U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced former Chicago police officer Jon Burge to 4½ years in prison on Friday for perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the torture of more than 100 African American suspects in the 1970s and 1980s.
Although he could not be prosecuted for the torture allegations due to the expired statute of limitations, the U.S. Attorneys office charged Burge with perjury in 2008 after he denied the abuse in a 2003 civil lawsuit against the city of Chicago. Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death and served 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, filed the lawsuit after he was exonerated, later winning $7.5 million dollars in a settlement with the city. Hobley claimed that Burge and his “Midnight Crew” of detectives suffocated him with a typewriter cover during questioning. In June 2010, a federal jury found Burge guilty of lying under oath.
In addition to suffocation, other victims have claimed that Burge’s torture tactics included electrocution, threats with loaded guns and the use of radiators to burn suspects. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan released four men from death row in 2003, believing that they falsely confessed to crimes after being subjected to torture by Burge. Citing the “demon of error” in the criminal justice system, Ryan commuted all death sentences in Illinois to life without parole just two days before leaving office. A bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois was recently passed in the state’s House and Senate and is currently in the hands of Governor Pat Quinn; there has been a moratorium on capital punishment in the state since 2000.
Many of Burge’s victims were disappointed with the 4½ year sentence, including Mark Clements who was released after 28 years in prison. According to the Chicago Tribune, Clements said in response to the sentence, “This is ridiculous. This is a smack in the face once again to the African American community…This is a complete injustice.” Others, including lawyers of some of the victims, thought that Judge Lefkow’s sentence would send a strong message; the 4½ year sentence was double the sentence called for under federal guidelines.
It is difficult to understand how 4½ years can be considered justice for the hundreds of years Burge’s victims spent in prison for crimes they did not commit, not to mention the years that his victims who are still imprisoned will continue to serve. There are still more than 20 people incarcerated as a result of Burge’s crimes. Although the U.S. Pretrial Service Office’s Presentence Investigation Report recommended 15-21 months in prison for Burge, he could have received a sentence of up to 45 years. Not only did Burge torture more than 100 people during his time at the Chicago Police Department, but also he has failed to admit guilt and has not shown any remorse for his actions.
Burge’s case also raises the question of how it could take so long to prosecute him for his crimes. He was fired from the police department in 1993 due to his record of abuse, but special prosecutors were not appointed to investigate the torture claims until 2002. Following his conviction last June, U.S. Representative Danny Davis from Illinois sponsored a bill to lift the statute of limitations on torture by members of law enforcement, but the legislation has not made it out of the House Judiciary Committee.
It is unclear whether charges will be brought against other members of Burge’s “Midnight Crew.”