This much is well-known: Detectives under the direction of Commander Jon Burge used torture–or, in the words of the city of Chicago’s own lawyers, “savage torture”–to get confessions from suspects. The pattern of complaints indicates that the method was first deployed in 1973. The last alleged incident was in 1991. Ninety people are known to have complained of abuse, their charges including electric shock, suffocation, burnings, attacks on the genitals, severe beating, and mock executions. Four of the men on this list were awaiting execution until they were pardoned by Governor George Ryan, who believed they were innocent. The sentences of seven other alleged victims were commuted to life imprisonment when Ryan emptied death row.
Among the many mysteries surrounding the torture cases, one question looms large. Where were the prosecutors? Could a torture ring exist for nearly two decades without anyone in the state’s attorney’s office noticing? A state’s attorney who looked the other way as a false confession was extracted would share responsibility for both the imprisonment of an innocent man and the subsequent crimes of the guilty man. Police allowed by prosecutors to torture would likely torture again and inspire other officers to do the same–for torture yields fast if not always accurate results. Did state’s attorneys look the other way in Cook County? Did their office know–or have good reason to suspect–that torture was deployed under Jon Burge’s command?
Because no government agency has shown any interest in trying to document precisely when the abuse began, naming the first torture victim is impossible. There is a clear starting point, however, for any modern-day investigator, a case in February 1982. State’s attorney Richard M. Daley and his first assistant, Richard Devine, had then been on the job for more than a year. On February 9, Andrew Wilson, 29, a felon on parole, was traveling in a brown Chevy Impala with his brother Jackie when they were pulled over by gang crimes officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien. What had probably begun as a routine traffic stop ended with Andrew shooting both policemen dead. Witnesses told police that one man had done the shooting and another had driven the car, which was described in some detail.
The five-day manhunt was directed by Burge, the violent crimes commander in Area Two. It dominated the news. Mayor Jane Byrne offered a $50,000 reward and met with Burge during the investigation. A now retired Area Two detective who took part in the dragnet told the Reader that “there were a million volunteers….Normally you’d have 15 to 20 violent crimes guys on duty. Now you’ve got not only them, you’ve got the property crimes guys, the gang crimes guys. Detectives from Area One were there. The brass was there because it was such a heater case….My partner and I worked 36 hours straight. Burge had to send someone to his house to get clean socks and a shirt. He didn’t go home.”
The detective said, “It was a reign of terror. I don’t know what Kristallnacht was like, but this was probably close.” Complaints were widespread, with Jesse Jackson saying that the community was living “under military occupation.” The former detective blamed much of the abuse on the gang crimes unit. “They’re a lot of brawn, not much brains. I mean, I see these guys, I went to school with them, I like them, but they’re not too smart. Their idea is you go out and pick up 2,000 pounds of nigger and eventually you’ll get the right one.”
It wasn’t the dragnet and its excesses that cracked the case but civilian cooperation. A witness to the shooting picked out a mug shot of a man named Donald White. White hadn’t been involved with the shootings, but by coincidence he knew the Wilson brothers and provided incriminating information about them. That tallied with the report of a car repairman who had been asked to repaint the Wilsons’ car and who recognized it as matching the description of the vehicle used by the killers.
At 5:15 AM on Sunday, February 14, Burge and a group of Area Two detectives and gang crimes officers arrested Andrew Wilson without firing a shot. His brother was arrested three hours later. Both Wilsons were brought to Area Two, and apparently confessed to detectives not long after. From that time on, the state’s attorney’s office seems to have made a determined effort to avoid any knowledge of what happened to Andrew Wilson in the custody of Burge and his detectives.
Assistant state’s attorney Larry Hyman, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has testified that at around 7 or 8 AM he received a call from a detective telling him to come to Area Two. Supervisor of the felony review unit, Hyman was an experienced prosecutor who knew how to take a statement from a suspect, and he’d gotten involved in the investigation soon after the shooting. He said he arrived at Area Two at about 8:30 AM, and two of Burge’s detectives told him that Wilson had confessed. The prosecutor called for a court reporter, who arrived at about 10 AM.
Nothing seals a guilty verdict tighter than a confession taken by a state’s attorney and a court reporter. According to the detectives, Wilson was ready and willing to make one. Every moment’s delay, however, put that statement at greater risk. Wilson might change his mind; he might decide to ask for a lawyer. Yet Hyman waited eight hours and five minutes before taking the statement. In the estimated two hours between the time the court reporter arrived and the time Hyman went in to talk to Jackie Wilson, the prosecutor seems to have accomplished little other than a few phone calls to make sure that Jackie was brought to Area Two. Jackie’s statement ended at 12:43 PM, and at that point Hyman was again free to take Andrew Wilson’s statement. He didn’t. He finally sat down with Andrew and the court reporter at 6:05 PM, which was 13 hours after the shooter’s arrest.
The first time the felony review supervisor was asked to explain this lengthy delay–at a November 1982 hearing on a motion to suppress Wilson’s confession–Hyman could come up with no reasonable explanation for it. “I don’t know why I didn’t. I just got caught up in what was going on….It was like, now Jackie was there. And I just went to talk to Jackie first.” Seven years later, Hyman said he interviewed Jackie and another witness first so he’d have evidence to confront Andrew with should the killer deny his role.
Andrew Wilson’s description of the day might help to explain Hyman’s inaction. Wilson would testify that after his arrest he was brought to Area Two, led to a room, and set upon by about a dozen officers. He testified that they tightened a plastic garbage bag over his head, cutting off his air supply, and that in his panic he bit through the bag. He was then slammed into a window, which broke, and thrown to the floor and beaten and kicked. While he was on the floor, he said, a policemen kicked him in the eye. Commander Burge would testify that Wilson’s eye injury occurred as he was being arrested, but this was contradicted by deputy superintendent Joseph McCarthy, who’d held Wilson by the arm during the arrest. McCarthy said he saw no injury to Wilson and nothing the suspect could have hit his eye on.
Wilson said that during the beating and kicking one of the officers ran a lit cigarette across his arm, and that on entering the room Burge said something on the order of “If it had been me, I wouldn’t have messed up his face.” Wilson claimed he was then taken to an interrogation room and handcuffed to a ring in the wall. He said Detective John Yucaitis came in carrying a brown bag, from which he extracted a “black box”–this would have been an electric torture device, similar to a field telephone, that generates current when a crank is turned. Yucaitis allegedly attached alligator clips to Wilson’s left ear and left nostril and then turned the crank. The torture session was short, Wilson later testified, “because I was hollering too much….I was making too much noise to where they knocked on the door and he stopped.” In this account, Yucaitis left the room and some time later Detective Patrick O’Hara entered and brought the suspect to another office to meet Larry Hyman. Wilson said he told Hyman, “You want me to make a statement after they been torturing me?” and Hyman responded, “Get the jagoff out of here.”
According to Wilson, he was tortured again that afternoon. He said Burge came in with the brown bag, announced “fun time,” and attached alligator clips to Wilson’s ears. Burge turned the crank, Wilson said, and though he couldn’t yell because his teeth were grinding, he managed to knock the clips off his ears by pressing them against his shoulders. He said Burge and another detective changed his position so that he was handcuffed to rings on opposite walls, a position that forced his chest up against a radiator. Wilson said Burge then shocked him with the black box and with another device resembling a curling iron that he rubbed up and down Wilson’s thighs and jammed into his back. According to Wilson, the force of the shock slammed him into the grille, and he put his face down on the radiator and spat blood.
