In Chicago police documents, February 9, 1982, is recalled as cold and overcast. At about two o’clock that afternoon, Gang Crimes officers William Fahey, 34, and Richard O’Brien, 33, were in uniform, cruising south on Morgan, when they zeroed in on a brown, two-door Chevrolet Impala. Why they stopped the car is unclear. Officer Fahey’s widow recalls that her husband had a sixth sense for spotting cars in which the police might have an interest; even when he was off duty, he had the habit of pointing to vehicles and saying, “That car is dirty.” On that cold day in February, he may have had a feeling that the ’78 Impala was dirty. He would have been right.
The occupants of the car, the brothers Andrew and Jackie Wilson, had committed a burglary less than an hour before. The take had not been spectacular: some clothes, a television, a fifth of whiskey, some bullets, and a jar of pennies. Jackie, 21, also known as Robert and Bubbles, was driving; he was wanted for parole violation. Andrew, 29, also known as Joseph, Tony, and Gino, had a chrome-plated .38 under his hat on the front seat; he was wanted on two warrants, one for parole violation, the other for bond forfeiture in an armed-robbery case.
The tales told by witnesses and participants diverge at this point, but it seems likely that Jackie saw the lights flashing atop the police car and pulled the Impala to the curb at 8108 S. Morgan. Officer O’Brien left the driver’s seat of the police car and approached the Impala. Jackie got out of the car, and O’Brien allegedly joked about seeing one of the men throw a beer bottle out the window. He asked Jackie for his license, and when Jackie said he didn’t have it, O’Brien frisked him and then decided to check out the car.
At about that point Andrew Wilson got out of the passenger seat, and in the next 30 seconds a tragic sequence was played out: Officer Fahey, having come to the passenger side of the Impala, picked up Andrew’s jacket from the front seat. He may have found the bullets from the burglary in a pocket. While he was holding the jacket, Andrew moved in behind him and stripped him of his gun. The two men began to struggle for the weapon and slipped in the snow. Andrew Wilson pulled the trigger, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not, and a bullet went through the head of William Fahey.
Meanwhile, on the driver’s side, Officer O’Brien had leaned into the Impala and found Andrew’s .38 on the front seat. Hearing a shot, he backed out of the car, pointed his weapon at Jackie Wilson, and yelled, “Freeze.” Jackie froze. O’Brien, probably unable to see his partner, took a step toward the rear of the car. Andrew Wilson shot him once in the chest with Fahey’s gun.
Andrew then yelled at his brother, telling him to disarm O’Brien. Jackie yelled back that the cop was still moving. The older Wilson climbed onto the back of the Chevy, pumped four more bullets into O’Brien, slid off the car, and picked up O’Brien’s gun. The brothers got back into the Impala and sped off, leaving the two policemen bleeding in the snow.
As the Wilson brothers pulled away, a man named Andre Coulter was driving north on Morgan with his friends Dwayne Hardin and Louis Booker as passengers. At the scene of the shooting Coulter pulled to the curb and the three men warily crossed the street. Coulter put his jacket under O’Brien’s head and Hardin picked up the radio in the police car and informed the dispatcher that two police officers were down and bleeding. Almost simultaneously, two residents of the 8100 block of Morgan were reporting the same news over the phone. In no time the scene was crawling with cops.
O’Brien and Fahey were loaded into a paddy wagon and driven at speed to Little Company of Mary Hospital. O’Brien was dead on arrival. Fahey died 20 hours later.
The police began to track the killers with fragments of information. Andre Coulter said the getaway car was a late-model Impala and he thought he remembered that the front grillwork might have been damaged. An electrician who had been doing a job in the neighborhood reported that the car was a brown two-door. Other witnesses described the fugitives as blacks in their 20s, and Tyrone Sims, who had witnessed the shooting from his front window, helped put together a police sketch. A bulletin went out for a 1977-80 Chevrolet Impala, bronze, rust, or burnt orange in color, a two-door model with “possible damage to front grill on driver’s side.”
Lieutenant Jon Burge, commanding officer of Area 2 Violent Crimes, was off duty when the incident occurred. He was at a car wash at 87th and Langley when a detective came running through looking for the suspect vehicle. The detective told Burge of the shootings, and almost simultaneously Burge’s beeper went off. He sped to his office to take charge of the investigation. He would not return home for five days.
At that time Area 2, which sprawls over some 60 square miles of the south side, was headquartered in a brick building at the corner of 91st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. The cops who called it home were having a tense winter. At times it seemed almost reasonable to believe that someone had declared open season on policemen. Five law-enforcement officers had been shot in the Area, four of them fatally, within little more than a month. (The victims, aside from Fahey and O’Brien, were two deputy sheriffs, shot during an armed robbery at a McDonald’s, and James Doyle, a rookie cop, who was shot dead on a CTA bus while arresting a robbery suspect named Edgar Hope.) As a result, feelings were high when the police set out to find the killers of Fahey and O’Brien. A grid search was set up to find the Impala, and a house-by-house canvass began in the area of the shooting.
Enthusiasm brought excess. Policemen began kicking down doors. Patricia and Alvin Smith claimed that plainclothesmen pointed guns at the head of their 12-year-old daughter. Adolph Thornton reported that a policeman had shot Chuck, Thornton’s two-year-old German shepherd. William Phillips, 32, a Chicago fireman, complained that he had been arrested for standing on a street corner, that one of his teeth was knocked out in the process, and that he was later charged with disorderly conduct. The Reverend Willie Barrow of Operation PUSH said that in the neighborhood of the shooting, every young black male in sight was being stopped and questioned, and the Defender quoted a woman who said she’d sent her son away because “the police were crazy, picking up kids who clearly did not match the description of the two men who were wanted.” Renault Robinson, director of the Afro-American Police League, called the dragnet “sloppy police work, a matter of racism.” He compared the police action to that of a southern sheriff leading a posse that turned into a lynch mob. Jesse Jackson announced that the black community was living under martial law, in “a war zone . . . under economic, political, and military occupation,” that the Police Department was holding “the entire black community hostage for the crimes of two.”
Ironically, it was pure luck and citizen cooperation, not the dragnet or the police enthusiasm, that broke the case. Tyrone Sims, the man who had witnessed the shooting from his front window, was shown a large batch of mug shots and tentatively identified Donald White, also known as Kojak, as the shooter. Kojak, it turned out, had nothing to do with the murders, but by the strangest of coincidences he knew who the murderers were. He lived next door to the house that the Wilsons had broken into on February 9, and according to police reports, the loot from the burglary had been divided at his house. Kojak explained that Andrew Wilson was plotting the jailbreak of Edgar Hope, the man who had shot the rookie cop on the CTA bus on February 5; Wilson needed guns for the jailbreak, Kojak said, and the burglary had been carried out with that in mind; the burglars had found bullets, but no weapons.
A body-and-fender man named Solomon Morgan, who had known the Wilsons for ten years, also fingered the two brothers. After the shooting, Jackie Wilson had called Morgan and asked him to paint the Impala and repair the car’s grillwork. Morgan, realizing that the description of the killers’ car matched the vehicle he was supposed to paint and repair, called the police.
And so the police began to concentrate their efforts on finding the Wilson brothers, who were separately moving from apartment to apartment on the south and west sides. Pursuing various leads, Lieutenant Burge and his men surrounded a building at 5301 W. Jackson at about 5:15 AM on Sunday, February 14. Burge was the first man through the door, and he arrested Andrew Wilson without firing a shot.
Not long thereafter, Chester Batey, a policeman with the 8th District tactical unit, received a call from his father, a minister, who said that a member of his congregation knew where Jackie was hiding. Batey flagged down a passing police car, and at 8:05 that Sunday morning, he and assisting policemen from the 2nd District broke into the third-floor apartment at 5157 S. Prairie. The man inside denied he was the subject of the manhunt, but at the police station he admitted he was indeed Jackie Wilson.
Both Andrew and Jackie gave inculpatory statements at Area 2. They were tried together and convicted. Both convictions were reversed on appeal. The two brothers were then tried separately and both were convicted again. Today, more than seven years after the murders of Fahey and O’Brien, the Wilson brothers should be little more than tragic footnotes in Chicago’s history, of consequence mainly to the children left without a father, the wife left without a husband, the mothers and fathers left without sons, and the policemen left without comrades.
Instead, Andrew Wilson comes back to haunt the city, telling a bizarre tale fit for some third world dictatorship. In a civil suit against the city of Chicago, the Police Department, and various detectives from Area 2, Andrew Wilson says he was tortured.
You might be tempted, as many have been, to dismiss Wilson’s claim as a con’s tale, but the judges of the Illinois Supreme Court didn’t. In granting Wilson a second criminal trial, they wrote, “The evidence here shows clearly that when the defendant was arrested at 5:15 am on February 14, he may have received a cut above his right eye but that he had no other injuries; it is equally clear that when the defendant was taken by police officers to Mercy Hospital sometime after 10 o’clock that night he had about 15 separate injuries on his head, chest, and leg. The inescapable conclusion is that the defendant suffered his injuries while in police custody that day . . .”
You might be tempted then to excuse the police, assuming that in their outrage over the death of a comrade they lost control and beat Wilson up. But Wilson was not complaining of a beating. He was complaining of burns and electric shock, the shock delivered by two different devices to his genitals, his ears, his nose, and his fingers. After examining the physical evidence, the deputy chief medical examiner of Cook County, initially a skeptic, became a believer.
Perhaps you are still unmoved, believing that excruciating pain is fit punishment for a man who killed two cops. But what if it turned out that it was not merely Andrew Wilson who was tortured by electroshock? What if a parade of men arrested by detectives at Area 2 over the course of a decade also claimed that they had been interrogated by electrical means, or had plastic bags put over their heads, or had their fingers put in bolt cutters, or were threatened with being thrown off a roof? What if there was no connection at all between the alleged victims, no evidence of any collusion among them, and yet they kept pointing to the same police station and the same group of officers?
We expect charges of corruption to surface periodically on any big-city police force, but normally we can take comfort, at least, in the way the charges come to our attention–an honest cop wears a wire; a federal agency does its job; a brave state’s attorney decides he can’t look the other way; or a newspaper commits great resources to an investigation. But the charges of torture at Area 2 did not get a proper hearing until a convicted cop killer filed a civil lawsuit.
Andrew Wilson’s suit came to trial last February 13 in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Brian Barnett Duff. It charged that various policemen beat Wilson after his arrest and arrival at Area 2; that they put a plastic bag over his head so he could not breathe; that they burned him, first with a cigarette and later on a radiator; that Detective John Yucaitis began the electric shock and Lieutenant Jon Burge carried it to great lengths; that detectives Patrick O’Hara and William McKenna participated in the conspiracy by making no mention of the torture in their reports on the case; and that it was a de facto policy or custom of the city of Chicago and the Police Department to mistreat persons suspected of killing police officers–in other words, that the ill-treatment was widespread and well-known, even at the highest levels of the department, and nobody did anything about it. Wilson was asking for $10 million in damages. The outcome would have no effect on his criminal conviction.
Although Wilson was suing six defendants (the four detectives, former Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, and the city), it soon became apparent to everyone in the courtroom that the real showdown was between Andrew Wilson and Jon Burge, as Burge was the commander of the unit and allegedly the perpetrator-in-chief. On the surface, the battle seemed to be a mismatch of tremendous proportions.
