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Judge hears death row torture case

By Alan Maass | January 4, 2002 | Page 2

ILLINOIS DEATH row prisoner Aaron Patterson's struggle for justice will take center stage in a Chicago courtroom next week. Judge Michael Toomin is holding new hearings into allegations that Chicago police tortured Aaron--and fabricated a "confession" that was the main evidence used to convict him of the 1986 murder of an elderly South Chicago couple.

The Illinois Supreme Court ordered the hearings into the torture allegations and evidence that Aaron's original lawyer was incompetent.

Aaron has always maintained his innocence--and said that Chicago police tortured him. While in custody, Patterson used a paper clip to etch a message into a metal bench in the interrogation room.

The message, later photographed, read: "Aaron 4/30 I lie about murders. Police threaten me with violence. Slapped and suffocated me with plastic. No lawyer or dad. No phone. Signed false statement to murders."

The torture allegations aren't unique. Aaron is one of the Death Row 10, a group of death row prisoners tortured by Chicago cops. Pressure is building for Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine to appoint a special investigator into the cases--and to agree to new trials.

In fact, Aaron's hearing came on the heels of an investigative series in the Chicago Tribune that exposed numerous cases of police and prosecutorial misconduct. Similar exposés, along with years of organizing by death penalty opponents, pressured Illinois Gov. George Ryan to halt executions two years ago.

But the moratorium is under threat. Ryan isn't running for re-election this November, and most of the candidates to succeed him are pro-death penalty. What's more, the liberal Illinois Death Penalty Education Project has issued a report recommending procedural reforms to make the capital punishment system fairer.

This is a mistake. Cases like Aaron's show why the Illinois execution machine is broken--and can't be fixed.

Opponents of the death penalty should mobilize to defend the moratorium--and to demand that the death penalty be ended, once and for all.

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