After that, Wilson said, he was taken to Area One for a lineup. There Burge allegedly put a gun in Wilson’s mouth and told him that if he made a statement he wouldn’t be shocked again. Wilson said that after the lineup he was taken back to Area Two headquarters, where he gave his confession to Hyman and a court reporter.
Photographs taken of Wilson after he arrived at the Cook County Jail add credibility to his account. They show his ears and nose marked by patterned puncture marks consistent with the shape of an alligator clip. His chest and face carry parallel marks that the late Dr. Robert Kirschner, former deputy medical examiner for Cook County, would testify were second-degree burns consistent with the radiators in use at Area Two. The photograph of Wilson’s right thigh shows a much larger burn. The injury to his eye turned out to be a corneal abrasion, which Kirschner described as extremely painful.
Wilson’s account also gains credibility from Hyman’s behavior. The media had been reporting widespread complaints of police brutality during the manhunt, and when Hyman sat down with Wilson at Area Two, the prisoner’s face bore obvious marks. Hyman later testified that there was an open cut above Wilson’s right eye, that the eye was red, and that Wilson kept dabbing at it with a wet towel. Hyman said a detective had told him Wilson was injured during his arrest and had declined medical treatment.
Sitting there with Wilson, Hyman could certainly foresee one course this case might take: the injuries to Wilson’s face showing up in the postconfession Polaroid and the suspect filing a motion to suppress the confession. His injuries, coupled with a lack of documentation that medical care had been offered, would support his claim that his confession had been coerced.
Hyman might have asked two questions to protect the confession. One was “Have you been offered medical care?” If Wilson admitted it was offered, excellent. If he denied it, prosecutors could later produce a police report claiming the offer had been extended and rejected. A judge or jury would surely believe the detectives over the word of a career criminal like Wilson.
But Hyman didn’t ask the question. (And despite the great care with which the final 20-page police report was later written, it contains no mention of an offer of medical care.) Nor did he ask if the confession was being given voluntarily. This question is standard practice. Less than three hours earlier, Hyman had taken a court-reported statement from Derrick Martin, who’d been in the car with the Wilson brothers until a short time before the murders. To Martin, Hyman posed a boilerplate version of the “voluntariness” question:
Hyman: “The statement that you gave here today, you have given it to us voluntarily under your own free will?”
Martin: “Yes, I have.”
“Voluntariness” questions are usually perfectly safe to ask–even if a statement has been coerced–because a detective typically sits in the room with the state’s attorney taking the confession. An abused suspect will not want to risk further ill-treatment by raising the subject of abuse in front of a detective who was a party to it. But when Hyman sat down with Andrew Wilson, he failed to ask if he was confessing voluntarily. And he didn’t ask Andrew’s brother Jackie, who’d later allege that officers had threatened him with electric shock, slapped him, and placed a gun in his mouth.
How unusual was this? The Reader polled 14 defense attorneys with a combined 213 years of experience and a total of more than 950 murder cases under their belts. They were asked if they’d ever seen a prosecutor make a similar omission. None had. William Kunkle, who prosecuted Wilson and later defended Burge, said in a recent interview that Hyman was indeed supposed to ask the question. Kunkle speculated that Hyman failed to do so because he was a supervisor, not in the trenches daily. But Hyman had done a stint in felony review before becoming the unit’s supervisor. Could he forget to ask this most crucial question of Jackie Wilson, remember to ask it of witness Derrick Martin, and forget again when he sat down with Andrew Wilson, all in the same afternoon?
After signing his confession, Andrew Wilson was taken in a squadrol to the police lockup at 11th and State. When the lockup keeper saw his injuries he refused to accept him, not wanting to be held responsible. The wagon men, police officers Mario Ferro and William Mulvaney, went on to Mercy Hospital, where Officer Mulvaney was able to bring Wilson’s examination to an end by pulling his revolver and refusing to holster it, causing the doctor to walk out and Wilson to decline further medical treatment.
The following day, Wilson was photographed at the county jail and examined by Dr. John Raba, medical director of Cermak Hospital, the hospital that treats jail inmates. Afterward, Raba wrote a letter to police superintendent Richard Brzeczek; he noted Wilson’s condition and his story of electric shock and urged the police to investigate.
Brzeczek forwarded the letter to state’s attorney Richard Daley. In his cover letter, Brzeczek asked for advice on how to proceed–he had publicly promised a scrupulous investigation of every allegation of police misconduct, but he was wary of jeopardizing Wilson’s prosecution. In 1989 Daley told the Reader through his press secretary that he hadn’t answered that letter but had tried to respond to Wilson’s complaints through his Special Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, the unit assigned to investigate the use of excessive force by police officers. Daley said that because Wilson’s attorney– public defender Dale Coventry–declined to cooperate, the investigation came to an end.
It’s not unusual for a defense attorney to keep his client away from the state’s attorney’s office, particularly when that office would like to put the client to death. Anything that Wilson might say, the slightest inconsistency (a left turn instead of a right, for example), could be used against him in his criminal trial. Coventry admitted that he wouldn’t cooperate. He also told the Reader that he expected nothing from the state’s attorney but a whitewash; his clients were “thumped” all the time by police and no one ever did anything about it.
Was the state’s attorney’s office stymied at not having Andrew Wilson to question? Investigations don’t usually come to a halt when the victim is unavailable for interview–consider, for example, the many victims of crimes who are dead. Andrew Wilson did tell his story under oath at a hearing on a motion to suppress his confession; that transcript was available–as were medical records from Mercy Hospital, photographs of Wilson’s injuries, and the testimony of Wilson’s handcuffed neighbor at Area Two, who said she’d heard him screaming. If all that–on top of Larry Hyman’s unusual performance and the letters from Brzeczek and Raba–weren’t enough to make the special prosecutions unit consider an investigation, it’s difficult to imagine what would have been.
Furthermore, it might have dawned on someone in special prosecutions that if Burge and his detectives had put a gun in a prisoner’s mouth, shocked him with electrical devices, and suffocated him with a plastic bag, it might not have been the first time. As it turned out, a simple intraoffice inquiry–a quick survey of assistant state’s attorneys who’d been assigned to Area Two cases–would likely have turned up other torture cases from the months and years before Wilson was arrested, cases featuring electric shock, suffocation, attacks on the genitals, and/or mock executions with a gun. Certainly an investigation could then have gone ahead without Wilson’s cooperation. And if it showed signs of being serious, Wilson might eventually have come on board.
In Chicago, however, the established procedure for an excessive-force investigation calls for the police department’s Office of Professional Standards to take the complaint, investigate the charge, and, if the charge is sustained, recommend an administrative punishment. Punishments range from one day’s suspension to separation from the force. In a typical year, OPS sustains between 6 and 9 percent of its cases, and an untold number (no one keeps track) of those are overturned on appeal. Last year 2,763 excessive-force complaints were filed, and 140 (about 5 percent) were sustained by OPS.
OPS is also supposed to forward potentially prosecutable cases to the state’s attorney’s office. In practice, this has been something of a farce. In the decade from 1993 through the end of last year, 28,576 complaints of excessive force were filed with OPS, the vast majority of them for on-duty behavior. The Reader asked state’s attorney Devine to name a Chicago police officer prosecuted for using excessive force on duty in the past ten years. In a written response, John Gorman, Devine’s communications director, named none. He cited Chicago police officers prosecuted for off-duty behavior and corruption, but no one who’d been prosecuted for brutality on the job.