Jon Burge was born a few days before Christmas 1947, the second son of Floyd and Ethel Burge. Floyd, of Norwegian descent, worked for the phone company in a blue-collar job, and Ethel, who was of German, English, and Irish descent, went to work when her son Jon was about ten years old. She wrote a fashion column for the Chicago Daily News, did some modeling, organized fashion shows, and once wrote a book in the “dress for success” vein.
Jon Burge was a good student at Bowen High School and went off to the University of Missouri with great expectations. He managed to flunk out, however, not long after his arrival. In an interview last September he told me that he was enjoying himself too much to study, and so was asked to leave. After returning to Chicago he worked as a stock clerk in a supermarket for eight months and then joined the Army, where he eventually attained the rank of staff sergeant. Along the way he served time as a drill instructor and attended Military Police school, where he received some training in interrogation (among many other things). He volunteered twice to go to Vietnam. The first time he was sent to Korea. The second time he got what he asked for.
In Vietnam Burge was twice awarded the Army commendation for valor, both times for leaving a bunker to drag wounded men back to safety amid incoming fire. He also was given the Bronze Star for meritorious service, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and a Purple Heart (which he says was given to him for a shrapnel wound that laid him up for “about 15 minutes”). He took an honorable discharge in August 1969, went to work in a gas station, and applied to join the police. In March 1970, at the age of 22, he was officially accepted.
On January 26, 1972, Patrolman Burge, age 24, responded to a call of “woman with a gun” at a drugstore at 65th and Woodlawn. When he arrived he saw Erma Moody, 22, talking on the telephone and pointing a .22 caliber derringer at her own throat. She told Burge not to come any closer. She said she wanted to go home to check on her baby, and Burge and another officer escorted her there. Once in her home, Mrs. Moody, still holding the gun to her throat, said she would like to see a member of the clergy. Burge made the call, and he and the three priests who responded did their best to soothe the distraught woman. After about an hour and a half, Burge began to feel that Mrs. Moody was likely to pull the trigger, so he signaled to the other officer that he was going to make a move for the gun. Burge pounced. Erma Moody pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, as Burge had managed to jam his thumb into the firing mechanism. In recognition of that effort, the Police Department gave Burge his first department commendation.
Burge was commended again in 1980 for an incident that occurred while he was off duty. He was in the vicinity of 111th and Western when he spotted a car containing three men and felt that, as Officer Fahey might have said, the car was dirty. He stopped and waited. One of the men got out and walked into a nearby Fotomat. A few minutes later, the man left the store in a hurry and jumped into the car. Burge ran into the Fotomat, learned it had been robbed, and followed the fugitives in his own car. When they stopped at a red light, Burge pulled his gun, snuck up behind them on foot, ordered the trio out of the car, and placed them all under arrest.
And so has gone Burge’s career. His personnel file contains 13 commendations and a letter of praise from the U.S. Department of Justice. He has been promoted repeatedly, has served as commander of the Bomb and Arson Unit, and is now commander of the detective division in Area 3. When he took his seat in Judge Duff’s courtroom to answer Andrew Wilson’s charges, Burge outranked 99 percent of the policemen in the city.
Andrew Wilson declined to be interviewed for this story, so what I know of his background comes largely from police records and a presentencing report written by social worker Jill Miller in 1988. Miller’s report indicates that Andrew Wilson was the third of nine children, born on October 8, 1952. His father worked as a machine operator in a soap plant 50 miles from Chicago, and his mother worked as a waitress in various restaurants. While the parents were working, the Wilson children were taken care of by relatives and by the oldest child, a daughter named Bobbie, who was two years older than Andrew. Perhaps the children hungered for attention, but their material needs were taken care of. When Andrew was 11, the family moved into a three-bedroom split-level house in Morgan Park, a house described in Department of Corrections records as neat, clean, and nicely furnished, with an electric organ and a small library. Those records also indicate that the family regularly attended church services and that all of the Wilson children could play the organ by ear.
Andrew, however, probably had some sort of cognitive difficulties from birth. When he was in first grade, he was diagnosed as “educable mentally handicapped” (EMH) and was thereafter tracked as a slow learner. At the age of seven he scored 73 on an IQ test, a score that would qualify him as “borderline retarded.” At age 11 he scored 78. At age 15 he scored 70. Yet various professionals who have come in contact with him as an adult have said that he is of average intelligence. Miller’s report concludes that Wilson was not diagnosed properly as a child, that his low IQ scores were probably the result of a learning disability that was never identified or treated.
Andrew Wilson never learned to read. At 11 he began to skip school and to periodically run away from home, sleeping in old cars in the neighborhood. His parents told correctional officials that they would “whup him . . . It didn’t help. . . . We just couldn’t control him.” At 13 he was sent to a school for children with behavioral problems. At 14 he started stealing. He was committed to another special school, ran away after six weeks, and ended up in the Audy Home. At 15 he recorded his first conviction for burglary, after which he spent time in the reformatory at Saint Charles and in the juvenile detention center at Sheridan.
At about this time Wilson was given a neurological exam, the results of which suggested an organic brain dysfunction. A reformatory doctor put him on tranquilizers for emotional disturbance and hyperactivity and on an anticonvulsive medication used for treating seizure disorders. Miller’s report indicates that Wilson functioned well on the medication, well enough that after about two years doctors decided he might be able to function normally without it. His prescriptions were stopped about three months before he was paroled. Miller notes that he experienced some difficulty afterward, including anxiety, irritability, and depression. She goes on to say, “It appears from all available records and Andrew’s statements, that he was never again given a neurological exam nor assessed for his need for anti-convulsive medication.”
Andrew was 16 at the time of his release. He returned to Morgan Park and his parents found him jobs. He worked on a cleaning crew, and in 1970 labored briefly as a busboy at Schulien’s restaurant on Irving Park Road. But he took again to theft. He was arrested in October 1969 for unlawful use of a weapon, received a year’s probation, and was arrested eight days later for burglary. In 1970 and again in 1971, he was arrested for burglary and served brief sentences.
At some point after his release from the juvenile facility in 1969, Wilson began a relationship with a woman who lived in his family’s neighborhood. They never married and never lived together, but their relationship survived several of Andrew’s jail terms. The couple had two daughters, born in 1971 and 1973. Miller reports that Wilson’s girlfriend believed him to be a good father and said he was very generous with his daughters. During Wilson’s subsequent stays in prison he took up knitting and crocheting, and his daughters, who are now teenagers, told Miller that their father has knitted them numerous scarves, hats, and headbands. “The girls reported that when they talk to him on the phone he “tries to teach us manners . . . wants us to be polite. . . . Dad always talks to us about school . . . how important school is, especially reading. . . . He tells us . . . ‘Do good, and when you read in class, read for me.'” Both daughters are bright and academically successful.
Wilson, however, knows them mostly by phone, as he has been incarcerated for all but about four months of the last 15 years. In 1975 he took up armed robbery. He was thereafter sentenced to 8 to 16 years for the robbery of a suburban police officer and a coffee shop.
Upon entering the penitentiary at Joliet, he was described by prison officials as aggressive, hostile, negativistic, uncooperative, and in need of basic education. He was transferred to Menard and worked in the kitchen until he received a conduct report for “unauthorized possession of state property”–five pieces of fried chicken and three oranges. He attended Protestant services, participated in religious counseling, and was eventually reassigned to the kitchen. His correctional counselor noted that Wilson responded well to personal counseling. He was paroled in October 1981.
During the next three and a half months he saw his daughters almost every day and did odd jobs at a beauty parlor in exchange for being allowed to sleep there. He also returned to his old profession. His police file indicates that he participated in four armed robberies in the four months before his fatal encounter with officers Fahey and O’Brien. In one incident, he and his brother Jackie are alleged to have robbed a camera store by pulling guns on the two clerks, tying them up with tape, and leaving them in the basement, after which they allegedly relieved three customers of their cash and walked out with enough equipment to open a small store. In another incident, Andrew was alleged to have robbed a clothing store, leaving Jackie behind posing as a victim so that he could give a phony description to the police.
On February 8, 1982, Andrew, disguised as a postman, carried a package to the home of 56-year-old Levada Downs. When she opened the door to take the package, Andrew pulled a gun, Jackie stepped out of hiding, and the brothers forced their way inside. They tied up Mrs. Downs, ransacked her house, and fled with $700 in currency and her .38 Colt, the same gun that Officer O’Brien would find on the front seat of the Impala the following day.
After being sentenced to death in his first trial, Wilson was sent to Menard Prison and then to Pontiac. At Menard he continued to attend Protestant services until August 1983, when he asked to attend Roman Catholic chapel, and Miller reports that “According to DOC [Department of Corrections] records, he attended Catholic services regularly from then on. Andrew says that his reasons for switching to the Catholic faith are personal; he will say only that he ‘liked that religion.'”
Miller, summarizing Wilson’s personal characteristics, called him “an institutionalized person. Having spent much of his life since 1967 in institutions, he functions well in that setting. His ability to function in the community is severely limited. . . . Emotionally, he functions at an adolescent level. He has been impulsive and has been unable to accept delayed gratification. . . . he has learned not to work for what he has wanted; he chose, instead, to take it.”
Miller’s analysis, however, was not public knowledge. In the public mind, Andrew Wilson was known only by the label “cop killer.” So when opening arguments began on his civil suit in Judge Duff’s court last February, the odds against him were more than considerable. He was a murderer. Burge was a war hero. Anarchy was suing order. The underclass was having a go at the establishment. In more than one sense it seemed to be a confrontation of black versus white.
Judge Brian Barnett Duff is an avuncular Republican with gray hair, a winning smile, an aversion to the death penalty, and a fondness for quoting Shakespeare from the bench. He is not, however, a popular man in the federal courts. Last March, Chicago Lawyer surveyed 348 attorneys who practice in federal court, both prosecutors and defense lawyers, asking them to rate 20 judges on the federal bench in the Northern District. The survey asked eight questions dealing with knowledge of the law, ability, fairness, efficiency, and courtesy. “Of the eight questions, Duff was rated worst on five and second worst on one,” Chicago Lawyer reported. While respondents conceded that Judge Duff worked hard and was a good case manager, 76 percent thought his understanding of complex issues was either poor or very poor, 74 percent thought he was not courteous to lawyers and litigants, and 71 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that Duff’s legal opinions are clear and well-reasoned. (Judge Duff declined to be interviewed for this article, citing a standard policy of not commenting on pending matters.)
For the Wilson case, Duff’s courtroom was laid out with three tables, one behind the other, to the judge’s right; the jury box was on his left. Wilson’s attorneys occupied the first table, a most unfortunate placement, as it put them directly in the judge’s line of fire. Wilson was represented by the People’s Law Office, a group of lawyers specializing in civil rights cases whom many people in the legal community refer to simply as the PLO. Three other firms had been assigned to represent Wilson but had found ways to bow out or evade the responsibility, and Wilson had rejected a fourth firm before settling on the PLO. The PLO’s attorneys were a geographically unlikely trio: Flint Taylor, a lanky, gray-haired man who hails from the Boston area; Jeffrey Haas, a bearded, dark-haired attorney whose speech has traces of his Atlanta upbringing; and John Stainthorp, who wears sideburns reminiscent of Civil War generals, and who hails from Preston, a city in northern England. Taylor and Haas first worked together as lawyers for the survivors of the infamous Panther raid of December 4, 1969, during which the Chicago police killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark; Taylor and Haas, after a 13-year legal battle, won $1.85 million in damages from the city, the county, and the federal government for the survivors of the raid and the families of Hampton and Clark. The People’s Law Office has since taken on many unpopular defendants in criminal cases and has a steady track record of civil rights suits, many against the police. In style they are zealous (their opponents in the Wilson case would accuse them of conducting a holy war), fearless, and rarely concise.
