State panel accused of not notifying crime victims of new hearings
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter September 24, 2013 5:31PM
Dean, Jo Ellen and their son Ricky Pueschel. In 1983 in their North Side home, attackers killed Dean and Jo Ellen Pueschel and beat and stabbed Ricky, who survived.
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:31AM
Ricky Pueschel was 11 when two intruders beat him unconscious with his Little League bats and stabbed him in his West Rogers Park home in 1983.
Pueschel survived the ordeal, but his dad was murdered and his mom was raped before she was killed, too.
Now he’s suffering another ordeal: He and his family say they were never notified of hearings in which the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission found evidence that Jerry Mahaffey — one of the men convicted in his parents’ notorious killings — was tortured by the police into confessing.
“I read every set of minutes on the commission’s web site,” said Joseph Heinrich, a Pueschel family spokesman and a brother-in-law of Pueschel’s slain father, Dean Pueschel. “The only time they mention victims is convicts who are victims of torture.”
The family is seeking the ouster of David Thomas, the executive director of the commission, for failing to notify them of hearings into their cases, which is required by law.
In 17 cases, the commission has found credible evidence of police torture and has recommended that a judge determine whether to grant a new trial.
Of those cases, though, at least nine victims’ families were never notified of the commission’s hearings, Heinrich said.
Outraged that they learned of the hearings through the media, the Pueschel family pressured the commission to withdraw its recommendation to refer the Mahaffey case to a judge to consider granting a new trial.
The family also notified Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who contacted Gov. Pat Quinn about the family’s concerns. On Sept. 11, Quinn responded to Alvarez, writing that Thomas should resign “due to this gross failure to follow the law.”
“Both my office and the chair of the commission have asked the current executive director to step down,” the governor wrote. “If he does not do so, the commission should remove him.”
But Thomas didn’t resign and the commission is scheduled to meet in a closed session Wednesday to consider whether to fire him, sources said.
After the closed session, the commission is expected to hear from the families of victims in three cases — including the Pueschels’ relatives. The commission could then vote again on whether to refer Jerry Mahaffey’s case to a judge.
Thomas didn’t respond to a call seeking comment, but torture commission member Leonard Cavise said the move to fire him is a mistake.
“I think the governor is trying to kill the commission,” said Cavise, a DePaul University law professor. “David Thomas has done an excellent job. In several cases, he simply neglected to notify some of the victims’ families.”
There’s strong evidence that Jerry Mahaffey and his brother committed the murders. Indeed, police said they even found the Pueschels’ wedding video in Jerry Mahaffey’s apartment.
But the commission’s job is to determine whether torture occurred, not whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, Cavise said. He noted that victims rarely have any knowledge of whether a convicted defendant was tortured by the police.
“We should hear from the victims every time we can,” Cavise said. “But I want them to understand we are not reopening the case with respect to guilt or innocence.”