Until fairly recently, neither agency kept records of the number of complaints forwarded by OPS to the state’s attorney’s office for prosecution. According to Lori Lightfoot, who became chief administrator of OPS last August, a formalized process was instituted by her predecessor, Callie Baird, and OPS now sends the state’s attorney’s office the most serious complaints within 24 hours of receiving them. “We typically send them cases where there has been serious injury, hospitalization, broken bone, serious laceration,” Lightfoot said in a recent interview. “And they obviously review all the shooting cases and any other case that we believe to be of a serious nature that may or may not fall into those other kinds of specific protocol.” According to Lightfoot, more than 400 cases have been sent since January 1, 1999. One prosecution has resulted, but it was for off-duty behavior.
These numbers suggest that the Chicago police officer who beats or tortures on duty has de facto immunity from criminal prosecution. So it may be unfair to blame Daley’s state’s attorney’s office for failing to investigate Andrew Wilson’s allegations. His case may not have been singled out for deliberate suppression. It may simply have received the same treatment the state’s attorney accorded every complaint of brutality by on-duty Chicago police.
The Wilson case had a mysterious passage through the Office of Professional Standards. OPS was then directed by Frank Nolan, a former assistant state’s attorney. Although Superintendent Brzeczek had personally ordered OPS to open a file on Wilson’s charges, no one actually investigated them. OPS investigator Keith Griffiths testified in federal court in 1989 that the Wilson file landed on his desk a year and a half after Wilson’s interrogation. It contained a few letters and some transcripts from the hearing on Wilson’s motion to suppress his confession, but there was no name of the person who had assembled this material and nothing to indicate that anyone from OPS had ever looked into the case. Griffiths was told to “write a summary,” which meant reach a conclusion on the charges based on the file’s contents.
No one told him to give the case high priority, nor did anyone ever ask about it. His finding of “not sustained” meant that he could make no judgment either way.
The torturers at Area Two appear to have gone on something of a spree after the Wilson case. More than 30 men interrogated at Area Two in the five years after Wilson’s arrest would claim they were tortured. They complained of electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags and typewriter covers, beatings with flashlights, attacks on the genitals, and gun-to-the-head games. They named a small core of Area Two detectives–approximately 20, including several who appear to have played minor roles as informed bystanders. At the time Wilson was arrested, Burge supervised more than 60 sergeants and detectives in the violent crimes unit. Some of those officers followed him to Area Three after he was transferred there in 1987, and complaints of torture followed also.
Did no one in the state’s attorney’s office notice? What would have been done if someone had? Cortez Brown, James Cody, James Andrews, Sylvester Green, and Donald White all testified that they didn’t mention the torture to the ASAs who took their statements because they were afraid to. They feared that speaking to their ASA wouldn’t stop the abuse but lead to more.
Were these fears realistic? Consider the cases of Leonard Hinton, Leroy Orange, and Leonard Kidd.
Leonard Hinton testified on July 1, 1985, that after his arrest in 1983 he was beaten, suffocated with a plastic bag, shocked in the genitals, and denied access to a toilet for so long that he eventually urinated on the floor. On the witness stand he said that he’d told ASA Lori Levin that he’d been beaten, whereupon she left the room, the detectives returned, and he received another beating. He said Levin came back later and offered him a cigarette, but when he repeated that he’d been abused she left again and another torture session followed. Asked for comment, Levin, now supervisor of the state’s attorney’s Seniors and Persons With Disabilities Division, referred the question to Devine’s press spokesman. “We vehemently disagree with those allegations,” Jerry Lawrence said.
Leroy Orange testified on May 22, 1985, that during his 1984 interrogation “a guy came in. They told me he was from the state’s attorney’s office. And I started telling him that they had been beating me and sticking me with an electrical device and a plastic bag. And he said, ‘Just as I thought.’ And he left back out. And one of them [detectives] approached me and I turned to the wall. And he stuck his hand between my legs and said, “We can go through this all night if you want to.”
“What, if anything, did he do when he put his hands between your legs?” Orange was asked.
“Squeezed my testicles,” he said.
At about 3 AM, Orange agreed to confess to a quadruple murder. He went to prison and was recently pardoned by Governor Ryan.
Orange’s codefendant was his stepbrother Leonard Kidd. In an affidavit filed as part of his postconviction petition, Kidd said he was being tortured when felony review supervisor Dennis Dernbach came into the interrogation room. “I told him that the police were trying to kill me,” Kidd said in his affidavit. “The prosecutor said, ‘He’s not ready yet,’ and walked out.”
Dernbach, now a judge, might have had reason to be suspicious about the treatment of suspects at Area Two. Only six months earlier he’d represented the state at a hearing in the case of Alonzo Smith, who said he’d been beaten and “bagged” by Detective Peter Dignan and Sergeant John Byrne in the basement of Area Two. Dernbach was supervisor of felony review from 1983 to 1986. Before he moved to another position in the state’s attorney’s office, at least six other men arrested on his watch testified that they’d been shocked or suffocated; one more told his tale of abuse to OPS.
Judge Dernbach did not return calls for comment.
The idea that some felony review assistants had knowledge of abuse at Area Two and did nothing about it is entirely believable to former police superintendent Brzeczek. “Put it this way–I have never heard in my career in the police department, nor have I had it brought to my attention since I left the police department, that somebody from felony review reported that a prisoner was claiming abuse. I see a lot of incestual activity going on between felony review and the detective division. The state’s attorneys, instead of examining the situation and looking at it objectively, they basically take the police officer’s word for it, rubber-stamp it, and bang, that’s it. In felony review you have young assistants with limited experience, and you’ve got older, experienced detectives, and I think the assistants are intimidated. They both have the same objective in mind, putting people in jail.”
Juries, Brzeczek says, typically believe anyone charged by police must have committed the crime. “Juries are rubber-stamping this stuff and it is unbelievable.”
During Daley’s tenure as state’s attorney, the pattern of complaints against Area Two went unnoticed by the press. This isn’t particularly surprising, given the thousands of felony trials and the number of reporters assigned to the criminal courts (on a typical day the Tribune and Sun-Times had one reporter each at 26th and California). But in 1984, one case achieved brief notoriety–the quadruple murder attributed to Orange and Kidd.
Attorney Earl Washington initially represented both stepbrothers. About three weeks after their arrest, he filed a motion to have Judge John Crowley recused from the case. It was Crowley who’d heard Andrew Wilson’s claim of electric shock and bagging but refused to suppress his confession, and Washington said he intended to call Wilson as a witness. The filing of the recusal motion was reported by both the Sun-Times and the Tribune on February 9, 1984. Tribune reporter Andy Knott quoted Washington saying, “The black box got them.” Washington told Knott that the shock device was used to attack the genitals of suspects and that its use was increasing.
Crowley did recuse himself. The case was assigned to Judge Thomas Maloney, who declined to suppress Orange’s confession. (Maloney is now in prison for taking bribes.)
Washington seems to have been the first attorney to give public notice of a pattern of abuse–though he had no idea about the scope of the problem. What he told Knott didn’t spark an investigation, but it probably had an effect at Area Two. After the “black box” story hit the paper, the electrical devices there seem to have vanished. In the years that followed, allegations of torture at Area Two continued to roll in, but nobody claimed electric shock. An electrical device seems to have appeared once in 1991 at Area Three when Burge was in charge, but at Area Two electrical interrogation may have been banned.
With hindsight, it’s relatively easy to point to various occasions after Washington spoke out that might have prompted Daley’s office to explore torture allegations. In the case of Gregory Banks, Detective Dignan and Sergeant Byrne of Area Two claimed their prisoner had been injured trying to escape after his October 28, 1983, arrest–an escape attempt unmentioned in the arrest and interrogation reports. Under oath, the two officers gave contradictory testimony about the location of the alleged attempt. Dignan testified that he’d never before been accused of beating someone with a flashlight and suffocating him with a plastic bag. Defense attorneys produced documents showing he’d been accused of beating and bagging Lee Holmes only 13 months before Banks was arrested. Something was clearly being covered up.
