Attorneys from Northwestern’s MacArthur Justice Center filed a class-action petition Tuesday asking a judge to grant hearings to more than 15 incarcerated men.
The men claim they were tortured into confessing to murder by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
The petition was announced at a news conference held at the NU School of Law in downtown Chicago. Family members, freed victims and attorneys spoke in support of the filing, which seeks to have the cases of Burge’s alleged victims reexamined.
Burge allegedly tortured more than 200 suspects from 1972 to 1991 to force their confessions. He was acquitted for torture due to an expired statute of limitations but was later convicted in 2010 on two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for lying in written testimony during hearings in a 2003 civil lawsuit about his involvement in the torture of criminal suspects. Burge was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
“What do you do about the prisoners who are still in prison?” said Locke Bowman, executive director of the MacArthur Justice Center. “Those who have always said that they were victims of torture and confessed to crimes as a result?”
The victims’ repeated torture accusations against Burge prompted a series of investigations dating back to the 1990s. The investigations ultimately led to Burge’s conviction. Many of the victims have been behind bars for decades.
Bowman, an NU Law professor, is one of the attorneys involved in the class-action petition. The center is a privately funded public interest law firm that became a part of NU School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic in 2006.
NU has been involved with the cases of Burge’s victims for over a decade. Former Medill Prof. David Protess and students of the Medill Innocence Project discovered evidence in 1999 exonerating death row inmate Anthony Porter, who was convicted based on a witness testimony. The witness said he named Porter as the murderer after officers threatened and intimidated him.
Fifteen men named in Tuesday’s petition are currently serving prison sentences. However, Bowman said there could be additional inmates who have evidence that Burge coerced their confessions.
Jeanette Plummer, mother of named victim Johnny Plummer, spoke at Tuesday’s news conference.
“I want justice,” she said at the press conference. “And my son wants justice too. We all want justice for torture victims.”
Bowman is asking the court to recognize that each of these men is entitled to a hearing. Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel will read the petition and determine whether to reopen the cases.
“Each (man) ought to have their case reexamined,” said Bowman.