Send tips to Community Media Worskhop
NEWSTIPS HOME | About | Follow on Twitter @ChicagoNewstips

Conroy’s play at Northwestern

The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern is presenting a staged reading of “My Kind of Town,” John Conroy’s play about the Chicago police torture scandal, Monday, March 8 at 6 p.m. at Thorne Auditorian at Northwestern’s law school, 375 E. Chicago.  It’s free.

The Center has produced a short video to promote the performance.  Conroy explains the play asks “how this happened, why it happened for so long, why are twenty men still in jail on the basis of suspect confessions, and why only one man has been indicted after 35 years.”   And he and others tell why a drama may be the best way to tell the story:

Six years

The Tribune reports that Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves, two victims of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s torture ring, received certificates of innocence yesterday, but a couple salient facts are omitted.

First:  It took Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan six years to decide to drop charges against the men.  (See last month’s Newstip).  This seems like a long time, given that phone records showed that a jailhouse informant whose testimony was central to their conviction “was wrong,” as the Trib puts it.  

Second:  There are still close to two dozen men in prison based on tortured confessions, and many of them exhausted their appeals long before conclusive evidence emerged regarding the Burge torture ring.  Unless Madigan relents and grants them evidenciary hearings, they will never get their day in court.

It’s quite likely that some of them are guilty of the crimes of which they’ve been convicted, but all of them deserve to have their claims heard in court, said Rob Warden of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Meanwhile Madigan’s case-by-case review — a tortuous legal process on top of toturous police procedure — has cost two innocent men six years in prison.

Torture at Tamms

“The pattern of suicide, cutting, depression and hallucination at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib is repeated at Tamms,” Northwestern Professor Stephen Eisenman, author of the book “The Abu Ghraib Effect,” tells the Belleville News-Democrat.

An investigative series in the News-Democrat recently found that 54 prisoners at the Illinois supermax prison in downstate Tamms have been held in continuous solitary confinement for at least ten years, including 39 held there since it opened in 1998.  The paper found large disparities in the reasons for transfer to the supermax.

“Prolonged isolation creates severe mental illness and suffering, and therefore must be considered a form of torture,” Eisenman said.

Members of 70 community organization, spearheaded by Tamms Year Ten, are calling Governor Pat Quinn today to demand limits on long-term isolation and transfers for inmates with severe mental illness.

Tortured justice

Will Attorney General Lisa Madigan agree to a new trial for the latest Illinois inmate claiming a wrongful conviction based on a coerced confession ?

Michael Tillman, who’s been in prison for 23 years with a life-plus sentence for a 1986 rape and murder, filed a petition Tuesday seeking a new trial.

Tillman says his confession was coerced over four days of physical brutality in July of 1986 at the hands of detectives under Commander Jon Burge. (Burge now faces federal perjury charges.)

But Tillman isn’t the only person to have faced charges in the case.

A codefendant, Steven Bell, gave a statement implicating Tillman (after being beaten, by his account). Bell was subsequently acquitted.

Neither Tilllman’s nor Bell’s admission mentioned other culprits.  But three weeks after Tillman was charged, two other men were picked up driving the murder victim’s car.  Items taken from her home were found in their apartments, and fingerprints of one of them were found in her home.  (No physical evidence ever linked Tillman to the crime.)

That man, Clarence Trotter, was convicted of committing the same crime in 1988.  According to Tillman’s lawyers, Trotter says he confessed after being beaten and suffocated — and that police tried to get him to identify Tillman and Bell as partners in the crime.  He refused to do so.

Trotter has recently been charged in a 1981 rape-murder based on DNA evidence, according to Tillman’s petition.

Tillman’s motion to bar his confession was denied prior to his 1986 conviction, and his claim hasn’t been considered since.  Unaware of his right to file a post-conviction petition, his lawyers say, Tillman missed a filing deadline.  They say it would be “unjust” for Madigan to oppose his petition on such a technicality.

Madigan represents the state in Burge-linked cases since a judge removed the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, citing conflict of interest, six years ago.  As Newstips has reported, many have called on Madigan to move more quickly on the backlog of torture cases.

G. Flint Taylor, one of Tillman’s attorneys, called on Madigan “to honor her prosecutorial oath, the interests of justice, and her pledge that she will not rely on tortured evidence” by agreeing to a hearing on Tillman’s claims of torture and innocence.

Justice delayed

When two men were released from prison on July 7, 21 years after they were falsely convicted in a quintuple murder, several questions were raised:

Why did it take Attorney General Lisa Madigan six years to free them?

How long will it take, and how many procedural battles must be fought, for other men who are in prison based on tortured confessions to have their claims heard?

And is it possible that some of them could be denied hearings altogether?

Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves were freed Tuesday after the attorney general’s office decided to drop all charges against them. That decision came six years after Madigan was given responsibility for representing the state in convictions linked to a torture ring led by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.

The case for dismissal was not complicated, lawyers say. There was evidence supporting Kitchen’s claim that he was beaten by a Chicago detective (Kitchen says he confessed after 30 hours of physical abuse; he was originally sentenced to death). And it was known that a jailhouse informant against Kitchen and Reeves lied on the stand — about phone calls in which they supposedly confessed to him, and about inducements he received for his testimony — and that prosecutors committed misconduct by covering up for him.

