[Ppnews] New hearings sought in Chicago police torture case

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 10 15:13:28 EDT 2011

New hearings sought in Chicago police torture case


By KAREN HAWKINS - Associated Press | AP – 1 hr 52 mins ago

CHICAGO (AP) ­ Fifteen incarcerated men who claim 
they were sent to prison by confessions that were 
beaten, burned and tortured out of them by 
convicted Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge and his 
officers are getting some high-profile help ­ 
including from a former Illinois governor.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Wednesday 
with the Illinois Supreme Court, ex-Gov. Jim 
Thompson and more than 60 current and former 
prosecutors, judges and lawmakers are asking for 
new evidentiary hearings for inmates who say 
their convictions were based on coerced confessions.

The brief marks the first effort on behalf of 
alleged Burge victims as a group and not separate 
individual cases, attorneys said.

Burge's name has become synonymous with police 
abuse in the nation's third-largest city, and 
more than 100 men ­ most of them African-American 
and Latino­ have alleged Burge and his men 
tortured them from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Burge was convicted last year of lying about 
whether he ever witnessed or participated in the 
torture of suspects. He's serving a 4 1/2-year 
sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.

Burge has never faced criminal charges for abuse. 
He was fired from the police department in 1993 
over the 1982 beating and burning of Andrew 
Wilson, a suspect later convicted of killing two police officers.

The brief "gives the Illinois Supreme Court the 
opportunity to finally and firmly repudiate the 
Burge era of the Chicago Police Department," said 
Thompson, a former Republican Illinois governor and U.S. attorney.

Lawyers filed the brief in the case of Stanley 
Wrice, an inmate who has been claiming since 1982 
that he falsely confessed to a brutal sexual 
assault only after Burge's officers beat him in 
the face and groin with a flashlight and a piece of rubber.

Wrice, 57, is serving a 100-year sentence. 
Attorneys say he's one of the longest-serving 
inmates with a Burge torture claim.

Each of Wrice's attempts for a new hearing had 
been turned down until December, when the 
appellate court granted him a new evidentiary 
hearing. Prosecutors looking to block the hearing 
asked the Illinois Supreme Court to take the case, and the justices agreed.

At issue before the high court is whether a 
coerced confession can ever be considered 
"harmless error" in a criminal trial, attorneys 
said. The special prosecutor's office that's 
handling Wrice's case has argued that a 
conviction could stand ­ even if it involved a 
coerced confession ­ if the person could have 
been proven guilty without the confession.

Wrice's case has gone farther than any other 
current claim involving Burge, and other inmates 
are either awaiting decisions or have given up, attorneys say.

The brief asks the high court to: order 
prosecutors to identify each inmate who claims 
their confession was coerced by Burge or his men; 
appoint lawyers to inmates who need them; order 
evidentiary hearings in the cases; and to order 
the Cook County Circuit Court to vacate the 
convictions of inmates whose convictions were based on coerced confessions.

Justices "have an opportunity to take control of 
this problem and to fix it," said attorney Locke 
Bowman, who plans to file the brief. He's 
represented several alleged torture victims who 
have been freed from prison and have civil suits pending against Burge.

The brief's signers include both attorneys and 
advocates who have represented alleged Burge 
victims as well as former prosecutors, judges and 
politicians who have rarely, if ever, publicly weighed in on the Burge case.

"This brief is a group of non-usual suspects 
coming forward to implore the court to seize the 
opportunity to declare emphatically that torture 
has no place in our criminal justice system," 
said Bowman, legal director of the MacArthur 
Justice Center at Northwestern University.

Former U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan said he 
signed on to stop the piecemeal approach the 
Burge cases have taken in the past.

"I feel that it's important that there be a full 
judicial examination of what went on ... not case by case," Sullivan said.

Heidi Lambros, one of Wrice's attorneys, said the 
friend-of-the-court brief was signed by "some 
heavy hitters" to help demonstrate an outside perspective on the case.

She said she is also pleased with a brief filed 
Tuesday by students working with the Chicago 
Innocence Project, who got affidavits from 
witnesses in the Wrice case saying they were tortured into implicating him.

Thompson said that while the hearings will take 
time and money, "the end is worth it."

The Supreme Court could hear oral arguments in 
Wrice's case as early as mid-September.


Karen Hawkins can be reached at www.twitter.com/khawkinsAP

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