The city’s lawyers–James McCarthy and Maureen Murphy, both from the office of the corporation counsel–sat behind Wilson’s attorneys. They played second fiddle to the third table, where sat William Kunkle, defender of the four accused policemen, and his associate Jeffrey Rubin. Kunkle, a partner in the firm of Phelan Pope and John, brings to court a righteous air and a keen legal mind. He seems a born prosecutor, yet he began his Chicago legal career as a public defender. He switched to prosecutor in 1973, when he became an assistant state’s attorney, and five years later was raised to the position of chief deputy, the third highest rank in the state’s attorney’s office. After Democrat Richard M. Daley took over the office from Republican Bernard Carey, Kunkle was raised a notch in rank, taking over as first assistant on July 5, 1983. Along the way he prosecuted some of the county’s most infamous criminals, including serial killer John Gacy and several men accused of killing law-enforcement officers. Kunkle was the prosecutor who first convicted Andrew Wilson of murdering officers Fahey and O’Brien. In 1985, having left the state’s attorney’s office for Phelan Pope and John, he returned to the criminal courts as special prosecutor in Wilson’s retrial, and he again prevailed. He recently served the U.S. Congress in the ethics investigations of House Speaker Jim Wright and Representative Newt Gingrich, and he has twice been on the short list of candidates to become U.S. attorney. Kunkle is a great favorite of the federal court buffs, the group of retired men who hang around the Dirksen Building following celebrated trials the way some Chicagoans follow sports teams. During the course of the Wilson trial, the buffs included Kunkle on their list of the ten best attorneys in the city.
Kunkle is a man who takes up a lot of room. At a defense table that seated four policemen of considerable heft (I suspect their average weight was about 240 pounds), Kunkle could have been mistaken for one of the defendants but for the quality of his courtroom attire. A brutal cross-examiner, he fills a court with his sarcasm, with his incredulity, with his anger at a witness he doesn’t like–criminal or upstanding citizen, it makes no difference. It is far easier to imagine a judge being intimidated by Kunkle than Kunkle by a judge, and there were many times in Judge Duff’s courtroom when it seemed the real power was not on the bench.
Kunkle and Wilson were by no means strangers, having faced off in courtrooms twice before, and the former prosecutor was by no means circumspect about how he felt about the plaintiff. During the course of a deposition taken in Pontiac in December 1988, Wilson broke down while he was talking about being shocked. Kunkle’s response was to smile broadly and say “I love to see him cry.”
Andrew Wilson did not attend court on a daily basis, and so his appearance on the witness stand, seven days after the start of the trial, drew a good number of spectators, among them policemen, lawyers, and relatives of Officer Fahey. Wilson’s mug shot had appeared several times in the Tribune, and those of us who had not yet set eyes on him were prepared for a thinly bearded desperado. Instead he appeared clean-shaven, a short, trim, balding man, neatly dressed in a blue sweater, blue shirt, and tinted glasses, all in all a far more presentable figure than the man in the mug shot. After being sworn to tell the truth, he sat down, and from that moment almost until he finished testifying he assumed a crouched posture, leaning forward, his arms resting on the witness box, his head just above his hands, appearing to be even shorter than he was. In response to John Stainthorp’s questions, he stated his place of residence as Pontiac prison and his term as natural life without possibility of parole.
Q: How old were you when you left the Chicago public school system?
A: I don’t know.
Q: . . . Did you graduate from elementary school?
Q: At the time that you last attended a Chicago public school, were you able to read?
Q: And are you able to read today?
Q: Are you able to write?
A: What I know how.
Q: By that you mean you can copy letters?
Q: Do you know how to spell words?
A: The ones I know.
Q: Do you know how many words you know?
A: It’s not that many.
Wilson went on to relate the events of February 14, 1982, from his point of view. He claimed that upon leaving the apartment where the arrest had taken place, Burge told his men not to assault the prisoner, adding “We’ll get him at the station.” When they got to Area 2 headquarters, Wilson said, he was taken into a small room, thrown to the floor, and beaten; then he was kicked in the eye–the kick tore his retina, he said–and someone took a plastic bag out of the garbage can and put it over his head, causing him to suffocate until he bit a hole in the bag. That session ended, Wilson said, when Burge walked in and told the assembled cops that “he wouldn’t have messed my face up, he wouldn’t have messed me up”–in other words, that Wilson’s assailants had screwed up, that they should not have left any marks.
Wilson testified that he was then taken to Interview Room Number 2, and that Burge said something on the order of “My reputation is at stake and you are going to make a statement.” According to Wilson, Detective Yucaitis entered the room a short time later carrying a brown paper bag from which he extracted a black box. Yucaitis allegedly pulled two wires out of the box, attached them with clamps to Wilson’s right ear and nostril, and then turned a crank on the side of the box. “I really can’t explain it,” Wilson said. “The first time he did it, it just hurt. I can’t explain it. When Burge was doing it I can explain more because he did it more. . . . It hurts, but it stays in your head, OK? It stays in your head and it grinds your teeth. . . . It grinds, constantly grinds, constantly. . . . The pain just stays in your head. . . . It’s just like this light here like when it flickers, it flickers . . . and your teeth constantly grinds and grinds and grinds and grinds and grinds and grinds. All my bottom teeth was loose behind that, these four or five of them, and I tried to get the doctor to pull them. He said he wouldn’t pull them because they would tighten back up.”
“I kept hollering when he [Yucaitis] kept cranking,” Wilson said, “but he stopped because somebody come to the door, so he went to the door and see what they wanted.” When Yucaitis came back, Wilson said, he put the device back in the bag and left. Wilson testified that Burge returned with the black box about an hour later.
Q: What, if anything, did Commander Burge say when he came into the room?
A: He said “fun time.”
According to Wilson, Burge put one clip on each of his suspect’s ears and started cranking. Although he was handcuffed to a ring in the wall, he said, he could move his shoulders, and so was able to rub the clamps off his ears. “So they got tired of me rubbing the wire off my ear. So he unhandcuffed one of my hands, unhandcuffed the left hand, and he tried to stretch me across the room and the radiator was right there, so he was trying to stretch me across, across the room, and I wasn’t going. So the officer, the other officer was there, he helped him, and they both stretched me across . . . they hooked me onto the other ring over there.”
Wilson said that he was now unable to rub the clamps off his ears; each of his outstretched arms was handcuffed to a ring in the wall, and between the rings was a radiator that his chest sometimes touched.
A: . . . So I don’t know if he put it back on my ears or what, but it didn’t last long because he put it on my fingers, my baby fingers, one on one finger and one on the other finger and then he kept cranking it and kept cranking it, and I was hollering and screaming. I was calling for help and stuff. My teeth was grinding, flickering in my head, pain and all that stuff . . .
Q: While you were stretched across in this fashion, were you aware of whether or not the radiator was hot?
A: I wasn’t paying no attention, but it burned me still. But I didn’t even feel it. . . . That radiator . . . it wouldn’t have mattered. That box . . . took over. That’s what was happening. The heat radiator didn’t even exist then. The box existed.
Q: . . . After Commander Burge stopped with the crank machine, what happened next?
A: He got the other one out. It’s black and it’s round and it had a wire sticking out of it and it had a cord on it. He plugged it into the wall. . . . He took it and he ran it up between my legs, my groin area, just ran it up there very gently . . . up and down, up and down, you know, right between my legs, up and down like this, real gentle with it, but you can feel it, still feel it. Then he jabbed me with the thing and it slammed me . . . into the grille on the window. Then I fell back down, and I think that’s when I started spitting up the blood and stuff. Then he stopped.
Twice in the course of his testimony about the electrical devices, Wilson came close to breaking down. The first time came after Stainthorp asked, “And when he brought the brown paper bag back, what did he do with it?” Wilson’s reply was, “I want to leave,” and the judge declared a short recess. The second time came a few minutes later, when Wilson said that somehow, during the course of the electroshock, the alligator clip had come loose and he had gotten it in his hand, but the maneuver had done him no good, as he was simply shocked there as well. He lost his ability to continue the story, and was urged by Stainthorp to take a minute and compose himself.
Wilson said that later, after the electroshock was finished, he was taken to another police station for a lineup, and that there he got a mouthful of the lieutenant’s gun. Burge, he said, “was playing with his gun . . . he was sticking it in my mouth and . . . he kept doing it, he kept clicking it and he had it in my mouth and stuff. So he finally pulled it out.”
At 6:05 PM, after 13 hours in the custody of Area 2 police, Wilson gave a statement in which he confessed to the murders of officers Fahey and O’Brien. The statement was taken by Assistant State’s Attorney Larry Hyman in the presence of Detective O’Hara and a court reporter. After their departure, Wilson was left alone with another detective and Mario Ferro and William Mulvaney, the two officers assigned to the paddy wagon that was to transport the prisoner to the lockup at 11th and State. On the stand Wilson claimed that he was beaten again at this point, and that his penis was grabbed and squeezed by one of the officers, the same one who would later club him on the head with a gun. Wilson said the detective told Ferro and Mulvaney that when they got to the lockup they should have Wilson put in an occupied cell, so it could be said later that other prisoners had caused his injuries.
If that plan existed, it ran into a hitch when the lockup keeper at 11th and State refused to take custody of Wilson, not wanting to be held responsible for his injuries. Police procedure dictated that Ferro and Mulvaney should then take Wilson to a hospital for treatment. Patricia Crossen, a nurse who was working in the emergency room at Mercy Hospital, testified that Ferro and Mulvaney entered at about 11:40 PM, saying that they had come just for the paperwork, that if Wilson knew what was good for him he would refuse treatment. Crossen said that Wilson did initially refuse treatment, but changed his mind when a black orderly assured him he had the right to be treated. Wilson ended up being examined by Dr. Geoffrey Korn, who testified that, just as he was about to suture a wound in Wilson’s head, Officer Mulvaney pulled out a gun. Korn refused to treat the prisoner while the gun was out and walked out of the room. After being left alone with Ferro and Mulvaney in the examination room, Andrew Wilson decided to refuse treatment, signed a statement to that effect, and was returned by paddy wagon to the lockup at 11th and State.
The following morning, Wilson was taken to 26th and California for arraignment and admission to Cook County Jail. Ordinarily jail authorities take only a mug shot of an arriving prisoner. In Andrew Wilson’s case they took pictures of his whole body so as not to be blamed for his injuries. The following day, Dale Coventry, the public defender appointed to defend Wilson, arranged to have more pictures taken of the prisoner, paying particular attention to Wilson’s ears, chest, and thigh.
Blowups of the Coventry photos were the most troubling evidence against Commander Burge. The chest shots showed marks where Andrew Wilson said he had been burned against the radiator. A picture of his thigh showed a very large burn mark as well. The shots of the ears, however, were the most curious: they showed a pattern of U-shaped scabs that seemed inexplicable unless one believed that alligator clips had indeed been attached to Wilson’s ears.
The cross-examination of Andrew Wilson by William Kunkle, the policemen’s attorney, revealed that the police also believed that those U-shaped scabs had come from an alligator clip. In Kunkle’s version, however, there was no electrical current: he wanted the jury to believe that Andrew Wilson had found a roach clip between the time he left Area 2 and the time he entered Cook County Jail and that he had placed it on his ears and nose in order to support his cock-and-bull story that he’d been subjected to electrical shock. Kunkle claimed that Wilson had gone to this extreme because he realized he had confessed to a death-penalty offense and he needed to do something to have that confession suppressed.
