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The [Burge] Papers

1. "Decades after torture allegations were first leveled against former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge's 'Midnight Crew,' a federal jury convicted him Monday on all three counts of obstruction of justice and perjury for lying about the torture in a civil lawsuit," the Tribune reports.

Assignment Desk: Why did it take decades for Burge to be prosecuted? Please trace the route this case took, and who else obstructed justice every step of the way. From U.S. Attorneys to police officers to City Hall.

2. "The Burge verdict is a major victory for the U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the prosecutors who argued the case before Judge Joan Lefkow and a slap in the face of Cook County State's Attorneys who repeatedly turned a blind eye to the torture," John Conroy writes.

"The prosecution came 37 years after Burge first used electric shock to interrogate Anthony Holmes and decades after county prosecutors had evidence that serious crimes had been and were being committed by Burge and detectives under his command. Even as a dozen men awaited execution on the basis of suspect confessions, county prosecutors declined to investigate whether those confessions had been coerced and whether detectives had perjured themselves in testifying about how those statements had been extracted."

Even as a dozen men awaited execution.

What say you, former Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley?

3. "It's a theme in our nation's civil rights history that corrupt, bigoted or inept state systems that can't deal with their own problems require the intervention of the federal authorities," said Locke Bowman, director of the MacArthur Justice Center and Northwestern law professor. "This is another example. Most of the prosecutors and judges at 26th Street are deeply entrenched with the police and the status quo. It doesn't surprise me that in the end it took the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to do what the state authorities should have done 30 years ago."

Which state authorities? Let's name them all.

4. "The U.S. Attorney was able to use less than 60 words from two documents to get a conviction that many thought would never come."

Proof once again that Patrick Fitzgerald is our finest public servant.

5. "Burge showed no reaction as the verdict was read, but moments after jurors strode from the courtroom for the last time, he talked and laughed with his lawyers," the Tribune reported.

Then he kept his dinner date with Ozzie Guillen.


That is a Carlos Zambrano joke and in no way is meant to equate Carlos Zambrano with Jon Burge or to diminish the proceedings here. I just thought it was a funny line.

6. "For years it looked as if Burge would escape criminal charges altogether. He was fired from the Police Department in 1993 for torturing a cop killer, but a four-year investigation by special Cook County prosecutors concluded in 2006 that the statute of limitations on the claims of abuse had long passed."

If Burge was fired in 1993 for torture, why wasn't he prosecuted then? And why did 13 years pass before Cook County issued a special report? And why did that report take four years to complete? Finally, how long is the statute of limitations on torture and why does it exist?

Plenty of reporting left to be done.

7. "Prosecutors have signaled that they are investigating a number of detectives who worked for Burge. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has previously warned that police detectives relying on a code of silence to protect them may be 'hanging on air,' and he reaffirmed Monday that prosecutors are continuing their probe."

As I understand it, a grand jury investigation remains open.

This is hardly the end of the story, as some pundits seem to wish. Instead, Burge may just be the first domino.

8. "Fitzgerald, who was in the courtroom for the verdict, said the outcome provided at least a measure of justice for Burge's victims. 'It's sad that it took so long, but it would be horrible if it was never addressed,' he told reporters."

Hail, Fitzy.

9. Daley's reaction?

Hey, the press corps is a little busy asking him about Oprah and stuff.

10. Dick Devine's reaction?


11. "Ordinarily, state's attorneys who desire reelection or higher office portray themselves as courageous crime fighters responsive to their communities, who leave no stone unturned to put evildoers in prison," Conroy reported in 2001. "Cook County state's attorney Richard Devine, now contemplating a run for governor, has recently turned that tradition on its head.

"In a brief submitted to chief criminal court judge Paul Biebel Jr., Devine has proclaimed that he is powerless to do anything about a gang of policemen who may be responsible for 12 men wrongly sentenced to die. Though there is substantial community interest in these cases - both the Tribune and Sun-Times have called for an inquiry, as has a coalition of prominent community groups - Devine argues that nothing can be done. That he once served as attorney for the chief perpetrator, Devine says, is a moot point."

12. "But the verdict disappointed the family of one of two Chicago police officers killed in 1982 by Andrew Wilson, one of Burge's victims.

"'I just talked to my dad,' said Mike Fahey, 51, whose brother, Chicago police Officer William Fahey was fatally shot with his partner Richard O'Brien. 'We're upset. I just can't believe the jurors took the testimony of convicted criminals - people that just do crime all their life.'"

