Judge’s ‘belated’ decision to recuse could delay alleged torture case for months

Former Mayor Richard Daley among those subpoenaed in Burge-era case.

August 19, 2013

Patrick Smith

File/Kate Gardiner
File: Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Daley among those subpoenaed in Burge-era case.

The attorney for an alleged victim of Chicago police torture says her client is a “broken man” after the judge in his case recused herself last week.

She says the judge’s decision was politically motivated, and it could delay her client’s search for justice for months.

Last week Cook County Judge Evelyn Clay withdrew from the case of convicted rapist Stanley Wrice.

In a phone conference last Tuesday, Clay told attorneys from both sides that it had “belatedly come to [her] attention” there would be “an appearance of impropriety” if she stayed on Wrice’s case because she knows some of the witnesses, according to a court transcript.

Wrice’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean says the judge’s decision is an attempt to protect former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley from having to testify.

Wrice, 59, was sentenced to 100 years in prison for his alleged involvement in a 1982 gang rape. But he claims he didn’t do it, and that he only confessed because he was tortured by police officers working under disgraced Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.

Daley was the Cook County State’s Attorney during Wrice’s first trial in 1982.

Last year the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Wrice’s claims of torture warranted a review, and in January Clay ordered a full evidentiary hearing.

In her order Clay wrote that Wrice had “established a substantial showing of actual innocence.”

Bonjean said the judge’s decision gave Wrice “a little glimmer of hope.”

“You’re gonna have that chance finally ... ‘I get to take the stand and I get to question witnesses through my attorneys about what happened to me and how I ended up in jail as an innocent man for 31 years,’” she said of Wrice’s reaction.

The hearing was set for Sept. 23, but now Bonjean said she doesn’t know when it will happen.

Along with the former mayor, Illinois Appellate Judge Bertina Lampkin is also named as a witness in the case. Lampkin was the prosecutor in Wrice’s first trial.

Court records show that Clay had known who the witnesses would be for Wrice’s hearing for the past year and a half.

According to the transcript, when Bonjean pointed this out, the judge agreed and apologized for her “belated recognition” of the potential appearance of impropriety.

During the phone conference, Bonjean asked Clay four times to explain her decision to withdraw, and according to the court record, each time the judge declined.

“Well, I prefer not,” Clay said at one point. “That’s as far as I need to go,” she said at another.

Bonjean says the timing of the decision and Clay’s unwillingness to explain further are signs that Clay was pressured by her bosses to recuse herself in an effort to delay Daley and Lampkin from having to testify.

“The powers that be would rather leave a man in jail to rot for the rest of his life than to simply require those people to answer legitimate questions that they should have answered decades ago,” Bonjean said.

Judge Clay and the special prosecutor on Wrice’s current case did not return phone calls.

A new judge is set to be assigned to the case on September 4.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ reporter. Follow him on Twitter @pksmid.