Kunkle appeared absolutely convinced of the righteousness of his cause as he began his cross-examination of Wilson. The former prosecutor began by asking detectives O’Hara and McKenna to stand up (McKenna and O’Hara had been the first interrogators of Wilson, at least in the Police Department’s version of events, and they were the authors of the “Cleared and Closed” report on the case). Kunkle asked Wilson if either of the two detectives had ever laid a hand on him. Wilson said no. (Wilson’s attorneys were arguing that O’Hara and McKenna were the nice guys in a good guy-bad guy team, that the two men had taken Wilson’s statement but had chosen to overlook and cover up his torture.) Then Kunkle went to work on the character of Andrew Wilson, trying to change the jury’s impression of him from victim to predator, from a bloodied and burned human being to a man who made his living with a gun.
Q: Mr. Wilson, between August of 1981 and your arrest on February 14 of 1982, did you have a job?
Q: Were you doing any kind of work to support yourself?
A: On advice of my counsel I am not going to answer that . . . on the grounds that it might incriminate me.
Q: How were you getting money during that period of time?
A: . . . On the advice of my counsel I’m not going to answer that on the grounds it might incriminate me.
Q: . . . Mr. Wilson you testified on direct that you went to Mosely [school] for being truant, but you didn’t recall playing hooky, is that right?
Q: Did they teach you any reading at Mosely?
Q: What did they teach you at Mosely?
A: How to fix shoes.
Q: Did you ever get a job fixing shoes?
Q: Did you ever have a job of any kind?
A: I don’t know what year. I was washing dishes.
Q: When was that?
A: In the 70s.
Q: How long?
A: I don’t know.
Q: A month, a year, ten years?
A: Oh, I don’t know about–probably a month.
Q: Any other jobs?
A: I paint.
Q: When did you paint?
A: In the 70s.
Q: . . . How many painting jobs did you have?
A: Only one.
Q: Any other jobs?
A: No–yes, working at the Warner’s Drugstore.
Q: When was that?
A: I think it was in the 70s.
Q: How long?
A: It didn’t last long, maybe a week or so.
Kunkle’s cross-examination was quite theatrical. When he tore open an envelope, you could hear the rip from one end of the courtroom to the other. He tossed guns onto the defense table almost carelessly. He came across as superior, even arrogant, and Wilson seemed cowed at times, hostile at others.
Kunkle got Wilson to admit he had seen roach clips in various jails and prisons. And Wilson changed a small detail of his story: it suddenly came to him that he had been wearing boxer shorts when he was arrested, not long underwear; that admission might affect the jury’s belief in his claim to have been burned on the thigh by the radiator. (The police and the city contested not the existence of the thigh burn, but the time at which it was received; Wilson might have received it, for example, the day before he was arrested.) Wilson also claimed that when an assistant state’s attorney and a court reporter arrived to take his confession on February 14, he had told both men that he had been tortured; both men would later take the stand and say they had been told nothing of the sort. Wilson claimed he had never been read his rights; the statement recorded that day, however, opens with the state’s attorney reading the Miranda litany. Mercy Hospital documents indicate that when Wilson first arrived at the emergency room, he said that he had received his injuries after falling outside the police station (the documents also indicate that the policemen present were encouraging Wilson to refuse treatment); on the witness stand, however, Wilson denied making any statement about falling.
Kunkle also raised questions about the allegation that Burge had put a gun in Wilson’s mouth. If it had happened in the lineup room at Area 1, as Wilson said it did, Burge would have had to have been extremely reckless, as anyone on the other side of the one-way mirror would have been able to witness the act.
Under Kunkle’s questioning, Wilson admitted that in earlier testimony he had claimed that one of the cops at Area 2 had burned him with a cigarette, and that he had omitted mention of that burn this time around. Wilson claimed he had not mentioned it because the burn was on his shoulder, and his shoulder bore a tattoo, and he knew that juries generally do not like tattoos. Kunkle asked Wilson exactly what his tattoo depicted. Wilson said it consisted of a rose, a noose, and two shovels, that it had been done by a jailhouse artist, and that it had absolutely no significance.
Omitting mention of the cigarette burn in order to hide his tattoo seemed to be about the only attempt Wilson had made to refine his performance for the jury. He was sometimes short-tempered, sometimes sullen, and his posture conveyed the impression that he was constantly ready to duck an incoming punch. He referred to a court reporter as “the ponographer” and to various policemen as “the heavy-set stud,” the “young stud,” and the “blond-haired young dude.” A witness trying to impress the jury might have cried at the points where Wilson choked up; Wilson asked for a recess, as if he were too proud to cry in public.
Commander Burge, on the other hand, sat tall and erect and seemed completely at ease on the stand. At one point, when the judge and the lawyers retired for a “sidebar”–a private conference out of the jury’s earshot–the blond commander conversed with the U.S. marshal, an attractive young woman, and he laughed, seeming unthreatened, almost unbothered by the proceedings. During another sidebar he joked with a TV courtroom artist who sat a few feet away, motioning as if he could hold back a double chin. Burge is the first to admit that he is not in peak physical condition; in one deposition he described himself as fat, and when I asked him to describe himself during the course of an interview he said, “Overweight. I’m six-foot-one, hog-headed, red-faced, about 40 pounds overweight, and not in as good a shape as I would like to be in.” He defined “hog-headed” as having a round face and a large head.
Kunkle took Burge through each of Wilson’s charges, which made for a series of forthright denials. The attorney then asked the commander his net worth, which would become a factor in assessing damages if the jury sided with Wilson. Burge, who has never married and who has no dependents, said that his assets were minimal: he owned neither house nor car, had some equity in his boat, a few thousand in a money market account, a few thousand in the police credit union, a few thousand in debts. He concluded that his net worth was minus $17,000. Kunkle walked him through his military career, asking him about his decorations; Burge listed them matter-of-factly, making no great attempt to milk them for the sympathy they could engender. Kunkle asked about his police career, and Burge sketched it in with no elaboration, making no mention of his department commendations.
The bulk of Burge’s testimony dealt with the manhunt for the killers of Fahey and O’Brien, the arrest of Andrew Wilson, and Wilson’s passage through Area 2. In Burge’s version, Wilson’s only injury was the scratch on his eye; he was not certain whether Wilson had the injury before the police found him or if he sustained it when the police, applying reasonable force to a dangerous man, shoved Wilson to the floor to handcuff him at the moment of his arrest. Burge maintained that he had instructed his men to treat Wilson “with kid gloves”; that Wilson was taken directly to an interview room at Area 2; that he gave an oral statement admitting his role in the shootings to detectives O’Hara and McKenna between 7:00 and 7:40 AM; and that he gave a written statement 11 hours later.
Wilson’s attorney, Flint Taylor, tried to disturb the cool-headed, professional image the commander projected by addressing him as “Defendant Burge.” Taylor’s cross-examination established that Burge was familiar with electrical devices operated by a crank, having used field telephones during his service in Vietnam. When questioned about the investigation of the murders of Fahey and O’Brien, Burge said that he had gone without sleep for five and a half to six days, that he drank a lot of coffee, that he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, and that it was the biggest investigation he had ever handled. He said that the arrest had not been handled as he would have liked to have done it: just before it happened, Deputy Superintendent Joseph McCarthy had shown up with about five men from Gang Crimes South, the same unit that Fahey and O’Brien had been assigned to, and announced that they were going to be in on the action. Burge thought that it was a bad idea for friends and comrades of the dead officers to participate in the raid, but since McCarthy was deputy superintendent, Burge felt he had little choice in the matter.
Burge’s most peculiar admission, however, was that he had personally interviewed Sebastian Ragland, a man who confessed to the killings of Fahey and O’Brien not long after the shootings; Ragland had had nothing to do with the crime, and Detective O’Hara, who first interviewed him, told Burge that Ragland would have confessed to killing Cock Robin. Burge interviewed him anyway. Yet when Wilson was arrested, Burge said, he let the men under him question the prisoner and never even entered the interview room. Burge maintained that he had seen Wilson only once all morning–when the prisoner was taken to the bathroom and was escorted past the commander’s open door. The commander said he heard no screams, no cries for help, and that at any given moment, ten to a hundred other policemen would have been on the second floor of Area 2, ostensibly within hearing distance of such screams and cries.
Detective Yucaitis followed Burge to the stand and was equally personable and at ease. He denied striking, shocking, beating, or kicking Wilson, and said that his only role was to drive Wilson back to Area 2 after the arrest and to stand guard outside the interview room where Wilson was held.
There was some dispute about exactly which interview room Wilson had been taken to. Burge initially indicated that Wilson had been taken to Interview Room Number 1, but later said he could not remember which room the prisoner had been taken to. Other detectives maintained that Wilson was in Interview Room Number 2, and that the radiator in that room had never worked.
In support of the theory that Wilson was not burned by any radiator, Kunkle produced Dr. Raymond Warpeha, a balding man with a thick mustache and glasses, director of the burn center at Loyola Medical Center and chairman of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the hospital. On the witness stand Warpeha claimed to have diagnosed and treated 6,000 to 7,000 burns, 3,000 of them major. In preparation for the trial, he said that he had seen photos of the radiators at Area 2, reviewed Wilson’s medical records, and examined the prisoner. The records seemed to reflect some disagreement on the part of the various medical personnel who had examined Wilson at Mercy Hospital and at Cook County Jail. Some had labeled the marks on Wilson’s chest as burns, while others had referred to them as abrasions. Warpeha concluded that the doctors and the nurse who had diagnosed Wilson’s injuries as burns were mistaken; the wounds on Wilson’s face, chest, and thigh, Warpeha said, were friction abrasions–wounds caused by friction rather than heat (e.g., a “rope burn” or “floor burn”). Such wounds are dry, do not blister, and do not produce fluid. Analyzing the photographs of Wilson’s injuries from the jail, Warpeha said he saw none of the blistering that should have occurred had the prisoner been burned by a hot object.
Warpeha’s diagnosis was important because it allowed the jury to consider the possibility that Wilson’s chest had been scratched and not burned, and that the scratches had occurred when Wilson struggled with Officer Fahey, or when he crawled upon the car to shoot Officer O’Brien, or when he rode in the paddy wagon from Area 2 to the lockup at 11th and State.
Warpeha was an eminently qualified witness, but a stranger to humility. At one point in his testimony he seemed to indicate that he believed there were only three physicians in the city who could diagnose burns properly–himself, of course, among the trio. He stated that he charged the defense $500 an hour for his services and that he had thus far earned more than $12,000 on the case, a statement that caused a great stir among the court buffs, who realized that, as taxpayers, they were footing the bill.
Wilson’s attorneys had also presented an expert witness, Dr. Robert Kirschner, deputy chief medical examiner of Cook County. Kirschner has an unusual countenance–a beard, no mustache, and dark, deep-set eyes–and he was an unusual witness. As a forensic pathologist employed by the county, he spends a good portion of his time working with policemen and testifying for the state. His job, day in and day out, is to determine what weapons, devices, or accidents could have caused various injuries or death, and as a result he is recognized as an expert in the identification of burns. Furthermore, in his spare time Kirschner does human rights work, and he has taken part in investigations sponsored by Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Argentina, Kenya, Czechoslovakia, and the West Bank. He serves on the clinical committee of the Uptown-based Marjorie Kovler Center for Survivors of Torture and teaches other physicians how to diagnose and evaluate victims of torture.
