Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County judge still faces claims in torture case

October 22, 2008

BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter

Cook County Judge Dennis Dernbach is the last remaining defendant in the multi-million dollar lawsuits that four alleged torture victims brought against the city and county.

The lawsuits claim murder confessions were coerced by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his officers.

Last month, Dernbach lost a bid to have a federal judge drop all of the claims against him. He is being sued by Leroy Orange, a Death Row inmate who was pardoned and freed from prison by Gov. George Ryan in 2003.

Orange — convicted of killing his girlfriend, her son and two others in 1984 — claims Burge and other officers coerced his confession by torturing him with an electric-shock device. He says Burge was in the interrogation room where he was allegedly tortured.

Orange accuses Dernbach, who was an assistant Cook County state’s attorney at the time, of coaching Orange’s confession. Orange also claims he told Dernbach he was tortured.

Dernbach denies the allegations, calling them a “fictional tale of a nefarious conspiracy,” according to court papers his attorney filed to have the case against him dismissed.

But on Sept. 29, Chief U.S. District Judge James Holderman ruled that most of Orange’s claims against Dernbach could proceed to trial.

Holderman wrote “it appears from the undisputed facts that Dernbach coached Orange in his confession and was thus clearly aware that the confession was fabricated.”

Orange and three other Death Row inmates freed by then-Gov. Ryan have settled their separate lawsuits with the city and have agreed to share a $19.8 million payout.

Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine was dropped as a defendant in Orange’s lawsuit, leaving Dernbach the only remaining Cook County defendant in the case.

In 2006, Cook County special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle released the results of an independent investigation into the torture allegations against Burge.

They found Burge led the torture of criminal suspects for two decades, using methods ranging from electric shock to radiator burns, guns to the mouth and bags over the head.

There was evidence that dozens of suspects were tortured, the report said.

But the special prosecutors said they did not believe Orange was tortured.

They also said they were suspicious of the claims of Madison Hobley and Stanley Howard, two of the other former Death Row inmates who shared in the $19.8 million settlement with the city.

As for Aaron Patterson, the fourth former Death Row inmate to share in the settlement, the special prosecutors noted that he etched messages into a bench and a doorframe of the interrogation room where he was held in 1986, claiming he was tortured.

Patterson’s “outcry” was credible but there still was no admissible evidence to support his claim, the special prosecutors wrote.

Patterson is back in prison on a federal gun and drug conviction.

And after he was released from Death Row in 2003, Orange was arrested for attempting to sell crack cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was sent back to prison on a five-year sentence.

Hobley, meanwhile, is under federal investigation into a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and 15-month-old son, officials say.

The special prosecutors said they found enough evidence to justify seeking indictments for mistreatment of prisoners in the cases of alleged torture victims Andrew Wilson, Alfonzo Pinex and Phillip Adkins. But they said the

statute of limitations have run out on those cases, which happened decades ago, barring state criminal charges against Burge and other accused officers.

The special prosecutors — Egan and Boyle — have died since their 300-page report was made public in 2006.

Egan, who died at age 84, served as a Cook County Circuit Court judge and a state appellate justice, and was coaxed out of semiretirement to lead the investigation of Burge.

Boyle, who was 71 when he died, was a former assistant Cook County state’s attorney who went into private practice.

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice