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Burge gets 4-1/2 years for perjury in torture case

Mark Clements an alleged victim torture by JBurge answers reporters' questions following sentencing Burge Dirksen Federal Building 219 S. Dearborn

Mark Clements, an alleged victim of torture by Jon Burge, answers reporters' questions following the sentencing of Burge at the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn, Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, in Chicago. Burge was sentenced to 54 months in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Mitchell: Burge's sentence not enough
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Updated: January 28, 2011 6:28PM

It was a day of reckoning the city of Chicago has awaited for decades.

In a packed courtroom with more than half a dozen deputy U.S. Marshals keeping watch, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge to 4 ½ years in prison, telling him she believed he lied under oath in the trial before her and defiled justice in his time as a police official.

In remarks that capped an emotional two-day hearing – one that saw the hard-edged Burge reduced to tears -- Lefkow castigated law enforcement authorities for failing to put a close to the ugly chapter in the city’s history decades earlier and gave weight to claims of torture at the hands of Burge and his underlings.

Lefkow was only minutes into her lengthy statement and had not imposed sentence when Burge’s sister-in-law, red-faced, stood up and walked out of the courtroom.

“Unfortunately for you, the jury did not believe you and I must agree. I did not either,” Lefkow told Burge.

Lefkow attempted to put into perspective much of what the sentencing hearing had become – a commentary on race relations and police relations in Chicago. She said she didn’t blame Burge for the city’s racial divide and said she recognized that Burge was hurt by allegations that he is a racist. Burge was fired from the police force in 1993.

Lefkow, who said she held the utmost respect for Chicago Police officers who were involved in investigating the 2005 murders of her husband and mother, did criticize Burge’s supervisors for not stepping in immediately and putting a stop to Burge’s behavior.

Had Burge’s superiors threatened to demote Burge or severely reprimanded him immediately after the first complaint of abuse, she said, he would likely have retired honorably.

“I wish there was not such abysmal leadership within the department that it came to this,” Lefkow said.

She also said the city’s healing would have started earlier had prosecutors decades ago taken a stance.

“If the state’s attorney or U.S. Attorney had given heed long ago, it could have saved us so much pain,” Lefkow said.

Though claims of torture against Burge had been substantiated in the past, they came after a statute of limitations had run out. Burge’s conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice stemmed from written answers Burge gave in the civil lawsuit filed by freed Death Row inmate Madison Hobley.

Lefkow’s sentence was a slap on the wrist for those who say their loved ones were wrongly imprisoned because Burge or his underlings tortured wrong confessions.

It was too harsh for former colleagues who complained that the words of murderers and rapists were given more weight than those of a police officer.

Just minutes after the sentencing, Burge looked relaxed as he spoke with lawyers and smiled. He left the courthouse without comment. Prosecutors said Burge could have faced up to 30 years but were not specific in asking for a sentence “substantially above” the guidelines.

In a move rare for federal judges -- though within their authority -- Lefkow’s sentence doubled the high end of a federal guideline range against the 63 year old.

One observer loudly sobbed as Lefkow imposed the sentence.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald took on the case after a report by a state special prosecutor found instances of torture but said the statute had run out.

“I think it’s important to send a message to people that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in a civilized society, it doesn’t happen in our law enforcement system. It should never happen again,” Fitzgerald said Friday. He added that the investigation is continuing.

Burge is to report to prison March 16. He asked to be placed in a prison close to home and his lawyers said he would like treatment for a “drinking problem.”

Lefkow acknowledged that many letters praised Burge for heroic acts as a cop.

She said struggled to understand Burge’s motivations for his actions.

Allegations against Burge have included playing “Russian roulette” with suspects, suffocating them with bags, electrocuting their genitals and beating them.

“I have asked myself why . . . My best guess is ambition. Perhaps the praise you received for solving these awful crimes was seductive and may have led you down this path,” Lefkow said.

Burge’s lawyers said he didn’t deserve prison time.

“I don’t think a day in jail for Jon Burge is just,” attorney Rick Beuke said.

Beuke said that it’s Burge who has been wrongly accused, by dozens of people who claimed to be tortured by him or under his watch.

“That’s the secret sauce everybody likes to add to the recipe,” Beuke said of lawsuits filed against Burge.

Asked if Burge meant in his words to the court to apologize for any torture, Beuke said it was quite the opposite.

“Jon Burge today denies that he tortured any suspects,” Beuke said.

In an address to Lefkow earlier Friday Burge did not mention allegations of torture. “I know this case has brought the department and those who serve it into disrepute and for that I am deeply sorry,” Burge said.

Mark Clements -- who said he was falsely imprisoned at age 17 after officers under Burge squeezed his genitalia, forcing him to confess -- wept after hearing the sentence.

“I’m being repeatedly tortured by what’s going on here,” said Clements.

Flint Taylor, an attorney who has long represented plaintiffs who claimed torture by Burge or his underlings, called Lefkow’s statement “courageous” and her sentence “just,” given that he was convicted for lying about his conduct, not for the conduct itself.

He called on mayoral candidates to address the issue of torture and called on the next mayor to apologize to the community and to have the city stop paying to defend Burge in civil cases.

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