CHICAGO — In the end, federal jurors determining the fate of a former Chicago police officer accused of lying about the torture of suspects must decide who is telling the truth: the decorated officer or the five felons.
Jurors are resuming deliberations Friday in the case of former police Lt. Jon Burge, a man whose name has become synonymous with police brutality and abuse of power in Chicago. All five accusers have several criminal convictions, including the murders of two police officers.
Jurors have heard nearly five weeks of testimony from felons who described beatings, suffocations and games of Russian roulette at the hands of Burge and his men. They also heard from Burge, a decorated former officer and Vietnam veteran who repeatedly denied ever participating in physical abuse or witnessing any during his 28 years with the Chicago police department.
Burge has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of lying in a civil suit when he denied committing or witnessing torture. The two obstruction of justice counts against him each carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the perjury count carries up to five years.
Burge was cast as both a calculating torturer who took the law into his own hands and an honorable investigator who dedicated his life to making the streets safer as federal prosecutors and defense attorneys closed their cases Thursday.
For decades, scores of suspects – almost all of them black men – have alleged that Burge and his "A Team" of officers tortured them into confessing to crimes from armed robbery to murder. His 2008 indictment marked the first time he was criminally charged in connection with torture claims – something that has created outrage in Chicago's black neighborhoods.
Prosecutors presented testimony from five men who said Burge or his officers shocked, suffocated and beat them into giving confessions. One man testified that Burge removed all the bullets but one from his gun, pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger three times.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weisman said Burge's alleged crimes affected not only his five victims but the police officers left to try to rebuild trust in neighborhoods and "the community that the defendant was supposed to serve." Burge was fired from the police department in 1993.
Defense attorneys derided the five accusers as junkies, pathological liars and career criminals and said they had fabricated their allegations for money or to get out of their cases.
While prosecutors painted Burge as a ruthless racist who knew no one would believe his black victims' claims of abuse, defense lawyer Rick Beuke said Burge honorably served and protected his community.
"Evil still lurks in those streets," Beuke said. "(Residents) would be better off if this gentleman was still there."
The jury, minus the five alternates who sat through the trial, began deliberating Thursday afternoon. The dismissal of the alternates leaves seven men and five women, including one African American. Burge faces up to 45 years in prison.