Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010
By: Karen Hawkins, Associated Press
CHICAGO — A decorated former Chicago police lieutenant accused of suffocating, shocking and beating confessions out of scores of suspects was convicted Monday of federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges for lying about the torture.
Former Lt. Jon Burge, whose name has become synonymous with police brutality and abuse of power in the country's third-largest city, did not react as the guilty verdicts were read. But several attorneys who have represented Burge's alleged victims celebrated outside the courtroom, hugging each other and calling colleagues to deliver the news.
"I'm very happy and I'm very gratified," said attorney Flint Taylor. "Not for myself but (for) all of the people who have fought so long and so hard to bring it to the point that it is today."
None of Burge's lawyers or supporters spoke to reporters after the verdict. He will remain free on bond until his Nov. 5 sentencing, when he faces up to 45 years in prison.
For decades, dozens of suspects – almost all of them black men – claimed Burge and his officers tortured them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said "a message needs to go out that that conduct is unacceptable" and asked others who feel they have evidence of torture to come forward. He wouldn't comment on specific cases but said the investigation into torture at the hands of Chicago police remains open, hinting at the possibility more former officers could be charged.
Fitzgerald also said it was sad that it took until 2010 for it to be proven in a courtroom that torture once occurred in Chicago police stations. More than 100 victims have said the torture started in the 1970s and persisted until the 1990s at police stations on the city's South and West sides.
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan released four condemned men from death row in 2003 after Ryan said Burge had extracted confessions from them using torture. The four later reached a $20 million settlement with the city.
The allegations of torture and coerced confessions eventually led to a still-standing moratorium on Illinois' death penalty and the emptying of death row – moves credited with re-igniting the global fight against capital punishment. But they also earned Chicago a reputation as a haven for rogue cops, a place where police could abuse suspects without notice or punishment.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was Cook County state's attorney when many Burge-related cases were under investigation and in court. City Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said when Burge was charged that Daley had given a sworn statement to special prosecutors investigating Burge. Daley hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing.
"I was very proud of my role as prosecutor, I was not the mayor, I was not the police chief, I did not promote this man in the 80s, so let's put everything into perspective," Daley said in a statement at the time. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 over the alleged mistreatment of a suspect, but he never was criminally charged in that case or any other, leading to widespread outrage in Chicago's black neighborhoods. The community anger intensified when Burge moved to Florida on his police pension and his alleged victims remained in prison. It wasn't immediately clear how Monday's verdict would affect the pension and no message could be left at a telephone number for the police department's pension board.
Chicago police declined to comment on the verdict. The Fraternal Order of Police said in statement that "hopefully this brings closure to this long-standing dispute," though that seemed unlikely given Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation.
In 2006, a special prosecutor's report found dozens of men had credible claims of abuse but that the statute of limitations had run out on any relevant crimes. It wasn't until Burge's 2008 indictment that any officer was criminally charged in relation to the alleged torture.
Burge was charged with lying about the alleged torture in a lawsuit filed by former death row inmate Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death for a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son, and pardoned by Ryan.
Hobley claimed detectives put a plastic typewriter cover over his head to make it impossible for him to breathe. Burge denied knowing anything about the "bagging," or taking part in it. The indictment against Burge never said Hobley was tortured, but that Burge lied with respect to participating in or knowing of any torture under his watch.
Burge testified in his own defense at the four-week trial, denying he ever physically abused suspects or witnessed any other officers doing so. Prosecutors presented testimony from five men who said Burge and officers under his command held plastic bags over their heads, shocked them with electric current and put loaded guns in their mouths during the 1970s and 1980s to elicit confessions.
The testimony of those men echoed what others have long said: Black men suspected of crimes didn't leave interrogation rooms at Chicago's Area 2 police station until they told detectives what they wanted to hear.
Mark Clements, who claims Burge's officers tortured him into giving a false confession in 1981 when he was 16 but did not testify at the trial, called Monday a "sad day in Chicago."
"I sat in a prison cell, and I prayed for this day," Clements said, tears pouring down his face and his voice echoing throughout the courthouse lobby. "Today is a victory for every poor person."
Associated Press Writer Serena Dai contributed to this report.