Homewood man innocent in attempted murder case; hopes to move on
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2012 11:08AM
Chuck Carnes stands with his son Matthew Cranes after Matthew was found innocent of attempted murder charges in Homewood, Illinois, Thursday, October 18, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:54AM
The longest 4 1/2 years of Matthew Carnes’ life came to an end Thursday.
A Cook County judge declared the Homewood man innocent of attempted murder charges in a case in which the alleged victim and a key witness against Carnes were relatives of the then-police chief of Chicago Heights, the site of the incident.
“I was kind of in shock,” Carnes said of hearing the verdict. “It’s been so long with this on my back. It’s relieving, and at the same time, it’s unbelievable.”
Carnes, now 30, was accused of using a knife to slice the neck of William Murphy during a late-night fight at the Tender Trap, 109 N. Halsted St. in Chicago Heights.
William Murphy is the nephew of Anthony Murphy, who was Chicago Heights’ police chief at the time of the incident in March 2008.
Anthony Murphy’s son, Michael Murphy, was a key witness in the case and also was involved in the fight.
Anthony Murphy now is a Bloom Township High School District 206 Board member. His brother, John, also worked in the police department’s administration at the time of the incident.
Carnes’ attorney, former Cook County assistant state’s attorney Frank Cece, argued that the Murphys’ deep roots in the Chicago Heights police department clouded the investigation — an allegation that Cook County Circuit Court Judge Brian Flaherty noted in his final thoughts on the case.
“The first question I had is, ‘Why would the Chicago Heights police continue with the investigation when the chief’s son is involved in it?’ ” Flaherty said. “I view it suspiciously based on that fact.”
He said the case should have been turned over to the Illinois State Police.
Carnes, dressed in a gray shirt and a black suit and tie, let out a deep breath when he heard the verdict. Courtroom spectators grumbled that Carnes got lucky.
As the Carnes family walked out of the courtroom, his sister, Amorena, threw her arms around him and cried. Matthew’s father, Chuck, hugged him in the hallway.
Carnes, a union carpenter, said he was unsure of his future. The years of waiting for the trial made it tough for him to move on, he said.
“It’s what you worry about every day,” Carnes said. “Every minute of every day.”
Carnes said he has been working side construction and carpentry jobs while the case inched along. Now that it’s settled, he wants to leave the south suburbs. He may enlist in the military.
“I’m happy it’s over,” Carnes said. “I can finally get on with my life.”
He said one thing he won’t do is go out drinking in the south suburbs.
“Never,” Carnes said. “You’ll never see me. You won’t see me at any bar in Homewood, Flossmoor or Chicago Heights ever again. I don’t need any of that. It’s not me.”
The fight that led to Carnes being charged started after Michael Murphy got kicked out of the Tender Trap. He returned to the bar, triggering a brawl that erupted in the parking lot. As the fight went on, according to testimony and as seen in a security video, Michael Murphy drove a car into Carnes’ brother, Derek, who rolled across the hood but landed on his feet.
“They got into a vehicle and they ran down my client’s brother in the parking lot,” Cece said during Thursday’s hearing. “Not only did they run him down, but they came back for more.”
Cece called it a “tragic situation” and said when Carnes pulled out a knife, he was acting like anyone in that situation would.
Further defending Carnes’ actions, Cece referenced the intimidating presence of Michael Murphy’s friend, Jason Baksas, a former semiprofessional football player who stood 6-foot-7 and weighed 315 pounds, according to a team roster.
“He’s a massive human being,” Cece said. “You see him (on the surveillance video from that night) knocking out two, three people with just one punch.”
Chicago Heights police officer Daniel Riegler, who worked the case as a detective, was the only witness to testify Thursday. Examining evidence introduced by Cook County assistant state’s attorney Robert Holland, Riegler confirmed a knife was the one Carnes allegedly swung at William Murphy, and that a hand saw was one Carnes brandished during the brawl but did not use.
During closing statements, Holland recapped the events of the brawl, at one point gripping the hand saw, mimicking Carnes on that night.
“You cannot use deadly force to stop aggravated battery,” Holland said. “This is a situation fueled by alcohol and testosterone. It was a bar fight by willing combatants. ... the defendant introduced weapons into the fight.”
In previous testimony, William and Michael Murphy and Baksas all testified that although William Murphy’s neck was cut, they didn’t see who was wielding the blade.
A statement Carnes made to police after the brawl was tossed out at a prior hearing, as Flaherty agreed with Cece that Carnes had been arrested without probable cause.
After about an hour of arguments and testimony Thursday, Flaherty declared Carnes innocent of the charges, but said no one in the case — including the Murphys and Baksas — was truly innocent.
A few things have changed since the incident. John Murphy recently was named the Prairie State College police chief; Michael Murphy was paroled in January after serving almost six months at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center for buying a kilo of fake cocaine from an undercover agent in a Matteson parking lot in July 2009.
Cece called it a career case for him because he spent so much time and effort on it.
“It’s been a long road,” he said.