NPR logo Ex-Chicago Officer Guilty Of Lying About Torture


Ex-Chicago Officer Guilty Of Lying About Torture

A federal jury on Monday found a former Chicago police commander guilty of lying under oath about the abuse and torture of criminal suspects.

The jury deliberated over parts of three days before finding former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.

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 had long been suspected of abusing and torturing mostly African-American suspects, and allowing detectives under his command to do the same, during the 1970s and '80s.

Suspects complained of being beaten, burned, shocked, having loaded guns stuck in their mouths and being suffocated with plastic bags held over their heads. Burge testified in his own defense at the four-week trial, denying he ever physically abused suspects or witnessed any other officers doing so.

The Chicago Police Department fired Burge in 1993 amid torture allegations, but neither he nor anyone else was ever criminally charged with torture.

An investigation by a special prosecutor in 2006 found evidence Burge and his underlings very likely tortured suspects, but the statute of limitations had run out. Federal authorities finally charged Burge two years ago with perjury and obstruction for lying about torture in a civil case.

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 reigniting 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.

NPR's David Schaper contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press