Phillip Adkins claimed that after his June 7, 1984, arrest, he was beaten so badly by Area Two detectives that he defecated in his pants. After that happened, he said, police stripped him of the soiled clothing. The police report clearly states that Adkins was wearing jeans when arrested, while a TV cameraman filmed him arriving at Area Two wearing a pair of shorts. He was taken to Roseland Hospital’s emergency room, and then transferred to the trauma ward at Cook County Hospital. The city later settled a civil suit with him for $25,000.
On April 30, 1986, Aaron Patterson, a gang leader and the son of a Chicago police sergeant, was arrested by Area Two detectives. They’d allege that he confessed to a double murder, though no confession was signed. Photographs taken of the interrogation room would capture messages that Patterson said he’d carved into a bench and door frame with a paper clip. One said:
I lied about murders
Police threatened me with violence, slapped and suffocated me with plastic
Patterson insisted on speaking out at his May 2, 1986, bond hearing, despite the advice of a public defender that he keep his mouth shut because anything he said could be used against him. A bond hearing takes place after suspects leave police custody and before they are admitted to the county jail. It’s not a forum in which guilt or innocence is determined, and in most cases it lasts just a few minutes.
But Patterson was determined to speak. When Judge Frank Gembala allowed him to, he said that he’d been suffocated with a plastic bag and beaten, and that assistant state’s attorney Peter Troy had “physically abused me. He tried to force me to sign a written statement that he conjured up.” In a later pretrial hearing, Patterson would testify that he promised Troy he’d sign a confession if first he was allowed to make a phone call, but that after making the call he refused to do so. “Then he choked me,” Patterson told the court.
Troy denies it.
Once Patterson had said his piece at the bond hearing, Judge Gembala addressed the assistant state’s attorney present, Margaret Stanton-McBride. He told her, “You’re on notice…to conduct an investigation or whatever investigation you deem appropriate and proper given [Patterson’s] representations.” There was no investigation. Stanton-McBride, now a judge on the Illinois Appellate Court, did not return calls asking for comment. Patterson was pardoned in January by Governor Ryan.
On April 2, 1987, which was 11 months after Patterson’s bond hearing, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out Andrew Wilson’s conviction. The court said that the state had “failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that injuries sustained by defendant were not inflicted as a means of coercing his confession.” Wilson left death row, was retried, and, despite the lack of an admissible confession, was found guilty once again. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Richard Daley stepped down as state’s attorney after he was elected mayor in 1989. Daley’s office had been told on numerous occasions that Burge and some of the detectives under his command were torturing suspects. It had been put on notice by the Wilson case, by defense attorney Earl Washington’s public claims about the use of the “black box,” by repeated testimony linking a small number of detectives with unusual methods (a pattern likely to have revealed itself to assistant state’s attorneys who handled or supervised numerous cases), by Judge Gembala (who had ordered the inquiry in response to Patterson’s outcry), and by the Illinois Supreme Court’s assessment of the evidence in Wilson. None of this prompted an investigation.
The late Cecil Partee succeeded Daley as state’s attorney but served only a year before being voted out of office. Republican Jack O’Malley, a former Chicago police officer, became the county’s chief prosecutor on December 3, 1990. During both the Partee and the O’Malley administrations, the state was thoroughly informed, once again, about the pattern of accusations of torture. That education was primarily accomplished by Andrew Wilson.
Despite his obvious guilt in the murders of officers Fahey and O’Brien, Wilson persisted with a civil suit against the city and the police for the torture he’d endured at Area Two. It seemed a futile effort. He was a man who couldn’t read, who’d rarely held a job, who’d spent most of his adult life behind bars for armed robbery and other crimes. The man he named as his chief torturer–Jon Burge–had been decorated for bravery in the Vietnam war and earned many commendations during his police career.
In February 1989, with Wilson’s civil trial under way in federal court, a series of four anonymous letters began to arrive at the People’s Law Office (PLO), home to Wilson lawyers Flint Taylor, John Stainthorp, and Jeff Haas. The letters came in police department envelopes and were clearly written by someone with enough inside knowledge of Area Two to be able to set down a list of Burge allies (“Burge’s Asskickers”) and foes (“Weak links”). Addressing the Wilson case, the first letter said, “Several witnesses including the White’s were severely beaten at 1121 S State St in front of…the State’s Attorneys.” Assistant state’s attorneys Larry Hyman and Mike Angarola (now deceased) were both at police headquarters on the night in question.
The letter writer went on to say that Mayor Byrne and state’s attorney Daley were aware of the beatings, that the order had come down to not investigate the “numerous complaints filed against the police,” that some of the detectives at Area Two hated the Wilsons but were disgusted with what had been done to them. In the course of this correspondence, the anonymous author said that “the torture was not necessary,” that “your client was beat after he confessed because Burge and company were showing off,” that “the machines and the plastic bags” belonged to Burge, and that Burge encouraged their use.
The most important piece of the correspondence, however, was a tip to talk to Melvin Jones, then a Cook County Jail inmate. “When you speak with him, compare the dates from 1982 and you will see why it is important. You will also find that the States Attorney knew that he was complaining and that is why his charges were dropped then. That decision was made in the top levels at 26th and California.”
Wilson’s attorneys discovered that Jones, who had a lengthy rap sheet, had been arrested on suspicion of murder four days before officers Fahey and O’Brien were killed. At a hearing on August 5, 1982, on a motion to suppress an incriminating statement he gave, Jones testified that Burge had shocked him on the foot, thigh, and penis. He testified that Burge had tried to impress him by saying that two men whose street names were Satan and Cochise crawled on the floor when they received the same treatment. The judge suppressed Jones’s statement, not on the grounds that he’d been tortured but because his Miranda rights had been violated.
The PLO proceeded to track down Satan and Cochise, and they led the lawyers to other men who claimed they’d also been tortured. On May 11, 1989, the PLO filed a motion naming 27 alleged victims of electric shock, suffocation, attacks on the genitals, beating with flashlights, hanging by handcuffs, and other abuses. (The PLO’s list later grew to include more than 60 victims.) It was the first time anyone had suggested the size of the problem. The Tribune and Sun-Times didn’t mention the sudden appearance of what seemed a clear pattern of torture, but the Reader did in January 1990 (see “House of Screams” and subsequent articles archived on the Reader’s Web site). Not long after, David Fogel, chief administrator of the police department’s Office of Professional Standards, decided Area Two was worth a “special project.”
Mayor Harold Washington had appointed Fogel, formerly a professor of criminal justice and executive director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, to head OPS in June 1984. In a 1987 memo Fogel made a blistering assessment of the agency. Thirty percent of his investigators were incompetent, part of “a politically corrupt heritage of pre Washington days,” he wrote. “The troops love OPS….[It] actually operates to immunize police from internal discipline, increases their overtime,…and has institutionalized lying….OPS gives the appearance of formal justice, but actually helps to institutionalize subterfuge and injustice.”
In a 1994 interview with the Reader, Fogel said he didn’t bother going to the state’s attorney’s office with the charges against Area Two because that avenue was “hopeless.” (The Tribune had reported in 1992 that over the previous decade the state’s attorney’s office had mounted only two prosecutions of Chicago police officers for assaulting suspects.) Fogel instead took his information to the U.S. attorney’s office, where he met with prosecutor Andrea Zopp. Zopp concluded that Fogel was too late, that her hands were tied by the five-year statute of limitations on civil rights violations. PLO attorney Flint Taylor argued that a criminal conspiracy charge was possible, given certain acts by the police that in his view made a conspiracy ongoing. Zopp told the Reader in 1996 that she’d thought Taylor’s theory was “a stretch.”
