Testimony from a group of swarthy, hard-faced former burglars, robbers and gangbangers likely made reaching a guilty verdict Monday against former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge all the more difficult.
Really, though, the trial hinged on the one victim who didn't testify but whose case is responsible for charges finally being brought against Burge: Madison Hobley, the one true innocent.
Notarized answers former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge gave to legal questions in a wrongful conviction lawsuit filed against him in 2003 by Hobley proved the clincher that caught Burge in the lie he's told for too long.
Burge was found guilty on one court of perjury and two counts of obstruction of justice. He faces 45 years in prison and fines. Free on bond, Burge will be sentenced Nov. 5.
"I'm elated that a jury of predominately white people have spoken and said it's wrong to torture African-American men," regardless of their criminal histories, said G. Flint Taylor, a Chicago attorney who represents several Burge torture victims.
A giddy Rob Warden, executive director the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions, said: "I find it difficult to be rooting for the prosecution. If this hadn't happened, it would have been a tremendous setback" in addressing pending torture claims. "Some people will be getting out."
Former suspects, medical and legal professionals who testified, and photos, contradicted the white-haired, patrician Burge's confident assertions in Judge Joan Lefkow's courtroom that he'd never engaged in torture and the notarized interrogatories he signed in 2003 were confusing to answer.
Victims testified Burge or officers working for him employed a menu of torture techniques: using pinchy alligator clips to administer electro-shock, and shocking their genitals and other body parts with probes, smothering them with plastic bags, strapping them to a radiator and scorching them, and playing Russian roulette. One witness, Andrew Wilson, testified from the grave, as Judge Lefkow allowed a federal agent to read previous testimony Wilson had given.
So if a parade of former and dead criminals, and suspected bleeding-heart liberals in the form of a jail doctor and defense attorneys, made it difficult to believe anything other than Burge and his underlings -- called the A-Team -- were just trying to do their jobs, the written record laid bare the big lie.
In Hobley's case, the only thing the then-26-year-old was "guilty" of was cheating on his wife, as former Chicago Reader writer John Conroy so eloquently illustrated in a May 2000 piece examining how Hobley ended up on Death Row after his wife and toddler died in a South Side fire. Investigating police said Hobley's motive was to get rid of his wife and baby so he could resume a relationship with a former mistress. In truth, police falsified and withheld evidence.
Pardoned by George Ryan in 2003, Hobley sat on death row more than a decade after he was tortured -- beaten and bagged -- into confessing to setting the East 82nd Street apartment fire on January 6, 1987 that killed his family and several neighbors. In 2009, the city of Chicago settled Hobley's wrongful conviction suit for $1 million.
Outside the courtroom Monday, onlookers expressed joy that a jury with only one black person finally validated what millions of dollars in special investigations and reports have said all along: Jon Burge routinely tortured and abused black male suspects in his custody during his tenure at Chicago's Area 2 on the South Side.
"A lot of really good police officers go out every day to protect the citizens of Chicago," said Ald. Ed Smith (28th) who attended the trial daily. "The few bad apples that have caused pain to the city of Chicago, that has to be stopped."
The Burge verdict is only the beginning. Taylor and others are calling for the prosecution of the other officers who worked and allegedly tortured at Burge's pleasure. Other wrongful conviction advocates want retrials for men making credible claims that Burge tortured them into false confessions: "All of the people in jail," Smith said. "... I want those people out, and I want them made whole."
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