoover drove the car to Chicago, stopping to buy lighter fluid along the way with money taken from Jones' pocket. They dumped the body in an alley at 1331 S. Kedvale Ave. in the early morning hours of Dec. 1, 1995, doused it with lighter fluid and set it on fire. The three then got back into the car, drove back to Kenosha, picked up Knight and returned to Chicago, where they kidnapped Shorter.
In Kenosha County Court, Hoover was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree intentional homicide in Jones' murder and for conspiring to hide a corpse. He is serving the sentence at the Dodge Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.
Lyda Antia, Morris' wife and a native of Colombia, was sentenced in Kenosha County Court to 6 years for mutilating the corpse of Fred Jones. She was sentenced to 15 years in Cook County Court for aggravated vehicular hijacking. In 2006, she was deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
C.L.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times