Fogel turned finally to OPS. On March 27, 1990, he ordered investigator Francine Sanders to reopen the Andrew Wilson case and investigator Michael Goldston to determine whether there was a pattern of abuse at Area Two. Several months later, Sanders concluded that the police had indeed shocked and burned Wilson. Goldston concluded that “abuse did occur and it was systematic,” that it included “planned torture,” and that high-ranking officers (unnamed by Goldston) were aware of the abuse and had either participated or done nothing about it.
Police superintendent LeRoy Martin, who’d once been Burge’s supervisor at Area Two, sat on the reports for more than a year before asking the Police Board to conduct an inquiry. In the meantime, the city fought to keep the OPS reports from the public eye. The city lost that battle in February 1992, when U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur ordered them released. Upon publication, Mayor Daley dismissed them as mere allegations.
The Police Board is a body charged with sorting out employment issues, not with administering justice. When hearings in the case of Andrew Wilson began on February 10, 1992, the board’s members–men and women appointed by Mayor Daley–were charged with determining whether Jon Burge should remain on the force. It wasn’t their job to decide whether there’d been a torture ring at Area Two, how many people had been tortured, what the remedy should be, or whether the state’s attorney’s office had been informed of, let alone was a party to, the torture. Former assistant U.S. attorney Dan Reidy, hired by the city to act as prosecutor, concentrated on the evidence resulting from Wilson’s arrest, though he did call two other alleged torture victims to demonstrate a pattern. Melvin Jones testified about being shocked nine days before Wilson, and Shadeed a Mu’Min, arrested in October 1985, told of Burge suffocating him three times with a typewriter cover and putting a .44 Magnum to his head and pulling the trigger three times. In closing, Reidy argued that Larry Hyman’s actions supported Wilson’s claim of having been tortured. What else, Reidy asked, could explain Hyman’s failure to follow the manual for state’s attorneys and get a “voluntariness recitation”? What else explained Hyman’s failure to ask Wilson if he had been offered medical treatment? “Hyman could not take the risk of following good practice and procedure with that statement because he was afraid Andrew Wilson, if directly asked about the treatment that he had received at the hands of the police, would…tell the truth, that he had been tortured.”
On February 10, 1993, the Police Board handed down a decision peculiar for what it didn’t say. The board members mentioned the puncture marks on Wilson’s ears but offered no conclusions about how they got there. They declared that Wilson had been burned at Area Two but didn’t say who burned him. They cited Melvin Jones’s story of Burge’s electrical interrogation and said it was “particularly probative,” but they did not say that Burge had shocked anyone. They concluded that Burge “did…strike and/or kick and/or otherwise physically abuse or maltreat” Wilson, that Burge had not stopped men under his command from engaging in the abuse, and that he’d failed to secure medical attention in its wake.
For those offenses, the board dismissed Burge from the force and suspended two of his detectives for 15 months. Police superintendent Matt Rodriguez clearly had no trouble believing the charges–he demoted the two detectives to patrolmen. A labor arbitrator later rescinded the demotions, ruling that the additional punishment violated the union contract.
Though the board had nothing to say about the conduct of the state’s attorney’s office, it did make clear its belief that Burge and men in his command had violated the law in the Wilson case and had probably used electric shock on Melvin Jones. Those officers had never been prosecuted. Daley had been state’s attorney at the time.
Eventually the city’s lawyers would explicitly recognize that torture had occurred. For the better part of a decade, the corporation counsel’s office had denied this, but on March 28, 1994, with Wilson’s suit still in federal court, the same office sent Burge a letter telling him that his acts went beyond the scope of his employment. Much more certain of what had happened than the Police Board had been, the city’s lawyers would eventually characterize Wilson’s treatment as “savage torture” and acknowledge that Burge had shocked Melvin Jones on the genitals. This about-face was not the opening salvo of a campaign to bring justice to the victims and the perpetrators, but an attempt to save the city from paying damages to Andrew Wilson by repudiating Burge’s behavior as a violation of his duties. Nonetheless, it was startling. Lawyers serving the man who’d been state’s attorney at the time of the torture were admitting that it had taken place. (Asked by the Reader recently if the city’s position indicated a change of heart for Daley, press spokesman Roderick Drew declined to comment.)
State’s attorney Cecil Partee had been put on notice by the state appellate court years earlier. On December 28, 1989, an appellate court panel of three judges headed by Dom Rizzi, ruling in the case of Gregory Banks, indicated a strong belief that the Area Two detectives in the case were lying when they claimed Banks had been injured trying to escape. Rizzi said a previous suffocation and beating case involving the same officers 13 months earlier should have been allowed into evidence. “Trial judges must bear in mind that while we no longer see cases involving the use of the rack and thumbscrew to obtain confessions, we are seeing cases, like the present case, involving punching, kicking, and placing a plastic bag over a suspect’s head to obtain confessions.” The victims, Rizzi wrote, are “invariably the poorest, the weakest and the least educated, who are not sophisticated enough or do not have the resources to see and ensure that they are not denied the protections afforded by the rights and guarantees of our constitution.”
Banks’s conviction was thrown out, and while he waited in Cook County Jail, Partee considered his options. A retrial would have new rules. The three officers who allegedly tortured Banks–Sergeant Byrne and detectives Dignan and Charles Grunhard–would be questioned about their roles in other torture cases that had turned up during Wilson’s civil suit. Putting the three on the stand could open Pandora’s box, jeopardizing a good number of previous convictions. Partee decided to set Banks free, and he walked out of the county jail in late 1990. In August 1993 the city paid $92,500 to settle his civil suit for torture.
O’Malley, now an appellate judge, took over as state’s attorney a few weeks after Banks was freed. He was on notice from the very start of his administration that torture probably had occurred at Area Two, and further notice was served as the years passed. O’Malley had access to the PLO’s original list of 27 victims that was filed in federal court in 1989, to the anonymous letters in police department envelopes (also on file in federal court), and to the Sanders and Goldston reports, submitted in November 1990. Later he had access to the testimony before the Police Board, including Reidy’s interpretation of Larry Hyman’s role. O’Malley knew what the Police Board had concluded–it was displayed prominently on the front pages of the Tribune and Sun-Times. He had access to the corporation counsel’s admission that torture had occurred, and to Judge Gettleman’s July 1996 decision in Andrew Wilson’s civil suit that the city should pay more than $1 million.
O’Malley’s top advisers were no strangers to the torture charges at Area Two. Andrea Zopp, who’d discussed the Burge cases with OPS director Fogel in 1990, had left the U.S. attorney’s office and joined O’Malley’s staff in 1991, and in December 1992 she became his first assistant state’s attorney. Andy Knott, the Tribune reporter who’d written the “black box got them” story about Leroy Orange and Leonard Kidd back in 1984, was O’Malley’s press secretary. O’Malley’s appellate staff had acquired a remarkable familiarity with the names of the alleged torturers. Rene Goldfarb, for example, was supervisor of the criminal appeals division in 1989 when the appellate court handed down the Banks decision, and under O’Malley and Devine she’s worked on the appeals of 21 men who alleged torture at Area Two. (Some of those men have filed two, three, or four appeals.) O’Malley’s felony trial division handled new torture cases from Area Three in 1991 and 1992. Burge had begun serving there in 1988, and he’d brought some of his old crew with him.