In a deposition taken five days before the trial started, Kirschner explained that he had become involved in the Wilson case when John Stainthorp, having heard that the doctor was an expert on torture, called the medical examiner’s office and asked Kirschner to look over Wilson’s file. “I said I would review it,” Kirschner said, “and I told Mr. Stainthorp again that I was very skeptical because I have been around the medical examiner’s office for ten years, lot of close contact with the police, and I think I have a fair idea of what goes on in the police stations when people are in custody . . . and I said I just never heard of anything like this in Chicago, and I said that it does seem very unlikely to me that this would be the case. But Mr. Stainthorp sent me the medical records and portions of Andrew Wilson’s deposition . . . and I must say I read it . . . and I called Mr. Stainthorp and said, ‘This guy has been tortured. I think there is a very high degree of medical certainty to say this man has not only been beaten and/or kicked, which, let’s face it, occurs in custody, but that this man has received electric shock.'”
In that deposition, Kirschner went on to say that Wilson’s description of what had happened to his body and his difficulty in telling the story without breaking down were consistent with the experiences of others who had been tortured with electric shock. “These are not the kinds of things that are faked,” Kirschner said. “This is not general knowledge . . . or things you pick up through your general reading. . . . This is not information that I would expect to be floating around the prisons, passed from one prisoner to another. . . . These are things that you have to delve into Amnesty International reports or other human rights reports. These aren’t the sort of things you pick up on the newsstand or [are] going to find in medical or law journals for the most part.”
Kirschner was clearly a very dangerous witness, far more dangerous than even Wilson himself, and Kunkle did not want the doctor’s opinions to be heard in open court. With the jury out of the courtroom, Kunkle argued against allowing Kirschner to testify as an “expert witness” on the subject of torture. He said that the federal court had never recognized a torture expert and had never recognized torture as a field of scientific expertise; that even those working in the field had written that there had not been enough study done to draw a scientifically sound profile of torture victims. Furthermore, Kunkle argued, Kirschner had no personal experience with the machinery of electroshock and had never seen anyone who had had an electrical device attached to his or her ears. Judge Duff said it was “a tough call.” He professed admiration for Kirschner’s work and at one point suggested that more attention be paid by Kirschner’s human rights colleagues to abuses committed by the British in Northern Ireland. In the end, however, the judge sided with Kunkle. Kirschner was allowed to testify as an expert in identifying burns but was not allowed to say anything about torture or about the credibility of Andrew Wilson’s account. Duff also ordered that Kirschner’s curriculum vitae should be purged of any mention of torture and human rights activity before it was submitted to the jury.
Kirschner’s testimony stood in stark contrast to Dr. Warpeha’s. The deputy chief medical examiner said that when forensic pathologists set about determining whether a wound is a burn or an abrasion, one key factor is the border of the wound. An abrasion, Kirschner said, is always accompanied by a scraping of the skin, while a burn is marked by very sharp margins. Kirschner, pointing to photos of Wilson’s wounds, stated that the chest, thigh, and cheek injuries had very sharp margins, that there was no evidence of scraping, and that there was also evidence of blisters. The wounds, he said, were therefore second-degree burns.
In making his diagnosis in his own study, Kirschner had been viewing eight-by-ten-inch photos of Wilson’s injuries, and it was only just before he entered the courtroom that he saw the same pictures blown up to two feet by three feet. He carried a magnifying glass with him, and in the course of explaining that the wounds on Wilson’s ears were punctate abrasions, he noticed that in one of the enlargements one mark was both darker than the others and slightly out of line. While on the stand he came to the conclusion that that particular mark was probably not a punctate abrasion, but a spark burn. This casually delivered remark was particularly threatening for the defendants. Their roach-clip defense could support abrasions. It could not withstand a spark burn.
When Kunkle got the chance to cross-examine Kirschner, he worked up a great deal of indignation, mocking the doctor’s 11th-hour magnifying-glass discovery. He asked Kirschner how many live burn patients the doctor had examined. Kirschner, who works on the dead, said he had seen fewer than a dozen, and that only two or three of those had radiator burns. Kunkle tried to raise suspicion about Kirschner’s objectivity by working on the fact that the doctor had waived his usual fee for serving as an expert witness; the implication Kunkle wanted to impart was that the doctor had some vested interest in the case, that Warpeha was more trustworthy because he had to be paid.
In the end, however, after testimony and/or a deposition from two expert witnesses, one emergency-room nurse, and four doctors who had seen Wilson between February 14 and February 17, it was difficult to imagine what medical conclusions the jury would come to. The nurse clearly said she saw burns, the doctors recorded burns, lacerations, and/or abrasions, and the two experts were poles apart.
In and around Wilson’s account, the policemen’s stories, and the medical testimony, there was also a case building against the city of Chicago. Wilson’s suit alleged that there was a custom, policy, or practice of allowing police officers to “mistreat those persons suspected, charged with, or otherwise allegedly connected with the shooting or killing of Chicago police officers” and allowing the police to “exact unconstitutional revenge, punishment, and retribution.” To that end, Wilson’s attorneys produced four victims of the Police Department’s enthusiasm in searching for the killers of Fahey and O’Brien.
The first victim presented was Mrs. Julia Davis, a middle-aged black woman who seemed depressed, intimidated, and out of her element when she took the stand. She testified that during the canvass of the neighborhood around the site of the shootings, police had broken down her door, ransacked her bedroom, and seized her son, Larry Milan, hitting him with a billy club and a flashlight in the process. She said that her son, who died in 1984, was held for three days and came home with bruises on his back and legs.
James McCarthy, the city corporation counsel, went after Mrs. Davis by asking if this was the first time the police had been to the house. It wasn’t. Larry Milan was a prominent member of the Black Gangster Disciples and well-known to the police. “Isn’t it true,” McCarthy asked, “that your son spent time in prison for arson?” Mrs. Davis said it was true, although it seemed to have nothing to do with the matter at hand. McCarthy went on to ask why Mrs. Davis had never filed a complaint against the officers who’d allegedly beaten her son and broken down her door. With no sense of outrage in her voice, Mrs. Davis replied, “I thought the police could do anything they wanted.”
Roy Wade Brown, a stocky, well-dressed 26-year-old with a shaved head and a gravelly voice, also testified against the city. Brown said that he too had been a member of the Black Gangster Disciples, that he had put that life behind him, and that he is now studying to become a minister and running a store that sells candy, potato chips, and chili. Brown testified that on the day Fahey and O’Brien were shot, he was in Mrs. Davis’s house, watching TV with Larry Milan, when the police broke through the door. He said that he was taken into custody; that one of his interrogators put fingers in his ears and applied pressure; that another policeman put a plastic bag over his head, cutting off his air supply; that his interrogators put his finger in a bolt cutter and threatened to cut it off; that they hit him repeatedly on the thighs with a paddle; and that he was taken to the roof of the police station and was told he would be thrown off if he didn’t tell what he knew about the shootings of Fahey and O’Brien. He didn’t know anything. He said he was so frightened, however, that he would have done anything to appease the police, and so he gave his interrogators the name of a member of a rival gang.
Maureen Murphy, who was defending the city along with McCarthy, cross-examined Roy Brown. She asked if Brown had not pleaded guilty once to intimidating a witness; if he had not had to leave Chicago for two years because he had hit an El Rukn with a bat; if his friend Larry Milan had not been arrested for raping a 16-year-old girl the day before he and Brown filed a complaint against the police for being abused. She asked Brown if he was willing to lie to get even with an enemy, as he had apparently done, she said, when he gave the rival gang member’s name to the police; her implication, of course, was that he would lie again, this time to get even with the police.
It often seemed there were two cultures in conflict in the courtroom. One was black, poor, given to violence, and often in trouble with the law. The other was white, respectable, given to violence, and in charge of enforcing the law. The city’s attorneys wanted the jury to doubt the victims because they had criminal records or associations. Wilson’s attorneys wanted the jury to conclude that in February 1982, the police could and did run amok. Ideally, some impartial arbiter might have sorted out the claims before they were aired in federal court. In this city, however, the agency established to fill that role is the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, an office that does little to contradict the notion, voiced by Mrs. Davis, that the police can do anything they want. In 1982 the OPS rejected 96 percent of the complaints filed against policemen, and there has been no substantial improvement since. One can conclude either that the overwhelming majority of citizens who complain are liars or that the system does not work.
Andrew Wilson’s OPS case is a prime example. OPS investigations usually begin when a citizen files a complaint against a policeman. Wilson’s case, however, was opened not by citizen Wilson, but by order of Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, a fact that should have raised the case to a position of prominence. Brzeczek ordered the head of OPS to open a file after receiving a letter from Dr. John Raba, medical director of the hospital that serves the inmates of Cook County Jail. Raba listed Wilson’s injuries, mentioned the allegation that Wilson had been shocked, and urged that Brzeczek conduct a “thorough investigation.”
The OPS investigation was handled by Keith Griffiths, a pale, blond-haired man with a plump face, a mustache, and a demeanor that might lead a stranger to think he was a librarian or an accountant, not an investigator. On the witness stand Griffiths explained that his supervisor had handed him the Wilson file on August 22, 1983, a year and a half after Brzeczek ordered the OPS to investigate. Griffiths testified that at that point, the file contained a few letters and some transcripts of a hearing at which Andrew Wilson had told the story of his arrest and interrogation. The file did not contain the name of the person who had assembled the material, or even an indication that someone from OPS had actually done any investigating. Griffiths testified that his supervisor told him to “write a summary,” which according to OPS procedure meant that he should do no more investigating, that he should simply read the file’s contents and come to a judgment about the case. No one ever told Griffiths to give the case high priority, and so it became a back-burner assignment. Griffiths handed in his three-page summary 706 days after receiving the file, and in all that time no one from the department asked him a single question about it. On the basis of the file’s contents, Griffiths recommended a finding of “not sustained,” and so, three years after Andrew Wilson was arrested, Burge and his colleagues were cleared.
Police Superintendent Brzeczek not only referred the matter to OPS, but also sent a copy of Dr. Raba’s letter to State’s Attorney Richard Daley. Brzeczek wrote that he had publicly stated that he would scrupulously investigate every allegation of police misconduct, but he was wary of jeopardizing the then-pending murder case against Andrew Wilson and so was asking for guidance as to how to proceed. When he took the witness stand in Judge Duff’s courtroom, Brzeczek testified that Daley never replied to the letter.
I asked Mayor Daley to comment on that charge a few weeks ago. Through his press secretary, he said that he had responded not by writing but by initiating an effort to investigate Wilson’s complaints through the state’s attorney’s special prosecutions unit. That effort was thwarted, Daley said, when Wilson and his attorney, public defender Dale Coventry, declined to cooperate.
When I checked that with Coventry, who now supervises multiple-defendant homicide cases for the public defender’s office, he told me that he would never have allowed the state’s attorney’s office to have access to his client. “The only thing I would expect from any investigation they did would be a total whitewash,” Coventry said, “and anything they learned would be used by the prosecution against my client. I was on the Murder Task Force [in the public defender’s office] for eight years with about 15 attorneys, and we shared experiences and ideas, and I do not know anyone who worked on our side of the issue who didn’t see things the same way. I was in court yesterday with someone who was thumped by the cops. It is just standard operating procedure. As the defense attorneys frequently say, the judges pretend to believe the police, and they don’t, and the police get up there and tell their stories and nothing is ever done on these things.”
