12/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Man Who Alleges Burge Torture Appeals Murder Convictions

A man whose death sentence was commuted to life in prison by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan has filed a petition to get his murder conviction overturned, claiming he was tortured into confessing.

In a petition filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, attorneys for Cortez Brown say he confessed to killing two men in 1990 only after detectives under the command of former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge beat him with their fists and a flashlight. Brown was convicted of first-degree murder in 1992 and sentenced to death.

Burge was charged by federal authorities last month with lying under oath on written questions in a civil lawsuit when he denied knowing about or taking part in the torture of suspects in the 1970s and 1980s. He has pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges.

Brown, who was convicted of gunning down two men in separate killings as part of a gang rivalry, spent more than a decade on death row before then-Gov. George Ryan, citing flaws in the death penalty system, in 2003 spared every condemned inmate from execution.

Most had their sentences commuted to life in prison, though Ryan pardoned a handful. Brown is one of more than 20 men still in prison who claim they confessed only after police under Burge's command beat or electrocuted them.

His case is one of 14 now under review by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, according to Ann Spillane, Madigan's chief of staff.

Locke Bowman, one of the attorneys representing Brown, said he continues to plan for an upcoming hearing -- ordered last year by an appellate court -- during which he will present evidence that Brown was tortured.

Bowman, legal director of Northwestern University's MacArthur Justice Center, said the case is scheduled to return to court Dec. 15, at which time the judge could set a date for the hearing -- possibly one of the first regarding allegations of torture.

"This is a very serious ... concern in the Illinois criminal justice system," he said. "One by one or all together, these cases have got to be addressed."