The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct require prosecutors to seek justice, not convictions. O’Malley–who chose not to comment for this article–would seem to have been obligated to investigate the policemen, even in cases in which the statute of limitations for action against them had expired, so that justice could come to torture victims. As a dozen of the men alleging torture were on death row, there was a compelling reason to investigate–someone could unjustly be put to death. The anonymous letter writer from Area Two had listed officers who went along with Burge’s program and those who didn’t, information that could have made a fine starting point for an investigation. But O’Malley did nothing.
O’Malley failed in his bid for a third term. Dick Devine succeeded him in December 1996. Devine came to the position with foreknowledge of the problems at Area Two. Nineteen men have claimed they were tortured during Devine’s term as first assistant state’s attorney. He’d left the state’s attorney’s office in 1983 and joined the firm of Phelan, Pope & John in 1985, the year that William Kunkle, the state’s attorney who prosecuted Wilson, joined the same firm. Kunkle was hired by the city to defend Burge in Wilson’s civil suit. The firm’s billing records indicate that Devine appeared briefly as Burge’s attorney, billing 24.5 hours for that service, and was consulted at other times during the case. The city paid Phelan, Pope & John more than $800,000 for their services defending the police in the Wilson civil suit.
When Devine became state’s attorney, the office had a long and successful record of protecting the convictions of men who claimed torture by Burge and his colleagues. The office accomplished this by not prosecuting accused police officers and by successfully isolating cases, arguing that the time gap between victims with similar stories to tell was too great, or that the techniques described in their stories varied, or that there was no supporting medical evidence (electric shock by a cattle prod and suffocation with a typewriter cover typically leave no marks). As a result, the question of whether a confession had been coerced became a credibility contest between a single victim, often a poorly educated African-American with a criminal record, and articulate and seemingly upstanding white policemen. Circuit court judges (a good number of them former assistant state’s attorneys who’d worked on Area Two cases) were comfortable with those rules of engagement. Juries, denied knowledge of the history of torture at Area Two, accepted the police version of events.
But 11 months into Devine’s term, the Illinois Appellate Court disturbed the arrangement. In November 1997, a three-judge panel headed by Warren Wolfson vacated the 1983 murder conviction of El Rukn general Darrell Cannon and granted him a new hearing on a motion to suppress his confession. Cannon had accused the Area Two trio of Dignan, Byrne, and Grunhard of putting a cattle prod to his testicles and a shotgun to his head four days after the same officers were alleged to have suffocated Gregory Banks and put a gun in his mouth. Wolfson ruled that the claims of other Area Two victims should be heard despite differences in technique. “To say, as the State does, there is a qualitative distinction between shocking one suspect’s genitals with a cattle prod and beating another with a flashlight, or inserting a shotgun in a suspect’s mouth as opposed to a handgun, is to trivialize established principles for decent law enforcement. Under that view, accepted standards descend to banality. Minor differences in technique do not alter the nature of the torturer’s work.”
This ruling marked a turning point, not just in judicial reasoning but also in Area Two litigation. For the first time, multiple victims would be heard, probably in good number, in a criminal forum. For the first time, Area Two officers would be asked how, on a police force of 13,000 officers, they alone had managed to accumulate so many complaints of electric shock, suffocation, attacks on the genitals, and hangings by handcuffs.
It took some time to work out the details of what would be allowed as evidence in the Cannon hearing. In July 1999, with three Area Two cases on the fall docket of the Illinois Supreme Court, Devine filed a motion asking the judges to delay those arguments because the lengthy exposure of evidence expected in the Cannon hearing would inform his office on how to handle the coercion claims made in other Area Two cases.
The supreme court rejected the request. Devine’s motion had seemed quite peculiar to defense counsel in the Area Two cases. It was unlike the state’s attorney’s office to link cases, and these four spanned eight years and involved different sets of detectives and different techniques. Why connect the three on the supreme court’s docket with the Cannon case unless you thought you might win in Cannon? And why would you think you could win in Cannon given the parade of victims expected to testify and the history of the particular policemen involved in that case?
Anyone in Devine’s shoes might have felt some measure of optimism, given the judge assigned to hear Cannon’s case. Judge John Morrissey had a record of siding with prosecutors in police brutality cases. He’d heard Cannon’s allegations earlier and declined to give him a hearing, and was doing so now only because the appellate court said he had to. He’d refused to allow Aaron Patterson’s attorneys to introduce photographs of their client’s etchings into evidence, the messages Patterson had scrawled into a bench and a door frame about being suffocated and denied access to an attorney. In the case of Ronald Jones, who maintained that his murder confession was beaten out of him by Area One detectives, Judge Morrissey had denied a motion for DNA testing, saying he found the request amusing. That testing, later ordered by the Illinois Supreme Court, resulted in Jones’s freedom.
If there was any comfort taken by prosecutors from the bench assignment, it vanished as a result of a coincidence. On December 17, 1999, Charles Hoffman, a criminal defense appeals lawyer, accompanied a colleague to the annual holiday party thrown by the First District appellate defender’s office. Hoffman had once worked for the People’s Law Office, the lawyers who represented Andrew Wilson and who were then representing Darrell Cannon before Judge Morrissey. During the course of the party another guest promised to send Hoffman a transcript he might get a kick out of. It proved to be a hearing in the case of a prisoner who was asking for DNA testing allowed under a new statute. The prisoner, who had no connection to the Burge torture cases, had filed the petition himself and was neither present nor represented by an attorney when it first came up in Judge Morrissey’s court. Addressing the two assistant state’s attorneys present, the judge indicated that even if the state confessed that there was an error in the DNA, he would not release the prisoner; instead, he’d call Devine to appear personally and conduct a full hearing. “If you think I am going to have [defense attorney Dick] Cunningham and those idiots from the People’s Law Office come in here and say, ‘Release my prisoner,’ uh-uh, it is not going to work until we have a full hearing.”
Hoffman passed the transcript on to his old colleagues at the People’s Law Office. They brought the “idiots” remark to Morrissey’s attention, and he recused himself from the Cannon hearing. Cannon’s legal team (PLO attorneys Flint Taylor and Tim Lohraff, along with Tom Geraghty, Larry Marshall, and Cathryn Stewart from the Northwestern Legal Clinic) asked Thomas Fitzgerald, then presiding judge of the criminal division, to assign the case to any judge who was not a former Cook County state’s attorney. Fitzgerald put it on the docket of Lawrence Fox, a former public defender.
Fox proved to be in nobody’s pocket, making rulings that hurt both Cannon and his prosecutors. Cannon’s attorneys were able to get 13 torture cases into the record through direct testimony, transcripts of other hearings, and the OPS complaint of one victim who had since been murdered. When they rested, it was time for Devine’s office to put alleged torturers Dignan and Byrne on the stand. (Grunhard had died in 1990.)
The case would stand or fall on their credibility, which was suspect to say the least. Dignan, who had since been promoted to lieutenant, was on record saying that he addressed African-Americans as “nigger.” Byrne had left the force in June 1993 to become an attorney. In 1996, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) charged him with lying to a circuit court judge, submitting the forged signature of another attorney on a federal court document, and taking retainers from clients and then doing little or no work for the money. The ARDC, which is accustomed to reviewing the unethical and criminal behavior of attorneys, said that Byrne’s actions had “defeated the administration of justice” and were “unlike any this panel has seen.” The commissioners said that Byrne had a “continuing insolence and disrespect for the disciplinary rules and unwillingness to abide by them.” The Illinois Supreme Court disbarred him in 1996. Although the ARDC’s attorney had argued that Byrne’s conduct represented “a black eye on the legal profession…deserving of the most severe of sanctions,” no criminal prosecution followed.
