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Petition seeks hearings for inmates whose confessions may have been coerced

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 9:44 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Attorneys with Northwestern University School of Law filed a class-action petition Tuesday asking a judge to grant hearings to scores of men still imprisoned for murder despite “credible claims” they were tortured into confessing by disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge or detectives under his control.

The petition is the first of its kind in Cook County and represents the only way to bring closure to “a scandal without end,” said Locke Bowman, director of the university’s MacArthur Justice Center. There are 15 men currently in prison who are named in the filing, but Bowman said there are possibly many more who have at least some evidence their confessions were coerced by Burge’s crew.

“None of these men has ever had a full or fair hearing,” Bowman said at a news conference at the law school’s downtown campus. “It is time, it is past time, for there to be closure in the Burge scandal.”

The petition, filed before presiding Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel, asks the court to establish a process to ensure that every Burge victim still incarcerated is given a fair hearing to determine whether his conviction rests on a confession wrongly obtained through torture or physical abuse.

Joey Mogul, a partner at the People’s Law Office and an attorney in the class-action petition, said the filing asks Biebel to “abandon legal technicalities” that often bog down post-conviction proceedings and deal directly with whether a defendant was tortured.

The petition cites other examples across the country in which police, prosecutors and judges have come together following a law-enforcement scandal to take corrective action.

In one case currently unfolding in Boston, more than 30,000 drug cases were thrown into turmoil after a state chemist was accused of falsifying lab tests over the last nine years. Since that scandal broke, prosecutors in Massachusetts quickly identified hundreds of pending cases in which defendants will be released from jail, and a special court was established by the governor to handle a wave of cases that would have to be re-opened.

Mogul called it an “embarrassment” that decades after the Burge torture allegations first came to light, something similar has yet to happen in Cook County.

“It’s unconscionable for us to do nothing on their behalf,” she said.

Burge, 64, was convicted in 2010 on federal charges for lying under oath about the torture allegations and is serving a 4 ½-year prison sentence.

The Northwestern lawyers appealed to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and retired Judge Stuart Nudelman, who in 2009 was appointed a special prosecutor in Burge-related cases, to support their effort.

“Our hope is that they see the light and recognize that the right thing to do here is to work together to get to the bottom of this and do what needs to be done,” Bowman said.

Sally Daly, a spokewoman for Alvarez, had no comment Tuesday on the filing. Representatives of Madigan and Nudelman did not return calls.

One of two named petitioners is Johnnie Plummer, who was 15 when he was arrested for a 1991 murder and beaten with a flashlight by two detectives working under Burge, Mogul said. He later tried to have his confession thrown out, but the judge allowed it at trial and Plummer was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

His mother, Jeanette Plummer, said that when she went to see her son in a youth home the day after he was charged, his face was swollen and he had dark bruises all over his back and legs. She held up her son’s photograph Tuesday and begged the court to let him have a new hearing. She called the petition “his last hope.”

“It’s not fair. Twenty one years is wasted,” she said. “My son needs to come home.”

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