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Exonerated man sues Burge, others over police beating, wrongful conviction

Updated: May 30, 2013 12:17AM

A man freed after spending 24 years in prison on a wrongful conviction in an arson murder case is suing disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and other police and fire officials.

James Kluppelberg was initially sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 fire that killed 28-year-old Elva Luperio and her five children in the 4400 block of South Hermitage.

According to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, Kluppelberg claims that, four years after the fire, a suspect in a burglary falsely tied him to the deadly blaze to avoid prison time.

Police arrested him in 1988 even though they had already identified a woman who had said she “may have set” the blaze but couldn’t remember because she was intoxicated — information that was withheld from Kluppelberg and prosecutors, the suit claims.

That woman was later convicted of setting a separate fire at a nearby home in the 4500 block of South Marshfield, 15 hours before the fatal blaze on Hermitage, according to the suit.

Kluppelberg claims that police beat him until he falsely confessed to the crime, injuring his kidneys so badly that he urinated blood, according to the suit.

The court threw out his confession at trial, finding it “obvious” that he “was mistreated by the police,” the suit said.

His then-girlfriend — who was with Kluppelberg at her apartment at the time of the fire — testified against him before a grand jury because police hit her and threatened her children, the suit said.

Kluppelberg claims Burge was personally involved in the investigation and turned a blind eye to detectives who coerced and fabricated false statements from him and other suspects.

Burge was convicted in 2010 of lying about torturing suspects during the 1970s and ’80s. He’s serving a 54-month sentence at the Butner federal penitentiary in North Carolina.

The suit names as defendants Burge and 13 other police officials, along with two fire department officials who presented evidence that the blaze was an arson.

The University of Chicago Law School Exoneration Project later argued that advances in science rendered the arson theory impossible, and prosecutors dropped the charges against Kluppelberg citing new forensic evidence.

The eight-count lawsuit claims violations of Kluppelberg’s constitutional rights, malicious prosecution and emotional distress, among other things. It seeks to hold the city responsible and asks for an unspecified amount in damages.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said officials hadn’t yet seen the suit and could not comment on it.

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