Putting Byrne and Dignan on the stand in the Cannon case thus involved considerable risk. If Judge Fox found them less credible than Cannon and the other alleged victims, his decision would carry significant weight in every other torture case. Devine had known this in 1999 when he indicated to the supreme court that a full hearing in Cannon’s case would help resolve matters, but at that time the case was in Judge Morrissey’s courtroom. Now, Devine got cold feet. He offered Cannon a deal: if Cannon would drop his torture charges and plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and armed violence, the state would drop its murder charges. Cannon, who was serving a life term, could go free in about two and a half years. If he accepted the offer, Dignan and Byrne wouldn’t testify, and for Cannon, that was a high price to pay–he felt he’d been carrying the ball for the other Area Two torture victims in prison. Indeed, for a while he had been. But the 1997 appellate court decision in his case had informed the reasoning of the supreme court, and as a result three other victims had subsequently been granted new hearings on their torture claims. Cannon’s attorneys advised him to take the deal, and he did.
A similar situation had arisen in the case of Andrew Maxwell, charged with murder in 1986, except that Maxwell’s hearing threatened not individual police officers but the state’s attorney’s office. By mid-1996 Maxwell’s appeal had run its course at the state level and had jumped to federal court, where it landed on the docket of Judge Milton Shadur. Shadur was no stranger to the allegations of torture at Area Two, having ordered the release of the Sanders and Goldston reports four years earlier. Before Shadur, Maxwell’s attorneys Gary Ravitz and Eric Palles argued that the state’s attorney’s office had known of the torture and had not turned over that information to the defense. (Prosecutors are required by law to provide exculpatory information to defendants.) In his ruling in March 1999, Shadur wrote, “It is now common knowledge that in the early to mid-1980s Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and many officers working under him regularly engaged in the physical abuse and torture of prisoners to extract confessions.” Judge Shadur ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine if state’s attorneys had violated the law and if Maxwell’s trial attorneys had provided ineffective assistance.
In investigating the state’s attorney’s office, Ravitz and Palles thought they would not have to prove a large conspiracy. If anyone in the office knew of the torture practices, by law the knowledge would be imputed to the whole office. The attorneys began to take depositions from those who had been on duty at the time. They also began urging the state’s attorney’s office to take a second look at Maxwell’s case. At trial, prosecutors had asked for the death penalty in a case that didn’t seem to meet the legal standard usually required. At the age of 19, Maxwell, identified in court documents as borderline mentally retarded, with a long history of physical disabilities, developmental problems, and familial substance abuse, had participated in a series of at least four armed robberies (three in one day) with two other men. In one of them, his intended victim threw a beer bottle at him and then allegedly reached into a pocket. Maxwell fired three times and killed the man. He received the death penalty for the murder and 105 years for the other three robberies. His two accomplices received 35-year sentences.
With depositions under way, Devine’s office reconsidered its position. It may be that the office was struck with pity for Maxwell, who’d been shot on two occasions for refusing to join a street gang and whose sisters had taught him to smoke marijuana when he was 12 years old because they liked to see him act silly. But the office had had ample opportunity to express that pity in the 15 years since Maxwell’s arrest. It may be that the office came to agree with Maxwell’s attorneys that the sentence didn’t fit the crime, but it also had had ample opportunity to reach that conclusion (the case had gone before the Illinois Supreme Court twice). Or it may be that the state’s attorney’s office foresaw a nightmare: a parade of prosecutors (some of them now judges) trying to explain what they knew about torture at Area Two, why their office had never investigated it, and how it could continue to press for the execution of men whose confessions were so suspect. Unlike the Police Board, Judge Shadur would not mince words. If he thought the state had turned a blind eye and a deaf ear, he could be expected to say so.
Maxwell had been serving death plus 105 years–in other words, even if his murder conviction had been vacated, he would have had to serve 105 years for three armed robberies. He agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder, ending his appeal in federal court, and Devine’s office agreed to change his sentence to 75 years for the murder and 60 years for the armed robberies, the sentences running concurrently. Death plus 105 became a 75-year sentence, and with time off for good behavior Maxwell might end up serving half that on those charges.
According to Frank Ralph, a lawyer with extensive experience in Area Two cases, Maxwell got an extraordinary bargain. Ralph told the Reader that Maxwell’s lawyers “did magic in a case that wasn’t even being litigated.” Maxwell’s armed robbery convictions hadn’t been part of his federal appeal and yet those sentences were also reduced. He ended up better off than he would have if Devine had simply dropped the murder charge.
Devine’s deal making was good for individual Area Two victims, but it was to the despair of attorneys defending the victims. Looking ahead, they could see the possibility of one tortured client after another being bought off with a deal while the torturers dodged an investigation. And what sort of deal would a man on death row, innocent or guilty, be willing to take in exchange for his life?
Out of that despair came the idea to petition the chief judge of the criminal court for a special prosecutor to investigate the police. The petition, filed before chief criminal court judge Paul Biebel on April 5, 2001, argued that hundreds of serious crimes had gone unprosecuted. Each act of torture by each policeman constituted a Class X felony, the petition argued, and lesser offenses like perjury, intimidation, official misconduct, compelling a confession by force, and aggravated battery had also been committed regularly. Though the statute of limitations on those crimes had expired years ago, the petitioners argued that it might still be possible to prosecute the police for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The brief went on to argue that Devine and his employees were not the ones to run the investigation, in part because they might be witnesses in and targets of it, in part because they might be reluctant to jeopardize previously won convictions, and in part because Devine had served as Burge’s attorney.
Devine didn’t contest the conflict of interest charge. He argued instead that the issue was moot because there were no crimes to prosecute. Devine has never admitted torture took place, but in his brief he argued that even if it did, the statute of limitations prevented prosecution. “It would be unethical for a prosecutor to undertake investigations on time-barred crimes merely because…the investigations might clarify the historical record or satisfy public demand,” Devine argued. He said that Burge had rights too: former clients of state’s attorneys should not be “more vulnerable to ill-founded requests for special prosecutors than are other citizens….When an attorney becomes a State’s Attorney, his clients do not thereby suffer unequal protection of the law and become more vulnerable than other citizens to such unfair investigations.”
But Judge Biebel didn’t buy it. For him, the central issue was Devine’s conflict of interest. The state’s attorney shouldn’t be the one deciding what’s prosecutable in the torture cases and what isn’t, Biebel decided, and on April 24, 2002, he appointed Edward Egan as special prosecutor and Robert Boyle as his assistant.
Egan, now 79, has served as first assistant state’s attorney of Cook County, as a judge in the criminal and appellate courts, as an attorney for the CTA, as a member of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (1983-1988), and as a criminal defense attorney (among his clients were two of the police officers indicted for burglary in the Summerdale police scandal of 1959). Boyle, now 66, previously served as chief of the criminal division under state’s attorney Edward Hanrahan, as a commissioner of the ARDC (1976-1980), and since 1971 as a principal in his own firm, Murphy & Boyle, which specializes in commercial law.
The infamous 1969 raid on the Black Panthers by Chicago police assigned to the state’s attorney’s office, the raid that resulted in the deaths of Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, occurred during Boyle’s tenure with the state’s attorney’s office, but he says he knew about it only after the fact. The 1970 federal grand jury report on the case named Boyle as having helped to supply the Tribune with postraid photos of the Panthers’ apartment. In the furor that arose in the week after the shooting, Hanrahan’s office turned to the Tribune, granting the paper exclusive interviews with participating officers and handing over photos that Hanrahan claimed supported the police version of the story. The photos were promptly discredited by the Sun-Times. What had been labeled holes made by Panther bullets turned out to be nail heads, and other holes that were supposedly made by a Panther fusillade were shown to be the result of police firing through the living room wall. The grand jury report noted that although the state’s attorney’s office and the Tribune later acknowledged the mistake, neither provided an explanation of how it occurred. Boyle says the grand jury report is in error, that he provided no photos to the Tribune.
