Prosecutor casts Chicago cop as calculating torturer, defense calls him an upstanding officer

By Karen Hawkins, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Prosecutor: Chicago cop was a calculating torturer

CHICAGO — Former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge was cast as both a calculating torturer who took the law into his own hands and an honorable investigator who dedicated his life to making the streets safer as federal prosecutors and defense attorneys closed their cases on Thursday.

The fate of the police veteran whose name has become synonymous with police brutality in Chicago is now in the hands of a federal jury.

Burge has pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges. He’s accused of lying in a civil lawsuit when he denied seeing or participating in the torture of suspects in the 1970s and 1980s.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weisman said Burge had gotten away with decades of torture because he and the officers under his command maintained a strict code of silence about what happened behind closed doors at their station.

“Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil … that may have worked in Area 2 20 years ago, but it will not work in this courtroom,” Weisman said. “This defendant operated above the law. … He lied about what happened then and he’s lying now.”

Defense attorney Rick Beuke fired back that it was the government’s witnesses — five men he called junkies, pathological liars and career criminals — who weren’t telling the truth. He accused the men of fabricating their allegations that police shocked, beat and suffocated them into confessions, particularly convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson. He sarcastically referred to Wilson as “everybody’s Mr. Wonderful.”

“Somewhere in the darkest, dingiest corner of hell, Andrew Wilson is laughing,” Beuke told jurors. “You had to listen to Andrew Wilson as he choreographed this charade from the grave.”

Wilson died in prison in 2007, and federal prosecutors had testimony from a prior proceeding read into the record at Burge’s trial. During his fiery, two-hour closing, Beuke picked up a binder containing Wilson’s written testimony and threw it in a trash can, calling it garbage.

For decades, scores of suspects — almost all of them black men — have alleged that Burge and his “A Team” of officers, tortured them into confessing to crimes from armed robbery to murder.

Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 for the alleged mistreatment of Wilson, who after a day in police custody had a gash to the back of his head, alligator clip marks on his ears and nostrils and an 8-inch second-degree burn on his thigh. Wilson said officers ran electric current through the alligator clips and stretched his body against a hot radiator.

Whereas Weisman delivered his closing argument from a spot near the jury box in a voice that was, at times, hard to hear, Beuke paced between jurors and the defense table, his voice nearly a shout. While prosecutors painted Burge as a ruthless racist who knew no one would believe his black victims’ claims of abuse, Beuke said representing Burge was the highlight of his legal career.

“Jon Burge is a good man, he was a great police officer, he did his job with pride, with honor,” Beuke said. “He told you the truth. He told you what he did on the streets and what he did not do.”

The jury, minus the five alternates who sat through the trial, began deliberating Thursday afternoon. The dismissal of the alternates leaves seven men and five women, including one African American. Burge faces up to 45 years in prison.

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