Nineteen-year-old Jovan Mosley, a good kid from one of Chicago’s very bad neighborhoods, was coerced into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit. Charged with murder, he spent five years and eight months in a prison for violent criminals. Without a trial.
Jovan grew up on the rough streets of Chicago’s Southeast Side. With one brother dead of HIV complications, another in jail for arson and murder, and most kids his age in gangs, Jovan struggled to be different. Until his arrest, he was. He excelled in school, dreamed of being a lawyer, and had been accepted to Ohio State.
Then on August 6, 1999, Jovan witnessed a fight that would result in a man’s death. Six months later, he was arrested, cruelly questioned, and forced into a confession. Sent to a holding jail for violent criminals, he tried ceaselessly to get a trial so he could argue his case. He studied what casework he could, rigorously questioning his public defenders. But time after time his case was shoved aside. Amiable, bright and peaceable, he struggled to stay alive in prison. As the years ground on, he’d begun to lose hope when, by chance, he met Catharine O’Daniel, a successful criminal defense lawyer. Although nearly all cases with a signed confession result in conviction, she was so moved by him, and so convinced of his innocence, that Cathy accepted Jovan as her first pro bono client. Cathy asked Laura Caldwell to join her and together they battled for Jovan’s exoneration. Here is Laura’s firsthand account of their remarkable journey.
This is a harrowing true story about justice, friendship, failure and success. A breakdown of the justice system sent a nice kid to one of the nation’s nastiest jails for nearly six years without a trial. It would take a triumph of human kindness, ingenuity and legal jousting to give Jovan even a fighting chance.
Deeply affecting, Long Way Home is a remarkable story of how change can happen even in a flawed system and of how friendship can emanate from the most unexpected places.
“See you when I see you.” On August 5, 1999, Howard Thomas, Jr. — or “Bug,” as his friends and family called him — stepped outside the union League Club into a dark summer night. Chicago’s normally bustling Loop was quiet at eleven p.m.
“Goodnight,” called the doorman.
“See you when I see you,” Bug called back, like he often did. Bug (a name often given to men who are “juniors” in their family, short for “June Bug”), with his quick quips, had been at this job — parking cars for the private club’s wealthy clientele — for years, and he was friends with both staff and members. That night, Bug and his girlfriend, Donna Harris, planned on spending what was left of the evening together, in their basement room, in Chicago’s Park Manor neighborhood. He was in a particularly good mood because that morning he’d seen his youngest daughter and his granddaughter, who’d returned from California, for the first time in two years.
In his fifty-one years, Bug had seen and done much. You could say he’d been a troublemaker in his youth. He’d been shot twice and stabbed and had been in a number of fights. But years ago, Bug had decided to “get with God.” He quit drinking, started reading the Bible, and watched evangelists on TV. He even sent them money when he had some extra, because sometimes he felt like they were talking directly to him.
Still in his uniform, Bug tucked his night’s earnings into the Bible he always carried and began to walk. It was a nice evening, cool for August, and the city was calm. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, that day hadn’t been too exciting. “Cows On Parade: Tour No. 3,” an art exhibit, had gone up on the Chicago streets, featuring painted, life-sized cows; Bill Clinton had taken issue with some of Hillary’s comments on adultery; and the “Timing Might Not Be Perfect for McGwire,” according to the headline, as he tried for his five hundredth game homer.
Bug headed toward the El train. Sometimes he drove to work, but he preferred to walk to and from the train when he could. He took the Red Line to the Park Manor neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, then caught the 69th Street bus to 75th Street.
When he arrived at his stop, Bug went into a Harold’s Chicken on 75th Street near King Drive and purchased a late dinner for Donna and himself, using the money he’d put in the Bible. By the time he turned toward home it was after midnight, but Thomas knew his way around. He had been living in the Park Manor neighborhood for years.
The boundaries of the neighborhood are from 79th Street to 67th Street and from Cottage Grove Avenue west to the Dan Ryan Expressway. A local realty company says on its website that Park Manor is “cradled between two of the city’s major highways and the Red Line branch of the El train,” but cradled might give the impression of a sleepy neighborhood, safe and idyllic. While one section of Park Manor was a stable working-class black neighborhood with small bungalows lining the street, the other section, particularly along 69th and Calumet, was entirely different. There, the shabby apartments, crumbling houses, and liquor stores hosted brutal gang violence, and the neighborhood was striped with territories marked by the Black disciples (Bds), the Gangster Disciples (Gds), and others.
Luckily, Bug was living on the good side of Park Manor, and he planned on leaving the area altogether. The owner of the small brick bungalow where he stayed rented rooms to fourteen other residents, and it had grown too cramped. The energy among the residents was not as good as it used to be. So Howard had worked hard and bought himself a place at 83rd and Blackstone. He would move on Monday.
Bug walked north on Calumet Avenue toward his place in the 7200 block. Although it was late, lights burned inside the houses, and some people stood outside socializing. When he was a few houses from home, Howard saw what was a common scene in his neighborhood — a group of kids, mostly guys, standing by someone’s porch.
Some of the guys were in the street by the time he reached them, but since they weren’t doing anything in particular, he simply strolled by. But just as he passed them, something struck the back of his legs, then someone kicked him. He tripped and stumbled.
