IF you've ever heard the sound of a broom on a shop floor, sweeping up right before closing time, you would have heard it in the raspy voice of Cook County Associate Judge Luciano Panici reading his decision in the Wrana case.
It wasn't crumbs or dust bits or sawdust from under the chopping block. Instead, he was sweeping accountability for one human life, and perhaps saving another life in the process.
"It is a tragedy whenever there is loss of life that follows a confrontation," Panici began, reading from his papers in a South Side voice, a voice like my own, our vowels aligned by neighborhood.
Panici had frowned from the moment he began presiding over the case. But on Wednesday he'd stopped frowning. He offered no admonition to the police officers involved.
And Taylor walked.
"The force used by Craig Taylor was not excessive," Panici said. "There was nothing reckless. There was nothing criminal about his actions."
There were five cops in Wrana's room at the Victory Centre assisted living facility. Wrana had a knife and a shoehorn and a cane. They had guns and a riot shield and Tasers and muscle and youth and that 12-gauge Mossberg pump-action police shotgun loaded with beanbag rounds.
They're called "less-lethal" rounds, since the rounds aren't designed to penetrate the skin and explode, but merely to thump the body and put it down. Police in Ferguson, Mo., are experimenting with similar technology, where anger and fire and protests and looting erupted after the police killing of Michael Brown.
But there were no protests for John Wrana, were there? World War II veterans didn't form up and scream. That's not their way. They're old and dying every day. And then there was that bit from Taylor's defense counsel, Terry Ekl, who said he was sick and tired of hearing about Wrana's war service.
Ekl is an excellent lawyer, one of the best around, with amazing skills of argument. He's so good he could argue a 5-pound chunk of bologna right through the smallest buttonhole on your lapel, and you wouldn't even taste it.
"I've heard enough about World War II," Ekl said during the trial. "It's nothing but an attempt to create more sympathy for Mr. Wrana."
But John Wrana didn't get any sympathy, did he? Not really.
He was old and delirious, suffering from a suspected urinary tract infection, which can lead to delusions. He didn't want to be taken to the hospital. He waved a knife and a shoehorn at cops. He swore at them. And they said they were afraid for their very lives.
They didn't give him sympathy. They didn't give him respect. And at trial, his service to his country was deemed irrelevant.
But they did give John Wrana something:
They gave him four beanbag rounds to the abdomen, chest and arms at a range of 6 to 8 feet, with Taylor racking rounds and pulling the trigger, pumping and firing and pumping and firing.
Part of the old man's intestinal wall ruptured, and he bled out.
In his decision, it was clear Judge Panici bought into the defense's argument that Wrana prompted his own death by refusing surgery that could have repaired the rupture.
True, Wrana refused it, personally and through his stepdaughter. But focusing on that alone is dealing with only half the truth of the situation.
Wrana had asked the doctor if he could be guaranteed he wouldn't end up on a ventilator in a vegetative state, and the stepdaughter has told me that the doctor would not make that guarantee.
So John Wrana said to let him go. And that's what they did. They let him go. He didn't want it that way. But he didn't want to end his days with tubes down his throat.
But in court and out of it, I got the sense from the legal experts that Wrana had killed himself.
If only he'd obeyed officers. If only he hadn't become angry when they shot the Taser at him and failed. If only he hadn't waved that knife or the shoehorn that the terrified cops thought was the machete of a jungle ninja warrior.
If only. If only.
Then maybe they wouldn't have shot him down in his own room and then handcuff him to a chair and taken photos of him bleeding on the carpet.
The problem with this case from the beginning was that Taylor was alone in court. But he wasn't alone in Wrana's room.
They were other cops with him, formed up in "stack" formation behind the guy with the riot shield, so they could rush the old man two weeks shy of his 96th birthday, that deadly ninja who terrified them so.
By charging only Taylor, and not his superior, the whole thing seemed unfair.
I didn't want Taylor to go to prison.
But I don't think he should be a police officer — any more than the commander who set up the stupid attack plan.
A guilty verdict could have ruined Taylor's life, and those of his wife and children, and I didn't want that either.
But there's got to be some accountability for what happened to John Wrana.
And there is none.
All accountability, all official shame, all official sorrow, it was all just swept away, by those broom stalks in Judge Panici's voice. And that's the tragedy.
No Police Accountability in Police Shooting of WWII Vet, 95