Meet the Death Row 10: Victor Safforld

By: Noreen McNulty

This page has been reserved for profiles of the cases of The Death Row 10, a group of men who were beaten and tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives and sent to death row in Illinois.

In the summer of 1998, the Death Row 10 came together inside prison and asked the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to be their voice on the outside. In January 2003, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan pardoned four members of the Death Row 10. The Campaign is continuing the struggle to win justice for those who remain behind bars.

In 1990, at the age of 19, Victor Safforld (a.k.a. Cortez Brown) was arrested and tortured by the notorious gang of Chicago cops who worked under Commander Jon Burge. The arrest and beating ended with a coerced confession that sent Victor to death row. Last year, his death sentence was commuted and Victor remains in prison for life without the possibility of parole.

It all began when Victor was arrested for a traffic violation in Park Forest, IL. After sleeping on the floor of a cell without food overnight, Victor was taken to the Chicago Police Department’s Area 1 center for questioning in two murder cases. Victor immediately told them he wanted a lawyer present during questioning. He phoned his mother and she arranged for a lawyer to go to Area 1. Before his mother or lawyer could make it there, Victor was taken to the Area 3 police center, where his nightmare began. It took two days for Victor’s mother to find him.

At Area 3, Victor was brutally beaten by detectives John Palladino, Anthony Maslanka, and John O’Brien--all whom worked with Jon Burge. These same detectives were involved in the Marcus Wiggins case--a 13-year-old boy who was beaten into confessing for a crime he did not commit and was later exonerated.

The detectives repeatedly beat Victor with a flashlight on the back of his legs and on his head. They threatened to kill Victor and members of his family. After hours of physical abuse without food or the use of a bathroom, Victor signed a false statement. He purposely used a false name, "Cortez Brown." Victor hoped that by signing a false name, he could explain to the courts that the statement was false.

Instead, Victor was convicted of two felony murders and sentenced to death. There are no eyewitnesses to the crimes for which Victor was convicted. In the first case, a witness simply claimed to have seen Victor a block away from the shooting. At Victor’s trial, an eyewitness to one of the crimes could not even identify Victor as one of the shooters.

Victor’s case is an example of what is wrong with the death penalty. It’s arbitrary: If Victor had been tried for the two murder cases in reverse order (which would have been chronological order), he would not have been eligible for the death penalty.

In January 2003, Illinois Governor Ryan commuted all death sentences to life without the possibility of parole. Yet, the struggle to free this innocent man continues.

As Victor said: "We want the State of Illinois to keep their word as they strive to clean up government! If the State of Illinois and all of its affiliate branches of law enforcement are truthful about their professed concerns of ridding this state of corrupt politicians, then they can start by dealing with the nastiest stain on Illinois politics. That is the torture and brutality against African American men, all being from the South side of Chicago, who were forced against their will to sign false statements and confessions against themselves...We must rise up Ye Mighty People and make sure that Justice is finally due and we are set completely free."

Write to Victor Safforld at: Cortez Brown, B-36310, P.O. Box 112, Joliet, IL 60434.