Justice for torture victims

April 14, 2009

CHICAGO--About 40 people turned out April 6 at the State of Illinois building downtown to demand that state Attorney General Lisa Madigan initiate evidentiary hearings for the dozens of prisoners who remain behind bars based on confessions extracted through electro-shock, suffocation and beatings by officers under former Chicago police commander Jon Burge.

Despite the fact that Burge has been indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for his decades-long cover-up of the torture he and others carried out, Madigan has refused to comply with the demands of activists, attorneys, family members and former prisoners calling on her to initiate hearings for the victims.

Instead, her office filed a motion to transfer five of the more than two dozen torture cases back to the Cook County State's Attorney's office, which covers the Chicago area. The previous State's Attorney, Dick Devine, had been removed from the cases because he represented Burge while in private practice and had a conflict of interest.

The rally was scheduled one day before Circuit Court Judge Paul Biebel was to rule on the motion, and also coincided with the six-year anniversary of Madigan's appointment to oversee the cases.

"These men are entitled to have new hearings so they can have a full and fair opportunity to present the evidence of torture that was used to extract these confessions," said Joey Mogul, attorney from People's Law Office, at the rally.

Other speakers included police torture victim David Bates; exonerated death row prisoner Darby Tillis; Ashunda Harris, whose nephew Aaron Harrison was murdered by Chicago police; Chicago Alderman Ed Smith; and others. The rally was organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Northside Action for Justice Copwatch and was co-sponsored by a dozen community organizations and churches, including the International Socialist Organization, Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago, 8th Day Center for Justice, DePaul Students Against the Death Penalty and others.

After the rally, protesters tried to go upstairs to meet with Madigan, but most were rebuffed. Instead, Madigan's Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff Kara Smith met with a delegation of five representatives from the group, while others leafleted passersby. Smith promised nothing, and the delegation delivered a letter stating our demands.

The following day, Judge Biebel appointed retired judge Stuart Nudelman as special State's Attorney over the cases of Grayland Johnson, Derrick King, Alonzo Smith, Eric Caine and Leonard Kidd. Madigan is still prosecuting the cases of roughly two dozen torture victims. We will continue to press our demands for new trials for all police torture victims, regardless of who has the cases.

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