The Chicago Syndicate: Hanhardt Seeks to Overturn Conviction

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hanhardt Seeks to Overturn Conviction

Friends of mine: William Hanhardt

A legendary former Chicago police deputy superintendent serving 12 years in prison for heading a sophisticated jewelry theft ring is seeking to overturn his 2001 conviction, arguing he was mentally unfit to plead guilty days after a suicide attempt.

In a federal lawsuit, William Hanhardt contends his lawyers at the time were incompetent for pushing him to plead guilty despite the fact that "my emotions were completely overwhelmed."

Hanhardt, 78 and said to be suffering from a long list of medical woes, also sought to be moved to a prison camp closer to his family.

U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle sentenced Hanhardt to almost 16 years in prison in 2002 for heading a mob-connected crew that used pinpoint timing and meticulous planning to steal millions of dollars of jewels from traveling salesmen. After a federal appeals court took issue with a part of the sentence, Norgle resentenced Hanhardt in 2004 to 11 years and 9 months in prison.

Hanhardt's guilty plea was postponed after he tried to commit suicide by overdosing on prescribed painkillers. The following week, Hanhardt pleaded guilty "blind" -- without a plea agreement with prosecutors.

In the federal lawsuit, filed Monday, Hanhardt's lawyer, Jeffrey Steinback, argued that Hanhardt was denied his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel when his lawyers pressed ahead with the guilty plea despite the suicide attempt. The suit contends that the lawyers ignored the concerns of Hanhardt's family that he needed psychological help and didn't want to plead guilty.

At the time of his guilty plea and sentencing, Hanhardt had little to say publicly. But in a four-page affidavit made part of his lawsuit, he said he participated in and witnessed "many dreadful and horrific" events in his more than three decades on the police force. "I regularly experience flashbacks to this day, which evoke powerful and, at times, overwhelming emotions," he wrote.

Since he was imprisoned, Hanhardt has been diagnosed by a psychologist as suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuit.

In his early days on the force, when counseling wasn't available after a deadly incident, Hanhardt states in the affidavit that he regularly drank after work to "take the edge off."

Eventually, he mixed alcohol and prescription painkillers and then began seeing a psychiatrist, Hanhardt states.

A few years ago, Hanhardt said he learned on separate occasions from the FBI that certain members of the Chicago Police Department and organized crime wanted him killed. "The pressures, past and present, overwhelmed my cognitive and emotional faculties," Hanhardt's affidavit states. "In short, my internal defenses were breaking down. I was unable to make rational decisions as to my future."

Steinback also said Hanhardt has battled testicular cancer and congestive heart failure, prostate and chronic back problems and an arthritic knee and severe hearing loss, virtually immobilizing him and leaving him in severe pain.

Steinback asked Norgle to review a ruling he made that has kept prison officials from moving Hanhardt to a federal prison camp in Oxford, Wis., so he can be closer to his family. Hanhardt is incarcerated in Minnesota.

Thanks to Matt O'Connor

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