In closing arguments, Wilson’s attorneys went back to their opening theme, reminding the jury that the case was not about the murder of the two policemen, that it was not about whether Andrew Wilson was a nice man, rather it was about whether the prisoner had been tortured and deprived of his constitutional rights after his arrest. John Stainthorp pointed to some of the contradictions in the policemen’s defense. Several cops had said the radiator in Interview Room 2 didn’t work; Commander Milton Deas, the man who was Burge’s supervisor, had said that the radiator worked just fine. Burge had maintained that he had never even entered the interview room where Wilson was held; another detective had said in a deposition that Burge had. Jeffrey Haas, summing up the case against the city, argued that the city had done nothing to investigate the brutality allegations. He pointed out that when the black community began to protest the police excesses, Superintendent Brzeczek had called a meeting, not of the white cops who were responsible for the excesses, but of the Police Department’s black commanders, who might have been able to cool tempers in their community. Flint Taylor argued that “just because [a policeman] thinks Andrew Wilson deserves the electric chair doesn’t mean [he] can start the process.” He went on to ask why someone like Patricia Crossen, the white nurse who’d treated Wilson in the Mercy Hospital emergency room, would come in to testify for a convicted cop killer if she wasn’t telling the truth, and why, if Wilson was going to make up a story to get his confession thrown out, he would concoct something as bizarre as a shock box and alligator clips–why wouldn’t he simply say that he had been beaten up?
Wilson’s attorneys also raised a major question about the scenario presented by the police. Burge and his colleagues maintained that Wilson had given an oral statement of confession at 7:30 in the morning, shortly after his arrest; the implication was that from that point on there would have been no reason to torture him. But if Wilson did confess at 7:30 AM, why had the police waited ten and a half hours to obtain a written and signed statement? A written and signed statement is an invaluable weapon in the hands of a prosecutor. Yet even though an assistant state’s attorney was present at Area 2 from 8:30 in the morning, no one made any attempt to get Wilson’s written statement until 6:00 that night. Surely the police knew that each passing minute offered the possibility that Wilson might change his mind, or that a lawyer might show up and advise him to remain silent.
Jim McCarthy, summing up for the city, argued that if the city had a policy of abusing people suspected of shooting policemen, then everyone would have abused Andrew Wilson. Yet the keeper of the lockup hadn’t; he first refused to accept Wilson until he had had medical treatment and then he placed the prisoner in a front cell so he could be watched. If the city had such a policy, McCarthy said, then Superintendent Brzeczek would have done nothing upon receiving Dr. Raba’s letter. Instead Brzeczek opened an OPS investigation and wrote to State’s Attorney Daley alerting him to the allegations and asking for direction.
Kunkle, closing for the individual policemen, said that the only thing he and the People’s Law Office agreed on was that Andrew Wilson was entitled to the protection of the Constitution. With Wilson’s guns on display, Kunkle went on to point out that Andrew Wilson didn’t start getting concerned about constitutional rights until February 14, 1982, when “he didn’t have his .38 anymore to make him seem like a big man,” and after he had already deprived officers Fahey and O’Brien of the basic human right to life. Kunkle asked where the black box was and why Wilson’s first attorney hadn’t asked the state’s attorney for a search warrant to go find it. He argued that Wilson’s attorneys had the burden of proving where Wilson’s injuries had come from and that they hadn’t done it; that the “scratches” (not burns) on Wilson’s chest could have come from diving across the car to shoot O’Brien. Kunkle ridiculed Wilson’s allegations of abuse, citing particularly the charge that one of the officers in the paddy wagon had pulled on Wilson’s penis; he asked the jury to imagine the likelihood of a cop pulling on a prisoner’s penis in front of six or eight other cops. Kunkle argued that Wilson was quite capable of dreaming up a complicated story, that Wilson had had all night to put it together, and that it was consistent with his nature as a plotter–look at the way he had approached Mrs. Downs disguised as a postman. Kunkle concluded that Wilson had a right to the protection of the Constitution, but no right to be believed.
After closing arguments were finished, Judge Duff instructed the jury in the law. Duff had dismissed the charges against Detective McKenna midway through the trial. He explained to the jury that the three remaining policemen–Burge, Yucaitis, and O’Hara–each faced two counts. The first count charged that they had abused Wilson, the second that they had engaged in a conspiracy to do so. Each policeman, Duff said, would be guilty under the first count if he participated in the physical abuse or if he was aware of it and did not assist or protect the plaintiff. O’Hara, for example, would be guilty if the evidence showed that he understood that Wilson had been tortured and covered up the fact in his reports. On the second count, any two or all three policemen would be guilty if the jury decided there had been some common and unlawful plan to abuse Wilson.
And so the jury retired. Afterward, individual members said that they were surprised to see that the people they had shared so much with for seven weeks could have such divergent opinions about the case. Four times they sent a message to the judge indicating that they were at an impasse. Ultimately, after ten hours of debate, they voted to clear O’Hara and Yucaitis on count one. On everything else, they remained deadlocked.
Assured that further debate would be useless, Judge Duff declared a mistrial on the unresolved charges, which meant that the whole proceeding would have to be done again. He thanked the jury members for their hard work and sent them home.
They left the federal building not knowing how much they didn’t know about the case. They never learned, for example, that in the closing days of the trial, Wilson’s lawyers had come into possession of evidence so compelling that Judge Duff referred to it as “a hand grenade.”
Shortly after the start of the trial, the People’s Law Office had begun to receive anonymous letters from someone who seemed to have inside knowledge of Area 2. The first letter alleged that during the investigation of the Fahey and O’Brien murders, several men picked up by the police were beaten up in police headquarters at 11th and State, in the presence of an assistant state’s attorney and two of the highest ranking policemen in the department. The letter writer went on to accuse Mayor Byrne and State’s Attorney Richard Daley of ordering that “numerous complaints filed against the police as a result of this crime not be investigated,” and the source alleged that the order “was carried out by an OPS investigator . . . who is close to Alderman [Ed] Burke.” (Daley and Burke vehemently deny the charge. Byrne did not respond to a letter delivered to her home; the investigator–not Keith Griffiths–no longer works for OPS and did not respond to three phone messages.)
The second letter arrived in a Police Department envelope. It said that detectives O’Hara and McKenna had had nothing to do with the incident and that Andrew Wilson was beaten after he confessed, not before.
It was the third letter that produced the hand grenade. “I advise you to immediately interview a Melvin Jones who is in the Cook County Jail on a murder charge. . . . When you speak with him compare the dates from 1982 and you will see why it is important.”
Wilson’s attorneys found Jones, and he told them that he had been arrested on a murder charge on February 5, 1982, four days before Fahey and O’Brien were shot and nine days before Andrew Wilson met Jon Burge. Jones said that in an attempt to get him to confess, Lieutenant Burge shocked him with an electrical device on the foot, penis, and thigh. Jones said he had told the story seven years earlier at a hearing on a motion to suppress his confession, and Wilson’s lawyers located a copy of the transcript:
Q: Have a seat, Mr. Jones. What if anything happened after he placed the electrical device on you, or on your foot?
A: When he put it on my foot, I started hollering, I made a statement to him, “You ain’t supposed to be doing this to me.”
Q: And what happened then?
A: He told me that he ain’t got no proof, you know to this, and that’s when he looked over to [another officer].
Q: When he looked at [the other officer], did he say anything to [him]?
A: Yes, he did. . . . He said, “Do you see anything?” And [the other officer] looked up at the ceiling and told him he didn’t see nothing. . . . Then he said, “You see, it’s just me and you,” you know. He says, “No court and no state are going to take your word against a lieutenant’s word.”
Later in the transcript, Jones says that Burge asked him if he knew two men with the nicknames Satan and Cochise:
A: I told him I have heard of them; I didn’t know them personally.
Q: What if anything did he say to you at that time?
A: He said, they both had the same treatment, you know. He was telling me what kind of guys they was as far as supposed to be being, you know, kind of tough or something, you know. They crawled all over the floor.
Armed with the Jones revelations, Wilson’s lawyers came to court hoping to break the case wide open, but knowing that they had a time problem. The tip from their anonymous source arrived about a week after Wilson’s attorneys had finished presenting their evidence, so in order to get Jones’s allegations aired in court they would have to convince Judge Duff to let them either reopen their case or present the new evidence in the rebuttal portion of the trial.
Duff conceded that the evidence was “awesome.” He also felt, however, that it required substantial investigation and development. The trial was already running well over its allotted time (it had been scheduled for three weeks and would run seven), and Duff, who prides himself on his case management and is recognized for it, blamed much of the delay on Wilson’s attorneys. Ultimately the judge said no, they could not reopen their case, and so the jury retired with no knowledge of Jones, Cochise, or Satan.
I report this as if it were simply a legal ruling, made in a calm moment after the weighing of various legal arguments, and perhaps that is indeed how Judge Duff came to his decision. It is difficult to imagine, however, how the judge could have divorced himself from the emotional heat in the courtroom. The relationship between the judge and Wilson’s lawyers had deteriorated almost from the first day of the trial. That deterioration escalated when the judge began to suspect that the People’s Law Office was disobeying his orders not to talk to the press about the case, a suspicion that arose after Chicago Lawyer published an article containing photographs of Wilson’s injuries and a portion of Dr. Kirschner’s deposition. By sheer coincidence, the article appeared in the same issue that carried the survey results rating Duff as the worst judge on the federal bench. From that point on, Duff seemed very concerned with his press coverage.
The concern became part of the court record in the trial’s third week, when, with the jury out of the courtroom, Wilson’s attorneys alleged that Duff had referred to their client as “the scum of the earth.” The lawyers maintained that, in an off-the-record conference, the judge had said, “This is a case where it will be determined whether the constitution will protect the scum of the earth against governmental misconduct.” The judge was horrified and claimed that he had said “each of you feels that the other is the scum of the earth. I’m going to let the jury decide.”
“I can tell you that tonight on the ten o’clock news there will be a news piece that says the judge called the plaintiff the scum of the earth,” Duff said. “. . . You’re going to have a headline in the paper today, maybe not a front-page headline, maybe not a banner headline, but you’re going to have big news stories that say that Mr. Haas said that the judge called the plaintiff the scum of the earth. . . . Now you have done it. . . . You all know that I have very recently been characterized as dumber than a box of rocks and prejudicial and a lot of things. . . . What you have just done is attack the integrity of this trial and attack the integrity of this court in public, and it’s very, very serious. It’s heartbreaking, as a matter of fact. . . . I feel like I have been bludgeoned. . . . It is disgraceful, an injury from which I doubt this court will recover.”
The judge demanded an apology and Haas gave it; the judge then chastised Haas for issuing his retraction after the media were gone for the day.
Duff’s nightmare–a “scum of the earth” headline and story–never materialized, but his irritation with Haas, Taylor, and Stainthorp surfaced daily. By the end of the trial on March 30, he had chastised them for shuffling their feet, for their facial expressions, for having their hands in their pockets, for leaning on the lectern. By April 12 he had held Taylor in contempt four times and Haas once.
It came as no surprise then when the People’s Law Office filed a motion arguing that they could not possibly get a fair trial from Judge Duff the second time around. The motion for recusal charged that Duff had suggested that Wilson was under the influence of drugs when he broke down while describing his experience at Area 2; that the judge had incorrectly assumed Wilson was a gang member; that he had repeatedly referred to Wilson, the plaintiff, as the defendant; and that he had called the prisoner “the scum of the earth.” Wilson’s attorneys also argued that the judge’s rulings showed extreme prejudice in favor of Kunkle’s clients. The lawyers cited several examples, among them an occasion when Taylor used a document that Kunkle contended had been declared off-limits by the judge in an earlier ruling. The judge agreed with Kunkle, said that he had even issued a written ruling on the matter, and indicated that because of Taylor’s error he would entertain Kunkle’s motion for a mistrial. Later it became apparent that Duff had never ruled on the matter. In another instance, Duff found Taylor in contempt for using a document that the judge believed he had ruled off-limits; it turned out that during pretrial negotiations, all parties in the case had agreed in writing that the document was admissible.
