Jon Burge Trial: Police Torture Described By First Witness As Trial Begins
The perjury trial has begun for Chicago's infamous Jon Burge, the former police commander who is believed to have tortured hundreds of suspects during his 22-year career.
In opening arguments given Wednesday by prosecutor Betsy Biffl, the state alleged that the Area 2 Violent Crimes Unit where Burge worked had a "dirty little secret."
"Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil -- that could have been the motto at Area 2 when Jon Burge worked there," she said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "Those who knew the secret, kept the secret."
And testimony given Thursday began to expose jurors to the types of horrors Burge is accused of committing.
In 1973, Anthony "Satan" Holmes "had the build of a champion weightlifter," WBEZ's John Conroy reports. He was a leader of the Royal Family gang, and a high-ranking member of the Black Gangster Disciples.
In court Thursday, Holmes described how Burge brought him to confess. His confession would be the only evidence against him in a murder conviction that kept him in jail for 30 years.
"He took the box and plugged it into the wall," said Holmes, an imposing figure with his hair pulled into a tiny bun and tattoos dotting his arms. "He put one wire on my ankle (shackles) and I assume he put the other one on my handcuffs... He said, 'N-----, you're going to tell me what I want to know." ...
Holmes said Burge subjected him to repeated shocks and suffocated him with plastic bags until he passed out from the pain and lack of oxygen, Holmes said. Again and again, he was revived and the torture began anew.
"He kept doing me like that, I didn't know if it was daytime, nighttime -- I just couldn't take it," Holmes said. "I was in a different world. All I know is that when he took the bag off, I'd say whatever he wanted me to say."
Oddly enough, prosecutors maintain that Burge himself led them to find Holmes. Conroy explains: anonymous police tips in the early 1990s led civil rights lawyers to contact Melvin Jones, a prisoner at Cook County Jail. Jones described his own painful electrocution at Burge's hands. He also claimed that Burge had boasted of breaking tougher criminals than he.
Burge asked Jones if he knew two gangsters who went by Satan and Cochise. "He said, they both had the same treatment, you know," Jones told lawyers at the time. "He was telling me what kind of guys they was as far as supposed to be being, you know, kind of tough or something. They crawled all over the floor."
Lawyers were then able to identify Satan as Anthony Holmes, who was serving time for murder in Stateville prison. He described Burge's treatment then as he did in court today.
In their opening arguments, defense attorneys said there was a "major league disagreement" about the events that took place at Area 2. Attorney William Gamboney told jurors Burge rose through the ranks due to "efficient, legal, hard and often heroic work," and called him an "honorable" man, at which point the otherwise stoic Burge wiped a tear from his eye.
No torture charges have been leveled against Burge, as the statute of limitations for those offenses has passed. Instead, he is being tried for two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for testifying in a 2003 lawsuit that he did not use torture or know about its use.
If convicted, the ailing 62-year-old could face 45 years in prison.