Meet The Death Row Ten: Leroy Orange’s Fight For Justice

Tortured Onto Death Row In Illinois

By: Noreen McNulty

The Death Row 10 are prisoners on Illinois death row who were beaten and tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives. In 1993, Burge was forced into taking early retirement, but Burge and his cronies were never charged. Burge now spends his time fishing on his boat in Florida!

In the summer of 1998, the Death Row 10 decided to become a group and asked the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to help them organize.

Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine would like nothing better than to keep the issue of torture covered up. But organizing around the issue has produced growing local and national attention for the Death Row 10, who have been featured in stories in the Chicago Tribune and on the television news program “60 Minutes II.” Four have now won evidentiary hearings.

The New Abolitionist is profiling each of the Death Row 10 in upcoming issues so that our readers will get to know their individual stories.

On January 12, 1984, for almost 12 hours, Leroy Orange was slapped, electro-shocked and suffocated at Area 2 police headquarters by former Commander Jon Burge and his detectives.

He was arrested that day by police investigating a multiple homicide. Leroy’s denial of his involvement in the murders was met by intense brutality. During a harrowing half a day, police officers took a plastic bag and held it over Leroy’s head, while punching him so he couldn’t hold his breath. They shocked Leroy with a black box after placing electrodes on his arms and in his rectum.

Leroy only “confessed” to stop the torture. His story is part of a shocking and unimaginable tale of police torture and corruption that the city of Chicago is still attempting to cover up today.

At the time of his arrest, Leroy — who had no adult criminal history — was a self-employed housepainter and maintenance man who lived with his wife and two children. From the start, he tried to get his story out. At the police station, Leroy told a representative from the State’s Attorney’s office about the bag, the electrical device, and the beating. He was consequently punished by an officer who proceeded to squeeze his testicles.

Soon after his confession, he was taken to Cook County Jail and examined by paramedics. Once again, Leroy spoke out about the torture he endured at the hands of the cops who interrogated him. Later, at his first court appearance, Leroy told Judge Matthew Moran about the injuries he suffered during his interrogation. But nobody believed him. To this day, Leroy has never had a full hearing into these claims of abuse and torture by Chicago police.

In a blow to Leroy’s legal battle, in April 2001, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected Leroy’s post-conviction request for an evidentiary hearing into his claims of torture. Noting a procedural error, the court rejected his appeal because he had not brought it up in a timely fashion.

This is outrageous. What makes the court’s rejection particularly appalling is that Leroy was represented in his first trial by an attorney, Earl Washington, who has since been singled out by the Chicago Tribune for his ineptitude. Washington has even faced Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission charges for his substandard performance in Leroy’s case and in others.

Moreover, Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine said that his office would not oppose any of the Death Row 10’s appeals on procedural grounds.

But when it comes to police torture in Chicago, Devine’s hands are dirty. He was the assistant state’s attorney when many of the Death Row 10’s cases were prosecuted. And as a private attorney for the law office of Phelan, Pope and John, Devine actually defended Burge in a civil suit.

As state’s attorney, Devine has consistently thwarted justice in the cases of the Death Row 10. That’s why activists in Chicago have coined a new slogan, “To err is human, to cover up is Devine!”

The truth of the matter is that Leroy didn’t receive a fair trial. He was convicted of four counts of murder, attempt to conceal a homicide and aggravated arson. But no physical evidence links him to any of the murders. He has spent more than 15 years on Illinois death row. Leroy’s half brother and codefendent, Leonard Kidd, was convicted and sentenced to death for the same crime. Like Leroy, Leonard was also tortured by police, who used electro-shock on him.

Although the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision is a legal setback for Leroy, he continues to fight for his life. This decision shows that you can’t rely on the courts for justice — a lesson that the Death Row 10 have learned the hard way. At the very least, Leroy deserves a hearing at which he can present his claims of torture.

But even more than that, Leroy and all of the Death Row 10 deserve new trials. Left to their own devices, the courts can continue to deny the reality of police torture in Chicago. That’s why we need to build a campaign for justice outside of the courtroom. Justice for Leroy Orange! Justice for the Death Row 10!

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