On April 11, after a rambling, emotional morning session that bore more resemblance to a family argument than to a legal proceeding, the judge said that he was not in any way biased against Andrew Wilson and ruled that he would not step down. The retrial was scheduled for mid-June.
In preparing for the second trial, Wilson’s attorneys began to follow up their leads from Melvin Jones. They found Satan in Stateville. His real name is Anthony Holmes, and ironically his arrest is mentioned in one of Burge’s Police Department commendations, a commendation that cites Burge for “skillful questioning.” Holmes told the People’s Law Office that Burge had used the black box on him in 1973.
Melvin Jones had been represented by an attorney named Cassandra Watson, and she in turn led Wilson’s lawyers to a man named Michael Johnson, incarcerated at Menard. Johnson said that Burge had shocked him in the testicles, that he had filed an OPS complaint and that the FBI had investigated his charges, but that both actions had come to naught.
Those contacts led to others. Wilson’s attorneys found a man named George Powell, resident in Danville Penitentiary, who said that Burge had shocked him in the chest and stomach with a cattle prod. Lawrence Poree, an inmate in Pontiac, told the attorneys that Burge had shocked him in the arm, armpits, and testicles; on another occasion years later, Poree said, Burge began another electroshock session with the words, “Fun time again.”
Other men told of brutal treatment, naming not Burge but other Area 2 policemen. Gregory Banks, convicted of murder and armed robbery, claimed that three detectives from Area 2 had beaten him with a flashlight, stuck a gun in his mouth, and, saying they had something special reserved for “niggers,” put a plastic bag over his head. (Last month, the Illinois Appellate Court ordered that Banks deserved a retrial, citing the inconsistent stories told by the officers about how Banks sustained his injuries and the fact that the same officers had been accused of a similar modus operandi 13 months earlier–a fact that the Appellate Court believed should have been allowed into evidence in Banks’s trial.) Wilson’s attorneys also dug up some of the court file of a man named Darrell Cannon, who had been arrested five days after Banks by the same three officers. In an affidavit Cannon claimed that the policemen had addressed him as “nigger” when they put a pump shotgun into his mouth; that they had pulled his pants down to his ankles and shocked his testicles with a cattle prod; and that they had also put the cattle prod in his mouth. Cannon drew pictures to illustrate his story, and although they are crude, the detail in them is striking; in one illustration, in which Cannon is being shocked on the genitals, he shows policemen standing on each of his feet to keep him from moving. His drawing of the cattle prod is remarkably similar to Wilson’s description of the second device that Burge allegedly used on him.
The graphic stories of Banks and Cannon, however, were of little use to Wilson’s attorneys. Given the limits of their lawsuit, they had to concentrate on the cases involving Commander Burge. Those cases, which included the names of five other detectives at Area 2, covered the years 1968 to 1982.
And Wilson’s lawyers had two significant legal obstacles to overcome before they could use even those cases. First, Wilson’s complaint alleged that Burge and his colleagues had abused people suspected of shooting policemen, and that the city had a policy of allowing such abuse. All of the alleged torture victims the lawyers had located had been charged with felonies, but only one, a man named Willie Porch, had been arrested in connection with the shooting of a cop. So Wilson’s lawyers moved to amend their complaint. Duff, however, ruled against them. He believed that if he allowed the new evidence to be heard, the proceeding would become a series of trials within a trial and that the whole process could well take a year. “In my opinion,” Judge Duff said, “the allegations that have been made about Commander Burge are extremely serious. If true, they might very well require an investigation on the part of the U.S. attorney and/or the FBI.” Duff said that he had in fact informed the U.S. attorney of the allegations, saying that if they were true, a federal investigation was warranted, and if they were false, then federal authorities should investigate whether Wilson’s lawyers or those they had spoken to had engaged in a conspiracy “to suborn perjury and/or interfere with the process of this court.”
Wilson’s attorneys did not give up hope however, because they thought they might be able to work Melvin Jones into their case even though he had not been arrested for the murder of a policeman. The Federal Rules of Evidence usually forbid the use of prior crimes or actions to sully the character of the accused; the reasoning is that a man on trial for bank robbery should not be convicted of the robbery at hand simply because he has been convicted of some crime in the past. However, the rules allow such evidence to be introduced if it tends to prove facts at issue in the case, including motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, or identity.
This was the second obstacle that Wilson’s lawyers tried to surmount: they claimed that the Jones material did exactly what the rules of evidence require–demonstrated that Burge’s intent was to obtain confessions by torture; that his motive was to punish suspects; that his plan was to torture people until they confessed; that he was prepared or equipped to torture people and that he knew how to do it; that he had the opportunity to do it; and that the similarities between the Jones and Wilson claims were so pronounced that they amounted to a trademark, a signature, an identification of the perpetrator.
On May 19, four weeks before the start of the second trial, Judge Duff ruled that the Jones evidence was not admissible. His ruling was made orally, not in writing, and from the transcript it is difficult to follow his reasoning: He states that the Jones evidence does not show intent, but he does not explain why. He states that the Jones evidence does not show motive, because Jones’s case had no connection to Wilson’s. He goes on to say that the evidence could not be used to prove identity because no one was contesting Burge’s identity, and he finds that the Jones testimony does not show that Burge had the opportunity to torture Wilson, or that he was prepared or equipped to do so, because the device used against Jones was “dissimilar to the two devices used against Wilson.” (Jones had testified that the wires on the device used against him were connected to a couple of objects that resembled tweezers; Wilson had described them as alligator clips.) The judge did rule that the Jones testimony was “possibly relevant” to the issue of punitive damages, and so he ordered that the issue of punitive damages would be separated from the trial. If the second jury came back with a verdict in Wilson’s favor, the judge might then allow Jones to testify in order to help the jury decide what damages should be assessed against Burge.
The second trial opened on June 19 with little fanfare. None of the courthouse reporters stopped in to hear opening arguments. Over the course of the next seven weeks, many of the witnesses from the first trial came back and told their stories a second time. Wilson’s lawyers added a few new voices as policy witnesses against the city, among them the aforementioned Willie Porch, the only man uncovered during the interval between trials whose allegations of abuse involved an incident in which someone had shot at a policeman. Porch, who was serving 30 years for armed robbery and attempted murder, said that he was handcuffed behind his back and that a Sergeant X had stood on Porch’s testicles, hit him on the head repeatedly with a gun, and tried to hang him by his handcuffs to a hook on a closet door. (The rules of evidence concerning prior crimes prevented Porch from telling the jury that Sergeant X was Jon Burge.)
Wilson’s lawyers had also wanted to have Donald White testify. White, or Kojak, had been with the Wilson brothers on February 9, after the burglary and before the shooting of Fahey and O’Brien. Coincidentally, he had been picked up as a suspect in the shooting after eyewitness Tyrone Sims picked White’s photograph from a group of mug shots, saying he resembled the killer. White was arrested soon thereafter and was taken to police headquarters at 11th and State. In a sworn deposition taken after the second trial was under way, White said that he was interrogated by Area 2 detectives, that they put a plastic bag over his head, and that they beat him on the head and body with fists and books. Because he could not see out of the bag, he could not tell who was doing the beating, but he did identify Burge, O’Hara, and McKenna as being among the officers who were in the room. He also said that he could hear the screams and cries for help of his brothers, who had been picked up with him.
The state’s attorney’s office had intended to use White to testify against Andrew Wilson in his first criminal trial and they had housed and fed him for a time as part of their witness protection program. In arguments before Judge Duff, Kunkle and the city’s attorneys argued that White had not complained of being beaten to anyone in the state’s attorney’s office, and he had not filed an OPS complaint. Citing those factors and the evidence rules concerning prior acts, Duff decided that White would not be allowed to take the stand. Wilson’s lawyers were outraged. Given that White was being questioned about the very crime that Andrew Wilson was later questioned and allegedly tortured for, classifying the detectives’ treatment of White as a “prior act” struck the attorneys as ludicrous.
The most amazing aspect of the second trial, however, was not Judge Duff’s rulings, but the detectives’ revamped defense. They did without the services of Dr. Warpeha, the $500-an-hour burn expert. This time the police maintained that Wilson’s wounds were burns after all–and that Wilson had inflicted them himself.
In the first trial, the police maintained that Wilson had been kept in Interview Room 2, and several detectives had claimed that the radiator in that room didn’t work. In the second trial, it was suggested that Wilson was kept in Interview Room 1, where the radiator did work, and that Wilson had burned himself on it. The man brought forward to support this contention was a British citizen, a jailhouse informant named William Coleman.
Coleman, born in Liverpool in 1948, has also been known as Mark Krammer, Paul Roberts, Richard Hallaran, R.W. Stevenson, Doctor Roberts, W. Van der Vim, Peter Karl William, John Simmons, and William Clarkson. He has served time in prisons in England, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Monaco, Hong Kong, and the United States. He has been convicted of fraud, theft, perjury, manslaughter, and blackmail. On March 13, 1987, he was arrested in suburban Harvey and charged with possession with intent to deliver cocaine. He eventually ended up in Cook County Jail on the same tier as Andrew Wilson, who was then awaiting the retrial of his murder case.
Coleman, who is white, claimed that a few days after he met Wilson, the black convict made two amazing admissions: he said that he had indeed killed the two police officers (a particularly stupid admission given that he was maintaining his innocence in his impending retrial), and he said that he had burned himself on the radiator in the interview room in order to make it appear as though his confession had been coerced. (Coleman offered no explanation for the pattern of scabs on Wilson’s ears and nose.)
Coleman was an unbelievable witness to those who knew his record. The jury, however, did not know most of it, as in most circumstances legal precedent precludes the mention of convictions over ten years old. In order to convey to the jury that Coleman was always willing to make up a story, the People’s Law Office paid for journalist Gregory Miskiw to be flown in from England. Miskiw was prepared to tell the jury this tale: In 1986, he was working in London as a reporter for the Daily Mirror when he received a call from Coleman, who was then living in Washington, D.C., under the name Clarkson. Coleman told Miskiw that he could prove that Lord Litchfield, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, had been arrested for possession of cocaine on a visit to Washington the previous October. Miskiw flew to Washington and waited for Coleman to connect him with the police officer who would provide the documentation. The policeman never materialized. In the meantime, Coleman offered information about the sex life of British tennis star Kevin Curran. Miskiw investigated William Coleman instead and ultimately filed a story under the headline “Amazing Royal Smear of Billy Liar.”
Wilson’s attorneys were gambling, however, when they imported Miskiw. Kunkle and James McCarthy, the city’s lawyer, seemed gleeful at the prospect of questioning a reporter who worked for a tabloid that regularly carried photos of bare-breasted women on page three (the copy that was passed around the defense table had the front-page headline “FURY OVER DOLLY WHOPPERS–SEX SLUR ROCKS BUSTY QUEEN OF COUNTRY MUSIC”). Judge Duff excused the jury, heard Miskiw’s story, and allowed Kunkle some cross-examination. Kunkle asked if Miskiw had any personal knowledge of Lord Litchfield or his habits; Miskiw said no. Kunkle asked if Miskiw had any personal knowledge about the sex life of Kevin Curran; Miskiw said no. It became apparent that although Miskiw’s “Billy Liar” story was probably truthful, its contents were what courts call hearsay, not evidence. Miskiw left the city the following day, never having faced the jury.