“It could have been done six years ago,” but Madigan’s office has “dragged their feet,” said Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, who has represented Burge victims.

The problem was that Madigan decided to reinvestigate each Burge case individually and exhaustively — and in the meantime, to continue litigating them, he said.

“Why aren’t these cases being dealt with as a whole?” he asks. “That’s how they should have been treated from the beginning.”

In other cases where whole classes of convictions were tainted by police misconduct, wholesale reviews have allowed for much quicker determinations, he said. The Los Angeles district attorney took just two years to review 1500 cases tainted by the Ramparts District police scandal in the late 1990s; over a hundred convictions were overturned.

“Lisa Madigan has delayed and delayed,” said Julien Ball of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, which has protested regularly outside her office. The group has called on Madigan to initiate new evidenciary hearings in all the Burge-related cases, Ball said.

In April, several of Madigan’s cases were handed off to a new special prosecutor, former Judge Stuart Nudelman, and a few more are working their way through the courts. Action on a couple more Burge-related cases is expected in July.

But in many of the cases, individuals now in prison have exhausted their appeals — many in the years before the Burge torture ring was documented, when claims of coerced confessions were routinely dismissed, Ball said. Without new hearings initiated by Madigan, their torture claims — and the convictions based on them — may never be aired, he said.

Rob Warden, of the Center on Wrongful Convctions at Northwestern, which provided attorneys for Kitchen and Reeves, agreed. “We think the attorney general should confess error and agree to a new trial in every case in which a confession extracted by the Burge crew was admitted in court,” he said. “We think all these men are entitled to new trials.”

Satire and torture

Barbara Ehrenreich is dismayed that a UK resident was tortured and held for years in Guantanamo after admitting to reading an old article she wrote on how to make an atomic bomb.

The article, published in Seven Days in 1979, was clearly a farce. It suggested using a bicycle pump to pressurize uranium gas into liquid, then creating a home-made centrifuge by putting it in a bucket and swinging it around for 45 minutes.

Picked up in Pakistan after 9-11, Binyam Mohamed was beaten and hung by his wrists for a week.  He eventually admitted having read an article on making a bomb, saying he thought it was a joke.

“At the time the White House was obsessed with the idea terrorists had access to nuclear materials,” Mohamad’s attorney Clive Smith told the Daily Mail. Smith speculates the White House got the news about the article but not the joke, and that’s “where the paranoia kicked in.  They authorized the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against Binyam, including the rendition.”

Mohamed was “rendered” to torture centers in Afghanistan and Morocco, where among other things his genitals were repeatedly cut with a scalpel; he ended up spending nearly five years in Guantanamo.  He was released last week. 

Last month the High Court of the United Kingdom ruled that documents relating to Mohamed’s detention must remain secret, saying they had no choice because the U.S. had threatened to withdraw all intelligence cooperation with Britain if they were released, according to the Mail.

And there’s more: Mohamed is a plaintiff in a case which angered civil liberty groups last month, when the Obama administration invoked the same “state secrets privilege” used by the previous administration to argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Torture: Chicago, Colombia

Burge torture victim Darrell Cannon will be joined by DePaul University’s Father Memo Campuzano, who will talk about his experiences of torture in Colombia, at a program sponsored by several DePaul student groups,  tonight (Thursday, February 12) at 6:30 p.m. at DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus, 2320 N. Kenmore, room 161.

Amnesty International: Tasers kill

An Amnesty International study of deaths in U.S. from police use of Tasers — which reviewed the autopsy of one of the four Chicagoans who have died after being shocked by police — says the weapon should not be classified as “non-lethal,” and its use should be suspended or limited to life-threatening situations (pdf).

The study found that 90 percent of Taser victims studied — including Chicagoan Roland Hasse, killed in February 2005 — were unarmed and posed no serious threat. It says 334 people have died after being shocked by police since the weapon was introduced in the U.S. in 2000.

“Tasers are not the ‘non-lethal’ weapons they are portrayed to be,” said Angela Wright, a researcher at AI and author of the report, in a release. “They can kill and should only be used as a last resort.

“The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks,” she said.

Chicago police announced they are acquiring 2,500 Tasers earlier this year (see previous post). Four people have died after being shocked by Tasers while in the custody of Chicago police; a fifth Chicagoan died this April after being shocked by police in Oxford, Ohio.

Read the rest of this entry »

Get Newstips in Your Inbox!

Enter your email address:

Subscribe in a reader

Newstips Archives


Add to Technorati Favorites

RSS Nonprofit Communicator

  • An error has occurred, which probably means the feed is down. Try again later.

RSS Chicago is the World

  • Telling people’s stories, an ethnic media success September 2, 2015
        By Stephen Franklin Community Media Workshop   A 3-year-old child died on a plane from Chicago to Poland. This, Magdalena Pantelis instantly knew, was a story her readers would care about. But she needed more detail to write about it for the Polish Daily News, the nation’s oldest daily newspaper in Polish, founded Jan. […]




CAN TV is a network that belongs to the people of Chicago.  For updates on local programs, and live, timely coverage of community events, sign up at