He recovered his footing fast and dropped his bags. Spinning around to face the punk, he said, “What the fuck is you doing?”
Another kid hit him on the back of the head. The kids grabbed him, caught his arms. He fought back, trying doing the same to them. He and the kids snatched at each other’s clothes and faces, spinning around, tussling or wrestling more than actually fighting, going around in circles.
Other kids rushed up and stood around them. He was hit, then once more from another side, then another blow. He saw something swinging, felt a different kind of blow to the side of his face.
“Stop!” he shouted. “Stop!” He held an arm up to shield his face.
Someone kicked him again, and he lost his footing, crumpling to the ground. Another kick to his side. He covered his face with his arms and tried to tighten himself into a ball. More kicks to his legs … his shoulders … his head … more than one foot … more than one person.
Still more kicks, more punches.
In his peripheral vision, he might have seen a different slice of life — people on the street, watching.
“In March 2000, Jovan Mosley was a 19-year-old with the dream but not the means to go to law school. When walking in his Southeast Side Chicago neighborhood one afternoon, he was arrested and shoved into a police car. After more than 24 hours of aggressive interrogation, much of which he endured with one arm chained to a wall, he agreed with detectives that he had thrown two punches in a fight he had witnessed months earlier. Then he agreed that he had taken a sip of soda offered by one of the attackers. Mosley, who had seen but not participated in that August 1999 robbery, in which a man named Howard Thomas was beaten to death, had just confessed to murder. So began his six-year imprisonment without trial in the SuperMax section of Cook County Jail. Caldwell, a law school lecturer and crime novelist, recounts Mosley’s years spent languishing in the holding facility and the court battle she waged on his behalf in partnership with the defense lawyer Catharine O’Daniel. This disturbing story of coerced confession and delayed justice is compassionately told, and Caldwell’s account of the trial is riveting” … “revealing in harrowing detail the inherent danger of being a black man in a vulnerable neighborhood, where to live risks being convicted for living.”
–New York Times
“Caldwell’s personal and legal insight, along with her novelist’s flair, make her account of Mosley’s story, Long Way Home (Free Press, $26), a riveting read, exactly the kind of tale that seems destined for the big screen.”
–Time Out Chicago
“Lawyer/novelist triumphs … I have read hundreds of books and periodical features about wrongful arrests and wrongful convictions. Long Way Home is one of the best because Caldwell skillfully mixes the dramatic narrative of one case with pleasantly didactic passages about the inner workings of the criminal justice system; because she writes well (she is also a novelist), and because O’Daniel is such a fascinating heroine. Because of O’Daniel and Caldwell, Mosley’s wrongful arrest did not become a wrongful conviction — but just barely.”
“… a trifecta: part courtroom drama, part Eat, Pray, Love memoir, part social injustice expose. In it, she chronicles her efforts to free a Chicago man named Jovan Mosley, who awaited trial for six years for a 1999 murder he did not commit. But it’s also the story of a powerful friendship that carried the lawyer and her client through Caldwell’s subsequent divorce and Mosley’s ultimate release.”
“… a good kid from a bad neighborhood, 19-year-old Jovan Mosley had never been in trouble with the police before Aug. 6, 1999, when he was falsely accused of and arrested for participating in a fight that turned deadly. Though Mosley adamantly declared his innocence, Chicago police handcuffed him in an interrogation room for more than 24 hours, bullying him until the exhausted Mosley signed a confession. Loyola law professor and mystery novelist Caldwell (Red, White & Dead) recounts Mosley’s six-year stint in Chicago’s toughest county jail, awaiting a trial on a charge of first-degree murder, and her own emotional journey co-chairing his defense. After five years — during which two inept public defenders both advised Mosley to accept a plea bargain — Mosley’s plight came to the attention of top-notch Chicago defense attorney Catharine O’Daniel. She took on the case pro bono, recruiting Caldwell, a former civil litigator, to help with the complex trial. Caldwell eloquently evokes Mosley’s struggles to have faith in a justice system that had so obviously failed him.”
“So you think you would never confess to a murder you did not commit, that no innocent person would? Long Way Home will make you think again. Laura Caldwell’s riveting tale about Jovan Mosley’s false confession to a crime he had nothing to do with reads like a thriller, but it’s absolutely and frightfully true. This book will rattle your foundations.”
–David R. Dow, University of Houston law professor and author of The Autobiographer of an Execution
“Caldwell, a lawyer turned novelist (The Rome Affair, 2006, and the Izzy McNeil Mystery series), assisted O’Daniel with Jovan’s defense, and now expertly chronicles his harrowing experience in this taut real-life thriller. From Jovan’s arrest through his interrogation, incarceration, and trial, she creates a gripping portrait of a man wrongly accused, who, despite his experiences within a flawed justice system, maintained his sense of dignity and hope.”
“An absolute page turner, full of vitality and bristling with savvy insights about the workings of the criminal justice system.”
–Scott Christianson, author of Innocent: Inside Wrongful Conviction Cases
“Demonstrating exceptional skill as both writer and lawyer, Caldwell delivers a stunning indictment of a very flawed system. Compelling and brilliant.”
–Roger Ellory, award-winning author of A Quiet Belief In Angels
Long Way Home … is an inspirational tale of friendship and success when all seems lost.
–Women of Mystery