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Burge found guilty of lying about torture Printer friendly page Print This
By Special Report
Chicago Tribune
Thursday, Jul 1, 2010

Mark Clements, 45, celebrates outside the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago after learning that former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. Clements, an alleged victim of Burge's officers, was released from prison in August 2009 after 28 years behind bars. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Tribune)

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge, the subject of accusations of torture against suspects for decades, was convicted today on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice.

Burge was convicted of lying in a 2003 civil lawsuit about his use or knowledge of torture of criminal suspects.

Burge, his fingers clasped in front of him, showed no reaction as the verdict was read - guilty of two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury.

William Gamboney, one of Burge's lawyers, later said Burge was very disappointed and surprised by the verdict. "We intend to pursue every (legall) avenue we have."
Gamboney said he will seek probation for Burge, who is 62 and is said to be ailing from cancer. "I think he has a lot of mitigation on his side, " he said.

"These sorts of things that happened in 1982, 1985, being punished 25, 28 years later, that's not a full measure of justice."
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who was in the courtroom for the verdict, said the decision represented a measure of justice for Burge's victims.

"These sorts of things that happened in 1982, 1985, being punished 25, 28 years later, that's not a full measure of justice," Fitzgerald told reporters. "On the other hand, the sense that finally there's a verdict ... that a jury found beyond a reasonable doubt, all 12 of them, that this happened should be some measure of justice to recognize and reckon with history that we need to have it on the record that this happened."

Juror Mary Gegenhuber of Evanston said she is still reeling from having served on the jury.

"Convicting a police officer is a difficult decision," she said, adding that the jurors reached that verdict fairly quickly. "It took us two days so there were no major disagreements. We all wanted to make sure we were clear on the testimony that was given and we were making the right decision based on what we heard in the courtroom."

While the backgrounds on the accusers, some of whom were convicted murderers and former gang members, was a consideration, Gegenhuber said there was no one particular witness that was "more or less credible than" the others.

Gegenhuber also said the name of Burge's boat "Vigilante" may have resonated with some of the jurors.

"Some of the jurors I think did it because most of the people who are naming a boat do (so) based on some of their personal feelings," she said. "I don't think many people just pick a name out of a hat for a boat or off a list."

On Friday, the first day of deliberations, several jury members were not convinced Burge was guilty, said juror Jane Smith of Peotone.

It was on Monday, after listening to a month of testimony, that they re-read the list of charges and realized the case was narrowly focused. Burge was charged with lying about the torture of criminal suspects.

"We only had to pick one or two things from the long list. He didn't have to do all of them," Smith said. "That was the deciding factor."

Smith said she didn't find any of the five accusers particularly credible, although several jurors differed.

"They all have a big rap sheet. That gave us questions," Smith said. "We took all that into consideration."

Fitzgerald wouldn't discuss if any of Burge's detectives could yet be charged, but he said the investigation remains open.

"Burge was eventually fired in 1993 for allegedly shocking and burning Andrew Wilson during his 1982 interrogation for the murders of two Chicago police officers a few days earlier."

G. Flint Taylor, an attorney who has represented a number of criminal suspects who alleged torture by Burge, said the guilty verdict was gratifying "for all the people who have fought so long and so hard to bring this to the point where it is today."

Taylor said he hopes the government goes after all the detectives who worked under Burge.

The verdict marks the culmination of nearly four decades of controversy surrounding Burge, a 33-year department veteran, and the detectives under his command.

The government's case focused on five men who alleged torture and abuse, but dozens of suspects contended they were beaten, shocked, burned, threatened with guns or smothered with plastic bags to force them to falsely confess to some of the city's most shocking murders.

Burge was eventually fired in 1993 for allegedly shocking and burning Andrew Wilson during his 1982 interrogation for the murders of two
Chicago police officers a few days earlier.

The allegations -- particularly those of Madison Hobley, who alleged Burge and his detectives tortured him and then lied in court to obtain his conviction for the murders of his wife, son and five others in a 1985 arson -- were one of the key reasons then-Gov. George Ryan gave when he pardoned Hobley and four others and emptied death row.

But Burge was never charged criminally with the tortures themselves. A four-year investigation by a specially appointed Cook County state's attorney concluded in 2006 that there was evidence that Burge committed torture but that the statute of limitations had expired, making it impossible to charge him.

Local and international civil rights groups savaged the report as a whitewash, saying it was just another example of how prosecutors and police turned a blind eye to Burge's misconduct.

Alleged victims found hope for some measure of justice in 2008 when U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced the indictment of Burge on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for submitting written answers to a lawsuit filed against him by Hobley in which he flatly denied that he ever used -- or knew about the use -- of torture against suspects.

Over the past month, the government built its case on transcripts of testimony from the now-deceased Wilson as well as four others -- Anthony Holmes, Melvin Jones, Gregory Banks and Shadeed Mu'min -- who alleged they were abused.

--Matthew Walberg, William Lee and Kristen Mack

Chicago Tribune

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