In any event, both Egan and Boyle were initially deemed acceptable by the petitioners, who were pleased when Egan told the Tribune that the state’s attorney’s office and the Office of Professional Standards would not be immune from his scrutiny. Although the petitioners have since voiced some disgruntlement with the pace of the investigation and the makeup of the staff, Egan and Boyle argue that their staff is well qualified and their method thorough. In a recent interview with the Reader, Boyle said the staff had added the names of 26 victims to the 64 they started with, and they’re investigating all 90 cases. They have no doubt that torture occurred. (Egan was quoted in the Tribune in May as saying “you’d have to be a chump” to doubt it.) Whether that certainty will lead to indictments is not clear, but Boyle told the Reader that he and Egan will issue a report in any event, though it is far too early to say what the report might look like.
After the office of the special prosecutor was created, defense attorneys representing Area Two victims on death row asked Biebel to disqualify both Devine’s office and the Cook County judiciary from further involvement in what are generically known as the Burge torture cases. The defense attorneys argued that the state’s attorney’s office is compromised by Devine’s tie to Burge, by the possibility that special prosecutor Egan could target prosecutors in his investigation, and by the fact that over the last three decades more than 185 former and current assistant state’s attorneys have worked on torture cases or supervised others who did. The defense attorneys also argued that 41 of 61 judges assigned to felony court are former assistant state’s attorneys, including 20 with direct involvement in the torture cases, while other former ASAs now on the bench supervised prosecutions of Burge victims or crafted policy that resisted investigation of the police. Four of those 41 are former Chicago policemen. Other sitting felony judges defended Chicago policemen (including Area Two detectives) on charges of brutality while serving with the city corporation counsel’s office. In the defense attorneys’ view, 50 of the 61 judges have some tie to institutions or individuals with a vested interest in there being no investigation of the detectives involved in torture cases.
This network of judges, lawyers, and cops has periodically shown itself in amazing ways. Stanley Howard, for example, was initially arrested on November 1, 1984, for the armed robbery of Chicago police officers Robert Hanley and Margaret Hall. Hanley was a lieutenant who had worked in various units in Area Two for 19 years, and both he and Hall were relieved of their badges during the robbery. When Howard emerged from the custody of Area Two detectives three days after his arrest, he was charged not just with armed robbery but also with a six-month-old murder for which he seemed an unlikely suspect. He later said he’d confessed to the murder after being beaten and suffocated with a typewriter cover. Medical evidence supported his story.
In his murder case, Howard was represented by public defender Patrick Moriarty, and the trial took place before Judge John Mannion. Both Mannion and Moriarty were former policemen who’d served in Area Two; they’d worked with Lieutenant Hanley, and Mannion had also worked with one of Howard’s alleged torturers. Neither judge nor lawyer recused himself. Howard was convicted and sentenced to death.
Howard’s case was one of the very few that Office of Professional Standards director Gayle Shines reopened in the wake of the Goldston and Sanders reports. Shines, who’d previously served as a supervisor in the state’s attorney office under Richard Daley, received the completed investigations on those cases in 1993 and 1994. OPS investigators had sustained charges in Howard’s case and five others, concluding that the alleged criminals were more believable than the cops. These reports were crucial, not just to the six men but also to other prisoners alleging torture by the same officers. For death row inmates, the sustained charges in those six cases had the potential to spell the difference between life and death.
Shines’s job was to review the cases and then pass them up the chain of police command, and in 1996 she told the Reader she’d done that. This appears to be untrue. After Mayor Daley removed her from her post in 1998, transferring her to a job with Chicago City Colleges, OPS coordinator of investigations Leonard Benefico found the files in two boxes in her office.
Benefico approached Thomas Needham, general counsel to police superintendent Terry Hillard, and asked for guidance. Needham knew nothing of Shines’s decision to reopen the investigations, but having served as an assistant state’s attorney for nearly 12 years starting in 1984, he was familiar with charges of torture at Area Two. He’d been third chair in the prosecution of Madison Hobley, who had alleged torture by some of the same detectives involved in Stanley Howard’s case. In a 1999 deposition Needham said that close colleagues had prosecuted four other men who made torture claims, and he’d watched some of the action in court.
Needham said in his deposition that he didn’t read the boxed files, but that he looked at the names of the officers accused, at the findings of the investigator, and at the dates of the investigator’s activity. On August 31, 1998, he wrote a memo that said henceforth, all the charges in all the cases would be regarded as not sustained. “I would say my reasons were common sense and fairness,” he explained in his deposition. He’d thought that Shines had no business reinvestigating the cases in the first place, that the allegations had been heard in court, that there should be a statute of limitations for officers, that “not all of the cases were meritorious,” and that it wasn’t fair to the police department to hold the cases open. “No organization can operate effectively if they’re continually looking back,” he said. “Healthy organizations have to move forward.”
Trial judges have denied defense attorneys access to OPS files in which charges were unsustained, so by labeling the outcome of the investigations unsustained Needham was burying the files. This was tantamount to speeding along the execution of Stanley Howard and other Area Two victims. Fortunately for Howard, a federal lawsuit later resulted in the release of the files, and Howard used the OPS findings in arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court. In 1999 the judges granted him an evidentiary hearing. Howard was still waiting for it to take place when Governor Ryan pardoned him and three other Area Two victims in January.
Despite the intertwining relationships between the police, state’s attorneys, and judiciary so well demonstrated in Howard’s case, Judge Biebel declined on April 9 to disqualify the Cook County judiciary from sitting in Area Two cases. Biebel did grant a motion to recuse Devine’s office from further involvement. He ordered that complete responsibility for representing the city in those cases pending in state or federal court be assumed by the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
The transfer of cases to Madigan is of little consolation to the defense attorneys. In the past, the attorney general’s office has served as cocounsel on Area Two appeals, joining in the effort to execute men whose confessions were tainted. Since assuming office, Madigan has worked with proexecution forces, joining state’s attorneys from ten counties in asking the Illinois Supreme Court to rescind Governor Ryan’s commutation orders for 37 inmates. The Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Madigan in her election campaign last year, has been one of Jon Burge’s biggest supporters.
On January 10, Governor Ryan pardoned Madison Hobley, Leroy Orange, Stanley Howard, and Aaron Patterson. He said he pardoned them not only because he believed they’d been tortured at Area Two but also because he believed they were innocent of the crimes they’d been condemned to die for. His act was an unequivocal indictment of the state’s attorney’s office for seeking convictions and not justice.
As late as last month, when asked by the Reader if Burge’s detectives had used force to get confessions, Dick Devine declined to answer. Asked to explain the conclusion reached by other agencies who’d investigated the police that force had been used–OPS, the Police Board, the corporation counsel, the special prosecutor, the governor–Devine said only that his position, unchanged since he took office, is “that the three-year statute of limitations had long since run on any abuse that might have happened.”
Devine said he “has responded to the allegations on a case-by-case basis.” Left unsaid was that his response to each case has been to fight it relentlessly.
Addressing the press in the wake of Ryan’s pardons, Devine said, “The system is broken, and the governor started to break it today.” He called the pardons “outrageous and unconscionable” and said his staff was studying whether it was possible to challenge them. He denounced the pardoned men as “evil.”
John Conroy’s e-mail address is JConroy329@aol.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mike Tappin, AP World Wide Photos.