Weather Updates

Judge to name special prosecutor in latest claims of torture under Burge

Updated: April 11, 2013 9:25PM

Cook County’s chief criminal courts judge will appoint a special prosector to decide whether to grant new trials for a group of imprisoned men who claim they were tortured and forced into confessing by disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his underlings. Criminal Courts Chief Judge Paul Biebel Jr. said he continues to feel that the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has a “conflict of interest” and should not be weighing in on the cases of at least four men who have been recently granted post-conviction hearings and others who are seeking a class-action petition.

Former State’s Attorney Dick Devine once served as Burge’s lawyer when he was in private practice and current state’s attorney Anita Alvarez worked for Devine when he was in public office.

This is the latest round of court proceedings involving yet another group of men who have claimed they were tortured in to confessing to crimes they said they didn’t commit during the Burge era.

Biebel, who has been presiding on matters concerning Burge for over a decade, said a special prosecutor will be sought from the Attorney General’s office, the State Appellate Defender’s office, and a dozen other state’s attorney’s offices outside of Cook County.

“…It is apparent that nothing has changed that would alter this Court’s opinions as stated in the 2003 and 2009 orders removing CCSAO [Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office] as the prosecutorial entity in these [Burge] cases,” Biebel said in his 17-page ruling.

In 2009, Biebel had appointed retired Cook County Judge Stuart A. Nudelman as a special prosecutor in Burge-related torture cases.

But under a new state statute, courts are asked to first search for a special prosecutor who will do the work at no expense.

If no one steps forward, Biebel then will ask Nudelman to handle the recent cases.

Biebel will give an update on his search on May 7.

Last fall, five men — Gerald Reed, Shawn Whirl, David Randle, Darryl Christian and Robert Smith — had their post-conviction cases assigned to Cook County judges. Gerald Reed’s name was not listed in Biebel’s ruling.

A few weeks later, Northwestern University Law School filed a class-action petition asking the judge to grant hearings to men who said they were beaten by Burge and his colleagues.

Jeanette Plummer said her son Johnny has been incarcerated for the last 22 years for a murder he said forced into confessing.

“I want my baby at home,” the elderly woman said following Thursday’s hearing.

“…I’m tired. It should have been over a long time ago. Why does this have to drag on so long?”

Locke Bowman, of Northwestern’s MacArthur Justice Center, called Biebel’s ruling “sensible” and “unsurprising.”

“The Cook County state’s attorney’s office has an abysmal track record with respect to the Jon Burge matters. They never acknowledged that Jon Burge injured anyone. They never have taken any steps to address the flawed prosecution…,” Bowman said.

Alvarez’s spokeswoman said the office respected Biebel’s decision.

“Like the court, we believe that public confidence in this process is of the utmost importance. We respect the court’s ruling and we will cooperate in any way that is required moving forward,” Sally Daly said.

Burge, fired from the Chicago Police department in 1993 after decades on the force, is currently serving a 4 1/2 –year federal prison sentence for lying about torturing and abusing suspects.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.