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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.”

JCUA awards

The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs is presenting its Courageous Voices Award to People’s Law Office, Telpochcalli Community Education Project, and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin — at JCUA’s annual meeting on Tuesday, July 1, 6:30 p.m. (reception at 5:30) at the Spertus Institute, 610 S. Michigan (9th floor).

Long an advocate for victims of police abuse and wrongful conviction, People’s Law Office was instrumental in uncovering the Burge torture ring inside the Chicago Police Department.

Founded in 1998 to advocate for creation of a multipurpose cultural facility adjacent to Telpochcalli School, Telpochcalli Community Education Project has evolved into an innovative nonprofit offering ESL and literacy programs along with youth leadership development, immigrant rights, and health programs.

JCUA will also give the 2008 Voice of the Future Award to Tahli Hanuka, a recent graduate of Francis Parker High School.  Through JCUA’s teen social institute program, Hanuka has worked on a lead awareness program in Englewood, Jewish-Muslim youth activities, and Chicago Youth Initiating Change.

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