Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jon Burge guilty:Two wrongs do not make a right

Former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge was convicted of perjury yesterday in a Federal District Court in Chicago. He faces 45 years in jail. Although Burge is not likely to receive so harsh a sentence, the hopes that Burge and his attorney have for a sentence of probation only are likely to be disappointed.

Burge and his "Midnight Crew" of detectives at Area Two were accused of torturing confessions out of several persons accused of serious crimes. Among the most famous, or infamous, of these was cop-killer Andrew Wilson.

We can't talk about Wilson's crime without first setting the scene.

It was February 1982. Chicago Police Officer James E. Doyle was murdered by Edgar Hope, Jr. on February 5.

Charles Harris saw Hope boarding a CTA bus at 79th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago. Harris had filed a robbery complaint against Hope several months earlier. There was an outstanding warrant for Hope's arrest. Quoting now from one of at least three opinions by the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Hope, this one from 1990, 137 Ill.2d 430, 560 N.E.2d 849:
Harris told two nearby police officers, James Doyle and Robert Mantia, that defendant was on the bus. The officers and Harris drove the short distance to where the bus was then stopped, near the intersection of 79th Street and Lafayette Avenue. Harris identified defendant and pointed out where he was sitting, at the back. The two officers boarded the bus; defendant was searched briefly. As Officer Doyle was following defendant toward the front to remove him, defendant suddenly turned and fired a handgun. He shot and killed Doyle and then fired at Mantia, who was at the back of the bus searching another person.
Two passengers on the bus were also injured by Hope's shots. Doyle's partner ultimately ran Hope down and took him into custody.

It is a fact that, sometimes, policemen in big cities, like Chicago, are killed in the line of duty. But -- thankfully -- it doesn't happen very often.

But we're talking about February 1982.

Two of the many policemen who attended Doyle's funeral on February 9, were partners Richard O'Brien and William Fahey. Only hours later, O'Brien and Fahey would be murdered by Andrew and Jackie Wilson. An article in the Chicago Reader tells how it happened:
Andrew and Jackie entered a house [to burgle it] and came out with clothing, a TV, a fifth of whiskey, some bullets, and a jar of pennies. They were driving south on Morgan in their brown Chevy Impala when gang crimes officers Fahey, 34, and O'Brien, 33, pulled them over. Both brothers had outstanding warrants for bail violations.

Andrew stripped Fahey of his gun, shot him in the head, and then shot O'Brien five times. The brothers sped off. O'Brien was dead on arrival at Little Company of Mary Hospital. Fahey died the next day.
Jon Burge was in charge of the investigation into these murders.

And the Wilsons were arrested, tried and convicted.

Andrew Wilson confessed to the murders, but he always insisted that a confession was beaten out of him. The Supreme Court's opinion in the case, People v. Wilson, 116 Ill.2d 29, 506 N.E.2d 571 (1987), contains this description of Wilson's claims:
[After his arrest, Wilson] spent the day in police custody; during the afternoon he was placed in a lineup, and beginning around 6 o'clock that evening he gave a statement, transcribed by a court reporter, in which he admitted shooting the two police officers. Later that night the defendant was taken by the police to Mercy Hospital, and witnesses there observed some 15 separate injuries on the defendant's head, torso, and right leg.
(506 N.E.2d at 572.)

Let's just focus on what happened at the hospital (there's plenty of additional detail in the Supreme Court opinion and the Reader article if you're interested). According to the Supreme Court opinion (506 N.E.2d at 573-74):
The defendant was examined at about 11:15 p.m. by Dr. Geoffrey Korn. Dr. Korn testified that he made note of some 15 separate injuries that were apparent on the defendant's head, chest, and right leg. Two cuts on the defendant's forehead and one on the back of his head required stitches; the defendant's right eye had been blackened, and there was bleeding on the surface of that eye. Dr. Korn also observed bruises on the defendant's chest and several linear abrasions or burns on the defendant's chest, shoulder, and chin area. Finally, Dr. Korn saw on the defendant's right thigh an abrasion from a second-degree burn; it was six inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide.

Dr. Korn testified that as he prepared to suture the defendant's head and face wounds, he saw that Officer Mulvaney had drawn his service revolver. Fearing that the defendant's reaction to the shots of anesthesia might startle the officer, Dr. Korn asked that the weapon be holstered. Mulvaney refused to put the gun away, however, and the doctor therefore left the room. Officer Ferro then went in the examining room and soon came out, explaining to the doctor that the defendant was now going to refuse treatment and would go to a different hospital. Dr. Korn testified that he attempted to persuade the defendant to agree to treatment but that the defendant would not change his mind. At 11:42 p.m. the defendant signed an “against medical advice” form indicating his refusal of treatment, and Officers Ferro and Mulvaney then took the defendant away.
Although each and every police officer called denied that Wilson was ever beaten or tortured, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out Wilson's convictions, agreeing with Wilson that the State failed to show that his injuries were not inflicted in the course of forcing him to confess.

I recall these events, not because I was there (I am not now, and never have been in, law enforcement) but because I was an adult, residing in Chicago and paying attention to the news. I paid attention, too, to what people said. What people said at the time was that it was remarkable that Wilson had survived: Cop killers had a tendency to be killed while resiting arrest.

On remand, and without use of the tainted confession, Andrew Wilson was again convicted of killing the two policemen. See, People v. Wilson, 254 Ill.App.3d 1020, 626 N.E.2d 1282 (1st Dist. 1993).

Meanwhile, though, a cottage industry was born. For awhile it seemed that every person convicted of a violent crime on the South Side claimed that Burge and his detectives tortured them.

I remember seeing anti-Burge sentiments scrawled on the subway walls. Then-Gov. George Ryan (himself now in prison) cited the torture allegations as one of the reasons for commuting all death sentences in Illinois in 2003, shortly before he left office. (He pardoned four individuals at that time, obviously believing their claims that their confessions were coerced by torture.) And you may have read about the lawsuits. Civil suits against the City, brought by alleged torture victims, have cost the city millions over the years. It is testimony in some of these suits that formed the basis of the perjury charges of which Burge has now been convicted.

Perjury is just a fancy term for lying under oath. Sad to say, I believe that people lie under oath all the time, every single day, in depositions and courthouses all over the country. There aren't enough judges and courtrooms and jurors to handle all the perjury claims that could be brought. In the real world, however, criminal perjury prosecutions are as rare as hens' teeth. Criminal perjury prosecutions claiming that the defendant lied in civil proceedings are rarer still.

I don't much care for selective prosecutions. On the other hand, even without the jury's verdict to confirm it, there certainly are facts to support the conclusion that Mr. Burge may have lied about some interrogation tactics employed on his watch.

But I am equally convinced that not all of Burge's "victims" are victims at all. Some -- maybe even some of those who have obtained money from the City of Chicago in settlements or in court -- may have just copied from the Andrew Wilson template. There are, however, no charges pending, or even contemplated, against any of these.

Dealing with the worst people in the world -- murderers and rapists -- must be dispiriting. The temptation for overworked officers to take shortcuts -- to stoop even to torture -- must be intense at times. In the superheated atmosphere following the cold-blooded murder of three fellow officers in one week's time, that temptation must have been particularly intense. Burge and others at Area Two seem to have succumbed to this temptation, at least on some of the occasions they were said to have done so.

What Burge and his associates forgot was something my mother often told me: Two wrongs do not make a right.

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