I have enormous sympathy for the Faheys and the O'Briens, as we all should. But they should direct their anger and Burge and Co. for not running a clean interrogation that would have put the Wilsons and their case away, instead of having to relive it all these years.

As well, if it was just the word of career criminals, Burge likely would not have been convicted. According to jurors (and prosecutors), it was the word of doctors, nurses and a fellow officer that did Burge in.

13. "The breadth of evidence in the perjury case against former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge was so strong that his testimony was not credible, several jurors said Monday," the Tribune reports.

"'It was kind of hard to believe,' said Gary Dollinger, 31, an information technology consultant from Round Lake. 'It got to the point where it was him versus everyone else.'"

14. "According to Dollinger, the most convincing testimony came from Burge's colleague, former Chicago police Detective Michael McDermott. Dollinger said he sensed McDermott appeared to be torn over telling the truth to protect his professional status without 'frying his friend.'"

15. "Over at Vocalo, John Conroy saw things a bit differently than his media colleagues, who on the whole seemed to think McDermott's testimony helped Burge," I wrote on June 15.

16. Sometimes I think reporters covering trials feel a need to be "objective" about testimony as well as presuming jurors are dumb and cannot see through what they can see through.

And it's quite clear from the jurors' remarks that this verdict was a slam dunk that was arrived at almost immediately, despite taking a couple days to then think through.

After writing that I put the odds of a Burge conviction at 50-50, I spoke to a friend who had actually been in the courtroom for a few days and he put the odds at 75-25. I wondered if I had been infected by the media's lackadaisical coverage, despite my best intentions. And the prosecution didn't seem to damage Burge when he took the stand.

But this was a smart jury; they sent two questions to the judge that indicated a certain level of thoughtfulness. One was whether a defendant could take the Fifth in a civil case; a defendant can and I thought this was in Burge's favor. Why? I figured the jury would think that he could have said nothing; instead he willingly denied the charges against him, just as he would taking the stand, which he also could have chosen not to do, like so many others.

The second question was whether Burge's statements in the civil action really "counted" seeing as how his attorney had objected to the questions. They did still count.

The jury was parsing and plumbing the narrow charges even after it had gotten the big picture.

17. "'Of all of the victims, Andrew Wilson was huge,' Dollinger said," the Sun-Times reports. "'There's the leg burns. There's the clips on his ears. I could think maybe he got a clip [mark] in prison and scratched his ear, but that would be like a Martian landing on Earth. What are the odds?'

"Jurors, which included one African-American woman, asked the judge if they could see an alligator clip, a spring clip with medal jaws, but they were turned down because none was entered into evidence in the case, he said."

18. "Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weisman said Burge's courtroom denials of torture were a whisper compared to the mountains of testimony from the convicted criminals who said they were beaten, electrocuted, suffocated and had loaded guns pointed at them," the Sun-Times reports.

"'It wasn't just cops versus robbers. We had corroborating evidence from doctors, lawyers and medical records,' Weisman said of the witnesses who were identified with the assistance of FBI agents.

"'I think this case showed that it was not just one person. It was systemic.'"

It was systemic. A lot of people were responsible; maybe even our reigning mayor.

19. "Why did torture claims fester for decades?" the Tribune asks in an editorial today.

"[The] circuitous route to a conviction highlights one remaining outrage in this saga: The Burge case festered, decade after decade, because nobody in law enforcement moved to thoroughly investigate the allegations against him. Had city, county or state officials decided long ago to determine if the torture complaints were true or false, a court wouldn't have been consumed in 2010 with trying to sort out that ancient history."

20. The Sun-Times comes cleaner in its editorial:

"The idea that horror stories of beatings, suffocations and games of Russian roulette during police interrogations could be beyond the reach of the law should be terrifying to anyone, not just those who suffered directly.

"Yet that's almost happened because of the inaction on the part of authorities, including then-Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley and his top aide Richard Devine (who later also became state's attorney).

"And for years, a complacent daily press, including this newspaper, failed to give this story the full attention it deserved."

Thank you.


And hey, let's explore that, too. Let's go back and interview editors, news directors, reporters; let's find out why the media was complacent. That's a story, too. And it's a story that involves race and the marginalization of poor people, as well as the presumptions the media makes about institutions and the very people they are supposed to be skeptical about but whom they instead wish to befriend.

21. Rationing Your Give-A-Shit.

22. This is America.

Editor's Note: This was once a WGN-TV video that for some reason no longer appears.


Comments welcome.


Posted on June 29, 2010

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