Burge trial: Closing arguments

June 25, 2010

The first words out of the mouth of prosecutor David Weisman reminded the jurors that this trial is about more than the charges at hand -- perjury and obstruction of justice, that it is about the use of electric shock, suffocation, mock executions, and inflicting radiator burns on five victims. The five cases the government chose to present spanned the years 1973 to 1985. The torture didn't stop during those years, Weisman said, "because this defendant was above the law. It didn't stop because it happened at Area 2 and he was in charge. It didn't stop because he lied about what happened then and he is lying now. He never envisioned these four weeks, when his conduct would be exposed in its full brutality." Weisman's job was to focus the jury on the evidence presented in the five cases, tie the testimony of the victims to the testimony of other witnesses who heard Burge indicate a disregard for a suspect's rights, and define some aspects of the law that the jury would have to apply. Weisman, a former FBI agent, was straightforward, deliberate, methodical, a guided missile politely boring in. Not much heat, but a lot of light. Richard Beuke closed for the defense. His strategy was to distract the jury from the horrors Burge is charged with and focus them instead on the crimes committed by the five victims. He started in immediately on the one who was guaranteed to arouse the least sympathy, Andrew Wilson, who killed police officers William Fahey and Richard O'Brien on February 14, 1982. Wilson died in November, 2007, and some of his previous testimony was read into the record at this trial. The cop-killer, Beuke said, was "somewhere in the darkest, dingiest corner of hell, laughing hysterically at how he has manipulated this system." In choosing his calling in the 1960s, Beuke said, Jon Burge "set out to make a difference, to give back to society," serving in Vietnam, being awarded medals there for bravery. And when he came back to Chicago, "he didn't stop trying to make a difference"¦. Jon Burge got an opportunity to serve and protect"¦..That is the code of the Chicago police department yesterday and today, it is a little different than the code of Anthony Holmes and Andrew Wilson." While Burge was doing such noble duty, former Gangster Disciple leader Anthony Holmes "was infesting the area known as Englewood. His calling was to turn the streets"¦.into a crime infested, drug infested, gun infested cesspool." It went on like that for two hours. The five former suspects who testified were mocked as "poor, poor victims." One was a "rat" and "a psychopathic armed robber trying to play the system." Another was by turns "a serial burglar"¦.a pathological liar"¦.a heroin addict"¦.a cough syrup addict." Andrew Wilson was "everybody's Mr. Wonderful." "Andrew Wilson is the victim in this case, not the families of Bill Fahey and Rich O'Brien." The former state;s attorney held up black and white, passport-size photos of the two officers, seemingly photocopied, miniature in the large courtroom. "This is all that remains of Officer O'Brien. This is all that remains of Officer Fahey. They have been relegated to a two-by-two photograph because he [Wilson] is the victim in this case." Beuke did concede Wilson had injuries inflicted on the day of his arrest, but they were all inflicted by the "two idiots" who transported him from Area 2, men who were not under Burge's command. (Both of those officers are now dead.) Beuke said that Wilson capitalized on the abuse, filing a civil suit against Burge, some Area 2 detectives, and the city for $10 million, thinking, "now I get paid for killing two police officers." After pronouncing Wilson's testimony "garbage" and theatrically pitching it into a wastebasket, Beuke went on to say that the cop-killer didn't get paid because the jury "didn't believe Andrew Wilson." This last bit wasn't the true outcome of that lawsuit, and Beuke knew it. The U.S. Court of Appeals threw out a jury verdict that had gone against Wilson. Chief Judge Richard Posner wrote that the judge had allowed William Kunkle, Burge's attorney, to load the jury with "a mass of inflammatory evidence having little or no relevance to the issues in this trial...and thus turn the trial of the defendants into a trial of the plaintiff." In July, 1996, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman decided the case in Wilson's favor, entering a judgment against the city for more than $1 million. Wilson didn't see a penny and had known for years that he wouldn't, as the family of one of the officers had filed a wrongful death suit against him. Beuke also knew that his proclamation about the outcome of the suit was testifying to facts not in evidence, which is against the rules. The government objected and the judge sustained the objection, an act repeated several times until the judge finally got testy and told Beuke to desist. He wound up his argument by saying that the case was the highlight of his legal career because he'd had the opportunity to represent Burge. The commander and his men were "honorable true heroes. They were the only people that the south side of the city had to stand for them in the face of the Anthony Holmes of the world"¦..and especially the Andrew Wilsons of the world." "Evil still lurks, these monsters are all over the south side, they are all out there [now] just like they were then. I don't know if that will ever change, but I do know that those people would be better off if this gentleman [Burge] was still there." It was a rousing appeal to the emotions, a sharp contrast to Weisman's straight, no-nonsense approach, and had the case gone to the jury at that moment, I think passion might have ruled. But the government still had its rebuttal portion, and prosecutor April Perry, the youngest member of the prosecution team, came on after the 45 minute lunch break to close the trial. "They can get up there and scream and curse all they want and talk about who is and who is not going to hell -- and a lot of people in this room have a lot of feeling about that -- but it is not evidence," Perry said. Yes, the five men had all been convicted of numerous crimes, she argued. "So what? What does that have to do with this case?" The case, she said, is about what happened to them. How is it, she asked, that of all the crimes the five victims had been convicted of, they all independently chose one case in which to argue they were tortured, and that one case involved the same officer -- Burge. "Who was he?" Perry asked, pointing out that although he is notorious now, he was relatively unknown then. "Was he born under some unlucky star that made all these people blame him?" Beuke had argued that the five victims had hatched a conspiracy together, that they crossed paths in Cook County Jail, and their efforts were aimed at beating their cases and winning large sums in civil suits thereafter. Perry pointed out the foolhardiness of embarking on such a conspiracy. The first of the five, Anthony Holmes, spoke out about his torture in 1973, never filed a civil suit, and spent more than three decades in jail. Melvin Jones spoke out in 1982, never filed a civil suit, his motion to suppress his confession made no difference in the outcome of his case. Andrew Wilson also spoke out in 1982, within 24 hours of being tortured, his injuries present for the world to see. He was ignored. So when Gregory Banks spoke out in 1983, there was hardly a winning strategy to embark on, and if it was such a winner, Perry asked, why did he name three other detectives, not Burge, as his torturers, and why did the winning strategy result in him spending seven years in prison before his case was overturned? Shadeed Mu'min, tortured in 1985, was a stranger to Chicago, a member of no gang. When he made his allegations, there was not a single case to inspire him, nothing to indicate that he was going down some known road to success. His motion to suppress was rejected, he was convicted, he served his time, and he has never filed a civil suit. "Are they bad people?" Perry asked. "That is not up to you to decide"¦.We did not pick these victims. The defendant picked them"¦.he believed no one would ever believe their word against his." Beuke had asked the jury to "End this nightmare, end this charade," and "Give Mr. Burge his life back." Perry asked the jury to not stand by, as other "good men" had for decades while the torture continued. "You have seen the evil, you have heard the evil, and now we ask you to speak the truth," she said. The jury walked out at 3 pm, deliberated for a little over an hour, and called it a day. They resume deliberations this morning.
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