The Tortured Road to Death Row

Revolutionary Worker #1184, January 26, 2003, posted at

For over a decade Jon Burge was the commander of Area 2 Violent Crimes, then Area 3 in the Chicago Police Department. He and a group of fellow detectives consistently tortured men who had been arrested and were being held in the station house (who were mostly African American). The People's Law Office in Chicago documented over 60 cases of torture under Burge.

To this date, not a single police officer has been criminally charged with these acts--some of them were actually promoted. And Burge, fired from the force in 1993, now lives in comfortable retirement in Florida.

On January 10, Illinois Governor George Ryan pardoned four members of the Death Row 10, a group of death row inmates who were all tortured by Burge and Co. Following is a brief look at how these men were condemned to die after being tortured into giving false confessions under Burge.

Aaron Patterson was arrested April 30, 1986 for the robbery/murder of an elderly couple who had been running a fencing operation. During 25 hours of interrogation, Aaron was beaten, kicked and suffocated with a typewriter cover. Lt. Burge personally threatened Aaron with a gun.

Using a paper clip, Aaron managed to scratch a message into a police station bench: "Aaron 4/30 I lie about murders. Police threaten me with violence. Slapped and suffocated me with plastic. No lawyer or dad. No phone."

Despite the torture, Aaron never signed the confession police wrote for him. The sole prosecution witness later recanted, claiming she had been pressured by the prosecution. Though fingerprints from the crime scene did not match Aaron's--that evidence was "lost" by the state. Aaron's original trial judge made racist remarks and wouldn't allow evidence of the torture. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of an evidentiary hearing to examine Aaron's claims of torture. The judge had yet to issue a judgement when Aaron was pardoned.

On January 6, 1987, an arson fire took the life of Madison Hobley's wife, son and five others living in an apartment building. After a call-in tip was received by Chicago police, Madison was taken in for questioning. The caller turned out to be an arsonist named Andre Council.

While handcuffed in police custody, Madison was kicked in the groin, beaten in the stomach and chest and suffocated with a typewriter bag until he passed out. One detective called him a "skinny little n--- --." Photographs taken the next day show bruises on Madison's chest and scrapes on his wrist from the handcuffs. Police said Madison confessed, but then the cops claimed they had thrown out the only written notes after someone spilled liquid on them. Council received protection from Jon Burge in exchange for his testimony. A gas can police said was used by Madison was later shown to have been taken by police from another location. The jury foreman was a suburban cop who showed his gun in the jury room while suggesting they reach a verdict. In 2000, after 10 years on death row, an appeals court judge rejected Madison's request for a new trial.

After Leroy Orange was arrested January 12, 1984, for a particularly grizzly multiple murder, police in Area 2 subjected Leroy to electro-shock and suffocation. They placed a plastic bag over his head and punched him so he couldn't hold his breath. They attached electrodes from a "black box" to his arms, in his rectum and then shocked him. After he complained to a State's Attorney about the torture, another police officer squeezed Leroy's testicles. After 12 hours of torture Leroy Orange "confessed," though he immediately told a judge how he had been tortured by the police. In April 2001, the courts denied an evidentiary hearing on the torture of Leroy Orange.

On November 1, 1984 Stanley Howard was arrested for the murder of Oliver Ridgell. After 43 hours in custody Stanley signed a confession to the murder. During that time detectives "interrogated" him with punches, kicks, and suffocation, placing a plastic typewriter cover over his head. Despite hospital records that corroborated his story, a judge rejected a motion to suppress the confession. As it turned out, the judge was a former Area 2 police officer and a witness for Jon Burge. The sole prosecution witness in this case was a woman who was in the car with Ridgell. At the time of the shooting, she admitted she was drunk and could only say that Stanley "looked like" the shooter.

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