First torture commission cases may be the last

September 19, 2012

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Five homicide cases from the 1990s are being reviewed by Cook County judges to see if the confessions in the cases were tortured.  The cases are the first referred by a state agency investigating torture claims and the cases may be the last.

The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission was created to systematically deal with the so-called Burge cases of men who were in prison and had exhausted all their appeals.

However, funding for the commission has now been cut.

The commission investigated 20-year-old torture claims in light of what we now know about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates. In five instances the commission found the claims of torture credible and those cases were referred to Cook County judges for review. The judges were randomly assigned Tuesday, but judges who had made rulings in the cases were excluded.

“So if they see a case, oh hey, I've done this before, that case is going to get short shrift,” says David Thomas, the former executive director of the torture commission. “But these cases are going to judges who haven't done it before so presumably are going to give it careful consideration.”

Thomas appeared in court unpaid because the state has stopped funding the torture commission. Thomas says the commission had about 110 “Burge cases” and had disposed of about a dozen and started investigating about 20 more. He estimates the commission would need about $250,000 a year for the next three years to finish investigating all the cases.

Attorney Andrea Lyon represents prisoners who say they gave tortured confessions.  She says, “I think for the sake of the community, the public and for the sake of those who are torture victims, it simply makes sense to let this commission finish its work.”