Former Police Commissioner On Trial For Perjury In Abuse Investigation

The federal trial of a former Chicago Police commissioner accused of torturing suspects, and later lying about it under oath, has now begun.

Jon Burge, 62, was fired by the police department in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but no criminal charges had been filed against him until recently. However, several civil actions have been taken against him by former suspects, who alleged that they were coerced into confessing to crimes by brutality, which was either perpetrated or condoned by Burge and other police department colleagues.

He is currently being tried on two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury, charges which were brought by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in October 2008. The charges stem from a 2002 review of the many allegations against him dating back to 1973.

The extensive case against Burge has at one time involved 139 victims; 19 investigators, including several special prosecutors; testimony before a grand jury; various investigations and hearings; and four suits, filed by death row inmates who claim to have been tortured during Burge’s tenure, against the City of Chicago, Cook County, Burge himself, and several current and former State’s Attorneys. The cases against the “city defendants” were settled for $19.8 million in December 2007; the cases against Cook County are ongoing.

Despite the millions of dollars spent on investigating Burge and his colleagues on the charges of torture, no indictments have been handed out because of the elapsed statute of limitations. Although Burge is not now being tried on the abuse and torture claims, Fitzgerald has stated publicly that he believes Burge is guilty of those as well as of the perjury and obstruction charges.

Anthony “Satan” Holmes, the first witness called to the stand by prosecutors, testified that Burge cuffed his wrists and ankles, tried to suffocate him by placing plastic bags over his head, and sent electrical current through his body. He also said that he passed out several times and was revived by Burge; eventually, he confessed to the murder for which he was being questioned in order to stop the brutality. Holmes, a former gang member, served 30 years in prison.

Other former suspects will be called to testify, as will a former detective who allegedly participated in the abuse under Burge. One of the suspects claims that he was threatened with a gun; another, that he had soda poured into his nose.

The trial is being held before U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow. If convicted on all charges, Burge could face a maximum of 45 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty, and is currently free on bond.

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