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Retrials for those convicted with Burge-related confessions present challenges for prosecutors

by Jordan Graham
Feb 17, 2010

Every Jon Burge related retrial prosecuted by the Illinois attorney general’s office has ended in a prisoner’s release.

Burge, a former Chicago police commander, is awaiting trial on perjury charges, accused of lying under oath about his use of torture in interrogations of suspects between 1972 and 1991.

Many victims of violent interrogations from that era were sentenced to death, but after several allegations against Burge emerged, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan put a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000 and cleared death row.

All of this would seem to be good news for Cortez Brown, one of the most recent petitioners, whose retrial began with a preliminary hearing last Thursday and who is scheduled to be in court again a week from Friday.

Brown was convicted in 1992 of two murders committed in the summer of 1990, crimes for which he initially received the death penalty.  Brown asked for his case to be retried in 2001 and for a full pardon in 2002, both of which were denied.

However, Cook County Judge Clayton Crane granted Brown a new trial in May after other allegations and evidence surfaced against the Burge-commanded officers accused of torturing Brown into a confession. 

Crane called the evidence damning and staggering.

The prosecution may face difficulties in convicting Brown the second time around.

Brown’s admission, which placed him at the scene of the crime with a gun, may be deemed inadmissible if evidence suggests he was tortured or coerced.  In addition, it is possible that two witnesses may not testify this time.

Christopher Posey, an witness who sat on a porch with Curtis Sims when he was murdered, has not yet been located to testify.  Another witness has since died.

Brown said nothing at the preliminary hearing, but two religious leaders, as well as Brown’s daughter, stood to speak on his behalf.

“I don’t believe he is a threat to anything or anybody,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina, who knew Brown from the Auburn Gresham neighborhood several years before Brown went to prison.

Of the 25 petitioners being prosecuted by the attorney general’s office, seven have cases still pending, four were never granted retrials, six had cases transferred to other prosecutors, three were pardoned, four had cases dismissed and were released, and one plead guilty for time served and was released.

Derrick King, convicted of a 1979 murder, had his retrial begin Wednesday. He claims he was beaten with a bat and telephone book by police under Burge’s command.

The Cook County state’s attorney's office is prosecuting some of the retrials as well, but did not provide information on these cases by the time of publication.