In the meantime, the trial’s bitter atmosphere continued. Wilson’s attorneys helped organize an anti-Burge demonstration outside the Federal Building, risking a mistrial in so doing. Judge Duff cited them for contempt at least four times, and they began telling the judge that he was running “an Alice in Wonderland proceeding.” In a sidebar on July 28, corporation counsel McCarthy suggested that he and Taylor should settle their differences with their fists. Taylor called Judge Duff a liar. Duff held Taylor in contempt and said it would cost him $500. The following day, Taylor said, “I’ve had enough of this horseshit.” Duff fined him another $500. (In the end, although Duff had held Wilson’s attorneys in contempt at least eight times in the two trials, he delivered only three formal charges.)
The second trial came to an end after eight weeks. To everyone’s surprise, the jury of six suburbanites debated for three days. When they ultimately emerged, they had a strange verdict. In deciding whether the city had had a policy of abusing people suspected of shooting policemen, the jury had been directed to answer three questions; for Wilson to win a judgment against the city, the three questions had to be answered affirmatively. (1) Were Andrew Wilson’s constitutional rights violated on 2/14/82? The jury said yes. (2) Do you find that in 1982 the city had a de facto policy, practice, or custom whereby the police were allowed to abuse those suspected of killing policemen? Again, the jury said yes. (3) Do you find that Wilson was subjected to excessive force due to this policy? The jury said no.
The jury went on to clear Burge and his comrades of all charges.
On its face, the verdict makes no sense. The jurors seem to be saying that Wilson’s rights were violated, but not by these policemen, that the city did indeed have a policy of abusing people suspected of shooting policemen, but that Wilson escaped that policy, although he was abused.
I called jury foreman Alan Gall for an explanation. In a tape-recorded interview the 28-year-old printer said that the jury had been deadlocked, “almost hung,” but that the outcome was pretty much what he wanted. He said that he believed the witnesses who testified that the police had run amok in their search for the killers of Fahey and O’Brien, and as a result he believed that there had been a policy of abuse. He did not, however, believe that Wilson was injured under that policy. His reasoning was a bit circuitous. He said he thought that if the detectives at Area 2 were able to abuse Wilson at will, knowing that no one in the department or the city would do anything about it, they would have abused him in such a way as to not leave any marks. Leaving marks, he said, was the one way the public and the media could find out that Wilson was beaten.
“If anything, I believe it was an emotional outburst by them,” Gall said, “and that was the reason why he suffered his injuries. I don’t think it necessarily had to be done under this policy.”
So the foreman believed that Burge and his colleagues had tortured Wilson? “I’m not saying that,” Gall said. “. . . We believe that he did sustain these injuries from the police, some of the injuries, but there wasn’t enough evidence to show that he got all of the injuries from the police. As to whether or not he was actually tortured, there is not enough evidence either. . . . It just seemed to me they were just really mad at this guy for shooting one of their buddies, and you know, a couple of these guys took the liberty of letting their emotional attitude toward this guy show. They were just acting out of their anger toward this guy. That is something that we agreed upon. . . . [But] it is kind of hard to find someone responsible for something so serious without an actual witness coming forward, a neutral witness coming forward and saying ‘I seen him do it.’ . . . We did agree that he got those injuries from someone, but as far as being specific as to who actually did the damage, there just wasn’t enough evidence. . . . You know convicts, a lot of these guys are streetwise and they’re pretty good at bullshitting.”
A few weeks after the jury came back with its verdict, Commander Burge consented to an interview in his office at Area 3 headquarters. There is nothing remarkable about the room, which is decorated with pictures of police softball and bowling teams, sports trophies, an autographed picture of Police Superintendent Leroy Martin, a photo of the Saint Jude’s League parade (the league helps the families of police officers killed in action), and two commendations. I could tell you that I found the man in the office sinister, but the truth is that I find Jon Burge a likable man. He’s irreverent, he’s modest about his accomplishments, and he tells a good story. He was concerned that I would put words in his mouth and had asked another policeman to sit in on the interview as a witness, but as I was taping the interview and promised to send him a copy of the tape, he dismissed his recruited monitor and answered my questions.
Because Wilson’s attorneys are putting together an appeal, Burge did not feel at liberty to speak about the case in any depth. “The only statement I can make is that the jury has spoken,” he said. “I testified at both trials. I did nothing wrong.”
I asked if he could say anything about the allegation that he has been abusing prisoners, sometimes with electroshock, since 1968. “All I can tell you are things I have heard, which is that there are a great number of misrepresentations,” Burge said. He said that in some of these cases, he’d been told, the alleged victims filed no motions to suppress their confessions, though such motions are expected from suspects who are physically abused. In other instances, Burge said, the victims never made statements confessing involvement in the crimes for which they were arrested, so again there were no motions to suppress and no charges of abuse recorded. “Basically, I would say that they [Wilson’s lawyers] have made gross misrepresentations or they believe what they are saying and the people they talked to lied to them.”
It seems unlikely at this point that we will ever know if those accusations are lies, gross misrepresentations, or truth. The statute of limitations for aggravated battery is three years, and that interval has now passed on all of the incidents uncovered thus far. It is possible that the U.S. Court of Appeals will order a new trial in Wilson’s civil suit, and a different judge might allow Wilson’s attorneys wider scope than Duff did. In that event there might be further testimony and cross-examination on the charges. It would also be possible for the U.S. attorney’s office to enter the arena, even at this late date; if federal prosecutors believed Burge had indeed tortured suspects and lied about it under oath, they could charge him with perjury. However, Wilson’s lawyers have spoken with the U.S. attorney’s office, and they have been led to believe that the government will not be pursuing any investigation.
This case, despite its inherent drama and the clash of personalities in the courtroom, was no different than others in that much of the proceeding was tedious, and while I waited for the attorneys and the judge to emerge from their innumerable sidebars my mind wandered. I often found myself speculating about the big question, the one that was never asked. Dr. Kirschner, the torture expert and deputy chief medical examiner, had said that Andrew Wilson’s testimony was consistent with what is known about torture victims. No one asked him if the behavior of the police was consistent with that of torturers, or if the city itself resembled the sort of society where torture might take place.
In his book The Nazi Doctors, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton points out that although we prefer to see torturers as palpably evil and mentally deranged, in fact psychopaths are unfit for the job and torturers usually turn out to be quite normal people. Psychologist Mika Haritos-Fatouros studied 16 former members of Greece’s Army Police Corps, the group that tortured Greek citizens for the junta that ruled the country from 1967 to 1974, and found no indication that any of the former torturers were sadists, no indication even that they had been particularly aggressive as children. Torture, they said, had just been part of their job, and they had seen the people they were torturing as threats to Greek civilization. Molly Harrower, a University of Florida psychologist, discovered that Rorschach specialists could not differentiate between the ink-blot test results of a group of Nazi war criminals (including Adolf Eichmann, Rudolf Hess, and Hermann Goering) and the results recorded by a group of Americans, some well-adjusted, some severely disturbed; the experts judged an equal number of both sets to be well-adjusted.
The literature on torture indicates that those who do it often develop the attitude that the people being tortured are less than human. Sometimes the victims are given derogatory nicknames (e.g., “gooks”), sometimes they are called simply by numbers. Torturers also tend to give nicknames to their procedures (in Zaire, a prisoner made to drink his own urine was said to be given le petit dejeuner–breakfast; in Brazil, there was the “parrot’s perch,” a device for hanging a prisoner upside down and beating him or her; in Greece, beatings were known as “tea parties”; in Uruguay, prolonged submersion of a prisoner’s head under water was called el submarino, while in Chile it was known as la banera–the bath). Sexual abuse is not uncommon (in Northern Ireland, police pulled and squeezed prisoners’ testicles; in Israel, Palestinian detainees have reported being beaten around the genitals; in Uganda, testicles have been crushed by cattle-gelding tools). Once begun, torture seems to have a tendency to increase: it may start out as a method of obtaining confessions or information, but often it continues long after the prisoner has told everything he or she knows. Torture becomes a method of controlling a community by intimidation, so in the end, the torturer’s purpose is served no matter who the victim is or whether he or she is innocent or guilty.
Participants in torture and those who are aware of it tend not to object as long as someone else is in charge. “I obeyed,” Adolf Eichmann told an Israeli interrogator. “Regardless of what I was ordered to do, I would have obeyed.” In the famous Stanley Milgram experiments at Yale in 1961, normal American adults, told that they were participating in an experiment on the effects of punishment on learning, were perfectly willing to apply dangerously high levels of electric shock to students who got wrong answers, as long as someone in authority was ultimately responsible. (In fact the students were actors and no electric shock was applied.)
It takes no genius to see coincidences between these patterns and the Chicago case. According to Wilson and Lawrence Poree, Burge called the electrical interrogation “fun time.” In a deposition, Burge admitted that he was given to calling suspects “pieces of human garbage.” Wilson alleges that his penis was yanked. The anonymous letter writer claims that Wilson was not tortured to get a confession, that he had in fact already confessed. If one believes Wilson’s description of the course of events, it follows that a fair number of policemen knew something strange was going on in that closed room, both that day and on others; perhaps they do not come forward because, as in Milgram’s experiment, someone in charge sanctioned the operation.
Why does the U.S. attorney not investigate? Perhaps because no one believes it can happen here. It certainly seemed that the press did not believe it: Wilson’s second trial last summer passed completely unnoticed but for the verdict. During the first trial, the courthouse reporters were filing almost daily, not on the Wilson case, but on the trial of sports agents Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom, a trial that featured a parade of celebrities and a duel of famous lawyers but no hard questions about the city, its police force, or what we as citizens will tolerate or condone.
Perhaps there is no federal investigation because deep down, most people feel that Andrew Wilson deserved it. But then what about Roy Brown, who said his finger was put in a bolt cutter? And what about Doris Miller, 45, a neighbor of the Wilsons’, a postal worker, a woman who had never been arrested before? Under oath she said she was handcuffed to a windowsill in an interview room, was denied access to a toilet for about 14 hours, and ultimately had to relieve herself in an ashtray. And what about some of the other men who passed through Area 2 and were convicted of crimes on the basis of confessions given after they allegedly had their testicles stood upon, or bags put over their heads, or cattle prods taken to their genitals? Might they in fact be innocent?
Perhaps there is no investigation simply because, as other nations have found, torture is an intimate affair, something that happens among a few adults behind a closed door, something that is hard to prove afterward because the accused–often decorated soldiers who have served their country in a time of crisis–deny the allegations, and the victims are terrorists, alleged terrorists, associates of terrorists, associates of associates, subversives, dissidents, criminals, rioters, stone throwers, sympathizers, or relatives of the above.
In the course of the two trials I met the father, brother, and wife of Officer Fahey–good, solid, unpretentious Irish-Americans–and I pondered their predicament: if Andrew Wilson, the killer of their son, brother, and husband, were to prevail in his suit and collect some of the $10 million he was asking for, Officer Fahey’s three children might be better off, as they would certainly prevail in the wrongful death suit they’ve brought against Wilson and would collect whatever he had received in compensation. Yet it was quite clear to me that father, brother, and wife were not in the Wilson camp. That set me to wondering what Officer Fahey, with his policeman’s sixth sense, would have thought of the evidence, or of the allegations surrounding the old Area 2 headquarters at 91st and Cottage Grove. I couldn’t help but think that he might have cocked his finger, aimed it at the door of the building, and said, “This place is dirty.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Albert Richardson.