A police torture victim is finally freed
is a Chicago police torture survivor, having been sentenced to life in prison without parole as a juvenile. A former board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and current advisory committee member of the Chicago Torture Justice Center, Clements writes about the case of Jackie Wilson — who was tortured by Chicago police and incarcerated for decades for a crime he says he did not commit.
DESCRIPTIONS OF police torture are nothing new in Chicago courtrooms. It has been known since the early 1970s that police officers under the direction of infamous Area 2 Commander Jon Burge were torturing confessions from criminal suspects inside police interrogation rooms.
What dozens of men have described taking place in Chicago Police Department (CPD) Area 2 and 3 violent crime units is unconscionable, unthinkable and criminal: human beings chained and burned, beaten, suffocated and administered electric shocks, among other abuse.
On February 9, 1982, 21-year-old Jackie Wilson was accused of participating, along with his brother Andrew, in the murder of Chicago police officers Richard O’Brien and William Fahey.
It was a snowy afternoon when the news spread across South Side communities. The subsequent manhunt was one of the largest in Chicago history. With every hour after the officers’ deaths, police officers kicked in doors, and beat and terrorized South Siders, young and old, in search for the Wilson brothers, who were reported to be armed and dangerous.
Residents flooded the phones of Rev. Jesse Jackson and the South Side NAACP, complaining about the conduct of members of the Chicago Police Department.
Less than a week later, the Wilson brothers were arrested. Two days later, pictures of Andrew Wilson took over the headlines. They showed Wilson’s head wrapped in gauze, with bruises and a black, swollen eye.
Later, it was revealed that Andrew had been severely tortured. He was handcuffed to a radiator and burned, had cigarettes put out on his body, had a loaded gun in his mouth, and was administered electric shocks to his ear and nostrils.
All of this was done to extract a confession. (People can read about Jackie Wilson’s claims, made before the Illinois Torture Inquiry Relief Commission, which were ruled credible.)
While Andrew’s torture made headlines, there was little mention of his brother Jackie. His story was overshadowed by the pictures of Andrew splashed across the evening news, showing all Chicagoland that Andrew had been brutalized while in police custody.
Both brothers would move to have their “confessions” ruled involuntary as a result of the torture they suffered at the hands of police. But on February 4, 1983, the brothers were tried together and found guilty by a jury. Andrew was sentenced to death. Jackie was sentenced to natural life without the possibility of parole.
IN ADDITION to the Wilsons, other men began to come forward with similar accounts of inhumane and cruel treatment inside Chicago police stations. The torturers would be identified as detectives working under the command of Jon Burge.
Burge was promoted by Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne after solving the so-called “heater case” of the murder of O’Brien and Fahey. It was one that the mayor wanted to be solved quickly, according to news accounts.
The media labeled the Wilson brothers “cop killers” and never raised doubts about their guilt. In subsequent hearings, Andrew had his death sentence overturned and was sentenced to natural life without the possibility of parole. Both brothers continued to fight for their freedom. In 2007, Andrew died from a medical complication while at the Menard Correctional Center.
In May 2015, two weeks after Burge victims won a historic settlement from the City of Chicago for their torture and false imprisonment, Jackie Wilson’s claim of torture was substantiated before the Illinois Torture Inquiry Relief Commission.
Jackie was allowed to have a judicial review of his case, and to present his claims that he was tortured and his confession coerced. In a black-and-white striped jumpsuit, Wilson was brought into the courtroom for his hearing in January 2018 — and met by an entire room of police officers, sitting as “spectators.” Officers had to be warned to not bring their weapons inside the courtroom.
The evidentiary hearing for Jackie Wilson went on for months. His lawyers presented evidence of torture, and Wilson described the unthinkable acts committed against him.
From 1972 to 1991, Burge was the architect of a ring of torturers that extended among his subordinates, who carried out torture inside police stations. The torture continued for more than a decade after Burge was finally fired from the CPD.
Some men and women were electrically shocked, had plastic typewriter covers placed over their heads to suffocate them; had guns placed inside their mouths; were smacked, kicked and punched; had their genitals grabbed and squeezed; had pop poured down their nostrils; were thrown against walls; had cattle prods inserted into their rectums; were beaten with phone books and night sticks; and were subjected to racial epithets — all to extract “confessions” spoon-fed to them by members of the CPD.
ON JUNE 14, Judge William Hooks released a 119-page decision ordering a new trial for Jackie Wilson and throwing out his original confession.
Hooks took the unusual step of reading his decision in open court for four hours. Harshly criticizing Cook County Special Prosecutor Mike O’Rourke and his team, Hooks noted that they did not meet their burden of proof.
Riffing on the “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” T-shirts he had seen in his courtroom during the hearings, Hooks said that the evidence showed that Jackie Wilson — whether guilty or not — had his rights violated.
“All rights matter. The rights of the good, and the bad and the ugly, all count. Who is good, who is bad and who is ugly is not the job of this court,” Hooks said near the end of the reading of his order. He continued:
However, there is more than enough to surmise that what happened in the investigation and interrogation of Jackie Wilson was not good — instead, very bad and ugly...
In this matter, as well as dozens of related cases, too many post-conviction tribunals and Torture Commission [inquiries] have been forced to conduct post-mortem examinations of the torture and death of nothing less than our Constitution at the hands of Jon Burge and his crew. The abhorrence of basic rights of suspects by Mr. Burge and his underlings has been costly to taxpayers, the wrongfully convicted, and worst of all, the dozens of victims and their families who have suffered untold grief — in many cases, a 30-plus horror story.
Seated beside his attorney of some 35 years, G. Flint Taylor, Jackie Wilson nodded and smiled as Hooks announced he was overturning his conviction and ordering a new trial. Seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery, relatives of Fahey and O’Brien seemed unsurprised.
Hooks’ ruling cited evidence from hearings that have spanned months, as well as rulings in the many civil rights cases filed by defendants who claimed to have been tortured by Burge and his men.
Hooks ordered both sides to return to the courtroom at a later date, saying that he would take up the issue of bail. Prosecutors opposed any bail, but they provided no credible evidence to block Wilson’s request.
They moved for a continuance with the hope that they could stop Wilson from being granted bail. But on Friday, June 22, Hooks granted Wilson a $10,000 “recognizance” bond, which didn’t require him to pay a single cent to secure his release.
BEFORE GRANTING bail, Hooks noted, “In the totality of circumstances, this court does not find Wilson to be a danger to the community or a flight risk. The state has failed to provide just and proper cause for Mr. Wilson’s continued incarceration as a pretrial condition while the retrial of the case is pending.”
He ordered Wilson “to be released forthwith in the most minimal time required for the Cook County Jail and Illinois Department of Corrections to comply with this order with all due dispatch.”
Some believe that Cook County Special Prosecutor O’Rourke should resign immediately for the overzealous and malicious prosecution of Wilson. In court, O’Rourke occasionally appeared to not fully understand that criminal suspects are afforded constitutional rights — and that physical torture and coercion are illegal.
The decision to grant Wilson bail is an important one, since those accused of killing cops are rarely, if ever, granted bail — and the kind of bond under which Wilson was released is never sought by defense attorneys in such cases, since they are generally rejected by judges in such cases.
Vincent Patterson, who was released after being tortured and sentenced to life while a juvenile, attended portions of the evidentiary and bond hearings for Wilson. According Patterson, Hooks’ decision will benefit all those still waiting for hearings and justice in their own torture claims — citing how Wilson was demonized by police, prosecutors, media, and even some judges across the county lines.
Wilson is scheduled to be back in court in August in preparation for his new trial.