CHICAGO (AP) — A decorated former Chicago police lieutenant accused of suffocating, shocking and beating confessions out of scores of suspects was convicted Monday of federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges for lying about the torture of suspects.
Jurors deliberated for parts of three days before finding former Lt. Jon Burge guilty. Burge, who did not react as the verdict was read, faces 45 years in prison when he’s sentenced by U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow.
Burge’s name has become synonymous with police brutality and abuse of power in the country’s third-largest city. For decades, dozens of suspects — almost all of them black men — claimed Burge and his officers tortured them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan released four condemned men from death row in 2003 after Ryan said Burge had extracted confessions from them 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.
While Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 over the alleged mistreatment of a suspect, he never was criminally charged in that case or any other, a situation that created widespread outrage in Chicago’s black neighborhoods. The community anger intensified when Burge moved to Florida on his police pension and his alleged victims remained in prison.
In 2006, a special prosecutor’s report found dozens of men had credible claims of abuse but that the statute of limitations had run out on any relevant crimes, such as battery or misconduct. It wasn’t until Burge’s 2008 indictment that any officer was criminally charged in relation to the alleged torture.
Burge testified in his own defense at the four-week trial, denying he ever physically abused suspects or witnessed any other officers doing so. Prosecutors presented testimony from five men who said Burge and officers under his command held plastic bags over their heads, shocked them with electric current and put loaded guns in their mouths during the 1970s and 1980s to elicit confessions.
The testimony of those men echoed what others have long said: Black men suspected of crimes didn’t leave interrogation rooms at Chicago’s Area 2 police station until they told detectives what they wanted to hear.
More than 100 victims have said the torture started in the 1970s and persisted until the 1990s at police stations on the city’s South and West sides.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.