Burge trial: Serial torturer or elderly perjurer?

June 30, 2010

Jon Burge and federal prosecutors were back in court at 9:00 yesterday morning to revisit the terms of the former police commander's bond.‚  Until now, that bond consisted of the deed to Burge's house, which was valued at approximately $250,000.‚  As is typical in the wake of a conviction, the government sought to revise that, a formal recognition of the increased risk of the defendant taking flight that is the by-product of a guilty verdict.

Since his arrest on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Burge has been required to call a federal pretrial services office in Florida twice a week, to visit that office once a month, and to open his door when visitors from that bureau knock without prior notice.‚  Federal prosecutor David Weisman proposed that electronic home monitoring be added to the mix, not just because of the increased flight risk, but also as a demonstration of a "general respect for the rule of law." Burge attorney Marc Martin argued that this was unnecessary, that Burge has not failed to meet any of the conditions already imposed, and that his brother was willing to post his house as additional security.‚  Jeffery Burge, a retired advertising executive, lives on the north side of Chicago and has approximately $275,000 in equity in his home.‚  The retired commander has been living there during the course of the trial. "Brothers are not likely to betray each other," Judge Joan Lefkow said, agreeing with Martin that home confinement was unnecessary.‚  Burge will now be able to resume his life in Florida, at least until he is sentenced in November. He faces a maximum penalty of 45 years, but that does not mean he will be sentenced to anything like that.‚  It seems likely that federal prosecutors will argue that not only was the perversion of justice committed by Burge when he lied in response to civil suit interrogatories a serious crime, but that the underlying offenses -- torturing suspects to confess to capital crimes -- was barbaric and did irreparable harm to a whole community's faith in the system of justice. Burge's attorneys will argue that the 62-year-old former policeman was a patriot, that he served with honor in Vietnam, that he was posted to a high crime area on the south side and did his best in trying circumstances, that he is approaching old age, and that he is afflicted with high-risk prostate cancer. Then it will be up to Judge Lefkow to decide his sentence.‚  She can recommend placement in a particular federal institution, but judicial recommendations are not binding on the Bureau of Prisons. According to Bureau spokesperson Felicia Ponce, men and women with chronic medical problems can be assigned to a prison with medical facilities that provide treatment, or they can be treated in a community hospital in the vicinity of a federal penitentiary.‚  A wide range of factors are considered in placing a prisoner.‚  The BOP's centralized designation center in Texas determines placement based on point totals assigned on the basis of a range of factors, including age, level of education, history of escape, history of drug or alcohol abuse, and history of violence.‚  Former law enforcement officials require an extra level of consideration as it is sometimes not safe to mix them with certain populations. Burge could conceivably rack up high scores in the "history of violence" category, given that he has been accused of being directly involved in the torture of many suspects, including 15 cases of electric shock (often to the genitals), 23 cases of suffocation by typewriter cover or plastic bag, and one case in which a suspect was burned against a radiator.‚  (Keep in mind that in some cases, multiple methods were used on the same victim.)‚  On the other hand, those are accusations, and Burge has never been convicted of a violent offense.‚  Whether the BOP ultimately sees him as a serial torturer or as an old perjurer or as something in between will depend in large part on the way his pre-sentencing report is written by the probation office.‚  In addition, the defense may object to parts of the report and provide material that requires consideration, and prosecutors could add input and materials as well. According to a BOP official familiar with the classification system, no decision will be made until after sentencing, after all the classification materials have been received.
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