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 torture.
Jurors deliberated for parts of three days before finding former Lt. Jon Burge guilty. Burge, who did not react as the verdict was read, can remain free on bond until his Nov. 5 sentencing, when he faces up to 45 years in prison. Attorney Flint Taylor, who represented some of the torture victims, hugged people around him.
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.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said "a message needs to go out that that conduct is unacceptable" and asked others who feel they have evidence of torture to come forward.
"It's a measure of justice; it's not a perfect sense of justice," Fitzgerald said of the verdict.
He also said "it's sad that it took until 2010 for that to be proven in a court of law."
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 four later reached a $20 million settlement with the city.
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.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was Cook County state's attorney when many of the Burge-related cases were under investigation and in court. City Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said Monday that Daley had given a sworn statement to the special prosecutors before they issued their report in 2006. Daley hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing.
"I was very proud of my role as prosecutor, I was not the mayor, I was not the police chief, I did not promote this man in the 80s, so let's put everything into perspective," Daley said.
Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 over the alleged mistreatment of a suspect, but he never was criminally charged in that case or any other, leading to 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. It wasn't until Burge's 2008 indictment that any officer was criminally charged in relation to the alleged torture.
Burge was charged with lying about the alleged torture in a lawsuit filed by former death row inmate Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death for a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son, and pardoned by Ryan.
Hobley claimed detectives put a plastic typewriter cover over his head to make it impossible for him to breathe. Burge denied knowing anything about the "bagging," or taking part in it. The indictment against Burge never said Hobley was tortured, but that Burge lied with respect to participating in or knowing of any torture under his watch.
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.
Associated Press Writer Serena Dai contributed to this report.