Hope for Burge torture victims still in prison

February 3, 2012

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(AP/Steve Nesius)
Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.

A ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court is giving new hope to Burge torture victims who are still in prison. The court ruled Thursday that Stanley Wrice deserves a hearing on whether his 1982 confession to Chicago police was coerced. That could lead to his conviction being overturned and a new trial.

A special prosecutor argued that even if the confession was coerced, it was a "harmless error" because of all the other overwhelming evidence of Wrice's guilt. The Supreme Court ruled that a physically coerced confession is never a harmless error.

Attorney Locke Bowman has represented several Burge victims, and he said the ruling sets an important precendent for 14 other men who are still in prison on convictions based in part on confessions they gave only after they were tortured by police working under former Commander Jon Burge.

"Anytime a confession is abstracted from a criminal suspect through the use of physical coercion, basic principals on which our country was founded are violated," says Bowman.

Wrice has been in prison for 30 years. He confessed to joining in a brutal gang rape and beating of a woman on Chicago's South Side. He immediately claimed he was tortured, something that seemed preposterous in 1982. Wrice exhausted his appeals, but mounting evidence of torture involving the police who questioned Wrice allowed him to make another appeal.

If his conviction is overturned he could still face a retrial, and his conviction rests on more than just the confession. Police found clothing from the victim at Wrice's house and an iron on the scene matched burn marks on her body.