A judge appointed a special prosecutor today to investigate allegations that criminal suspects were tortured by a Chicago police homicide commander and the detectives under him.
Judge Paul Biebel found that State’s Attorney Richard Devine had the appearance of a conflict of interest and would not seem objective if he investigated the charges.
The decision was heralded as a victory by University of Chicago lawyers who have been campaigning for months for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
"The time has come to find out how this cancerous sore on our criminal justice system got to be there," said attorney Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago.
Defense attorneys have been charging for more than a decade that former Lt. Jon Burge, the one-time commander of a violent crimes unit that covered the far south end of the city, and the detectives under him tortured suspects until they confessed by placing a typewriter cover over their heads, dunking them in water and giving them electric shocks.
The Police Department fired Burge in 1993 after an internal investigation found one instance of improper conduct.
Biebel named former Illinois Appellate Court Judge Edward J. Egan as special prosecutor. Biebel named Robert D. Boyle, a former chief of the criminal division of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, to assist him.
Devine’s former law firm represented Burge in a civil lawsuit accusing him of torturing suspects. Devine himself billed 24 hours of legal work in Burge’s defense, the judge said in his eight-page opinion.
Biebel said that Illinois law was clear that this would constitute the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Assistant state’s attorney Gerald Nora said the office would review the matter and determine what step to take next.
Egan was out of town today but Boyle was on hand and said Biebel had assured him that the court would approve all reasonable expenses for as long as the investigation took.
The state’s attorney’s office did not address the issue of conflict of interest at the hearing. Instead it said that the statute of limitations has long since run out on any lawbreaking.
Bowman and his associates have said that there is a cover-up conspiracy going on now, and any criminal charges would relate to that.