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Key witness recants testimony against convicted rapist in Burge-related case

Stanley Wrice | AP

Stanley Wrice | AP

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Updated: January 11, 2014 6:23AM



First, convicted rapist Stanley Wrice watched as the man whose testimony helped send him to prison 30 years ago recanted Monday in a Cook County courtroom.

Then, the two former Chicago police officers Wrice accused of beating a false confession out of him in 1982 took the stand — and invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

And now Wrice’s lawyers are hoping Cook County Judge Richard Walsh will rule soon — possibly Tuesday — on whether to overturn Wrice’s conviction for which he is serving a 100-year prison sentence.

Wrice, 59, has said detectives working for disgraced former Cmdr. Jon Burge carried out the interrogation. Burge is now serving his own federal prison term for perjury related to torture allegations.

Meanwhile, journalism students from Northwestern University working with David Protess and the Chicago Innocence Project managed to secure sworn statements from Bobby Joe Williams, who testified against Wrice at trial. Williams, who has two children with Wrice’s sister, recanted his 30-year-old testimony in that affidavit.

He did so again Monday, in a court hearing at the Cook County Juvenile Court complex that drew key players from the early 1980s gang rape trial back together as older, grayer men.

Williams, now a 52-year-old truck driver, told the judge he testified against Wrice because he, too, was tortured.

“I was beaten into a false statement,” Williams said. “I was scared.”

He didn’t identify the officers who tortured him. But Wrice had his own opportunity to testify. He said John Byrne and Peter Dignan were the detectives who beat him twice in the basement of Area 2 police headquarters — Byrne with a flashlight and Dignan with a 20-inch piece of rubber.

Wrice, shackled at the feet, stood in the witness stand to re-enact the alleged beating, swinging his arm like he was cracking a whip.

“They just kept hitting me,” he said. “Hitting me, hitting me, hitting me.”

Byrne, now a private detective, and Dignan, now a security supervisor, had an opportunity to deny the torture took place. Wrice’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, called them to the stand and asked directly if they beat Wrice.

“I’m going to assert my Fifth Amendment right,” Dignan answered repeatedly as Bonjean questioned him, holding his leather jacket in his arms and once calmly adjusting his glasses.

“On advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment right to not answer any and all questions of a substantive nature,” Byrne said later, when it was his turn.

The men wouldn’t even answer when Bonjean asked if Area 2 had a basement in 1982.

Email: jseidel@suntimes.com

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