Meet The Death Row Ten: Andrew Maxwel

"The More Noise You Make, The Better"

By: Greta Holmes

The Death Row 10 are prisoners on Illinois’ death row who were beaten and tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives. In 1993, Burge was forced into taking early retirement, but Burge and his cronies were never charged. Burge now spends his time fishing on his boat in Florida!

In the summer of 1998, the Death Row 10 decided to become a group and asked the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to help them organize.

Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine would like nothing better than to keep the issue of torture covered up. But organizing around the issue has produced growing local and national attention for the Death Row 10, who have been featured in stories in the Chicago Tribune and on the television news program "60 Minutes II." Four have now won evidentiary hearings.

The New Abolitionist is profiling each of the Death Row 10 in upcoming issues so that our readers will get to know their individual stories.

Andrew Maxwell was 19 years old when he was arrested with two other young men for his alleged participation in an armed robbery. The three were held at Cook County Jail in Chicago. About one week later, they were taken to the notorious Area 2 Police Headquarters, a place known all too well on the South Side of Chicago as a torture chamber for coercing confessions from Black suspects. There, they learned that they were being questioned in connection to the shooting death of a cab driver during another armed robbery. Their requests to see attorneys were ignored and even laughed at. But more than that, they were brutally beaten by Chicago police officers.

Andrew told Detective John Paladino and the other officers that he knew nothing about the murder and that he wanted to contact his attorney. He was denied this basic right. Instead, the detectives repeatedly pounded on his head, face and stomach and choked him. At one point, Paladino grabbed Andrew’s coat and pulled it over his head so that he couldn’t see anything. When Andrew refused to confess, they stormed out of the room saying, "Before you leave here today, you will be telling us what we want to know."

When they returned, the detectives repeated the same line of questioning and torture. Each time Andrew asked for his attorney, they became more agitated and aggressive. Andrew hollered for help, but it was useless. The detectives repeated this abuse for about 10 hours, until Andrew finally gave in and agreed to sign a "confession" -- which he was never even allowed to read.

Little did he know that he was signing his life away. After he signed the confession, the State’s Attorney offered Andrew and his codefendants a plea bargain. If they agreed to 35 years in prison, the prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty. Andrew’s codefendants agreed to the plea. Andrew refused.

Andrew, now 33 years old, has been on Illinois’ death row for nearly 14 years. Ironically, his codefendants will be out of prison in several years. What an indictment of our judicial system!

To this day, Andrew maintains his innocence and continues to fight for justice. In March 1998, Andrew was granted an evidentiary hearing on the basis of his torture claims and ineffective council.

"It is now common knowledge," wrote U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur in Andrew’s appeal, "that in the early to mid-1980s, Jon Burge and many of the officers working under him regularly engaged in the physical abuse and torture of prisoners to extract confessions." Andrew also has photographs that show injuries sustained during his interrogation.

Andrew works diligently on uplifting himself and others, despite the debilitating effects of life on death row. "The pressure on death row is unending," he says. "It’s like somebody constantly has a gun to your head. I don’t think you can really say that you’re living -- you’re not living, you’re just breathing." Andrew does the best he can with what he has: books, self-reflection and a caring and respectful spirit.

The connections that he’s made to those on the outside have helped to give him hope. "Keep making noise," says Andrew. "That keeps us going. Because the more noise you make the better it is for us."