Jury Selection Begins In Burge Trial

Former Police Lt. Jon Burge Accused Of Lying About Torture Of Black Suspects

Credit: (File Photo) CBS
Former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge
Monday, May 24, 2010

CHICAGO (CBS) ― For decades, black men across Chicago described torture at the hands of former police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his officers, and for decades no one listened.

Suspects landed in jail and even on death row for crimes they say they didn't commit after Burge and his men coerced confessions using terrifying methods including suffocation, a form of waterboarding and electric shocks.

Finally those complaints from the 1970s and 80s are being taken seriously -- and it could be Burge's own words that send him to prison.

Attorneys and a federal judge started weeding out potential jurors Monday morning for Burge's trial. Burge is accused of lying when he denied in a civil lawsuit that he and other detectives had tortured anyone. He faces a maximum of 45 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Burge had arrived at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse court by 7:40 a.m.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on bond.

As jury selection began at the Dirksen Building, protesters marched across town in front of City Hall. They want more than a dozen cases re-opened and in part, they blame Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Dozens of protestors chanted, "Jail Jon Burge!" as they marched on LaSalle Street outraged over multiple allegations of police torture.

Authorities have, to a degree, acknowledged that Burge may have committed these horrifying acts. In July 2006, two special prosecutors, Edward Egan and Robert Boyle, were named to look into the allegations said evidence indicated that dozens of suspects were mistreated during the 1970s and '80s but the cases were too old to bring charges.

Mark Clements says he was one of his victims and falsely convicted of arson.

"They grabbed my genitals and squeezed them," Clements said. "I wrote everybody in the city of Chicago from my jail cell and they ignored me."

Clements says Mayor Daley, who was Cook County State's Attorney at the time, should be held accountable.

"I did 28 years of my life for a crime I did not commit," Clements said. "I don't want an apology from the mayor. I want him to do what is right. I want him to do what is honorable. I want him to resign immediately."

The protesters are also calling for new trials for 19 remaining convicts who they claim are innocent but falsely in prison because of Burge and his men. Among them is the son of Anabel Perez.

"They beat him. They cut his gym shoes off, the tips of his gym shoes, to get him to confess, and my son said no," Perez said.

Her son, Jaime Hasuad, was 17 when he confessed to a murder that she says he did not commit. He's been in prison for 13 years.

The police department fired Burge in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but did not press charges. He retired in Florida.

A decade later, then-Gov. George Ryan released four condemned men he said Burge had extracted confessions from using torture.

The allegations of torture and coerced confessions eventually led to a still-standing moratorium on Illinois' death penalty and the emptying of death row -- moves credited with re-igniting the global fight against capital punishment. But they also earned Chicago a reputation as a haven for rogue cops, a place where police could abuse suspects without notice or punishment.

The scandal has extended to the highest levels of city and county government, and the trial's witness lists include Mayor Daley, fellow former State's Attorney Dick Devine, and one of Daley's predecessors in the mayor's office, Jane Byrne, who was mayor from 1979 to 1983.

Prosecutors are expected to call former police officers and at least a half dozen men who say they were tortured by Burge or those under his command. The more than 100 victims say the torture started in the 1970s and persisted until the '90s at police stations on the city's South and West sides.

Burge is the first Chicago officer accused of torture to be charged criminally in the case.

"I'm just glad it came to trial in my lifetime, because it looked like it wasn't going to happen," said Jo Ann Patterson, whose son Aaron Patterson was one of the four whom Ryan freed from death row because he believed he had been tortured.

The Republican governor later cleared all of death row, saying the torture of innocent men at the hands of Chicago police had tainted the state's entire death penalty system.

"How many more cases of wrongful convictions have to occur before we can all agree that the system is broken?" Ryan said at the time.

Two years after the report by Egan and Boyle, Burge was charged with lying under oath in a civil lawsuit in which he denied he knew about or took part in beatings, threats and torture methods such as "bagging" -- forcing a confession by a putting a plastic typewriter cover over a suspect's head.

Other alleged victims spoke of beatings, gun threats and a mysterious black box used to emit electric shocks. One said his tormentors poured soda into his nose.

Burge has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and his trial was delayed for months while he recovered from treatment.

The 62-year-old Army veteran wasn't prosecuted for torture even after police officials agreed that he'd participated in it, and some in the legal community say he wouldn't be facing charges at all if it wasn't for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

"There were a lot of people who could've done something about it and didn't," said Jon Loevy, an attorney who's represented several alleged torture victims. "There were a lot of lost opportunities, and finally Mr. Fitzgerald's office is going to do something about it."

Burge's trial in front of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow is expected to last six weeks.

CBS 2's Susan Carlson and Associated Press writer Karen Hawkins contributed to this report.