Newly exonerated death row inmates speak out

"A mission to end the death penalty"

On January 10, three men--Madison Hobley, Leroy Orange and Aaron Patterson--walked off of death row in Illinois after Governor George Ryan pardoned them.

But Madison, Leroy and Aaron share other things in common. All three--as well as Stanley Howard, the fourth man pardoned by Ryan, who remains behind bars on a separate conviction--are members of the Death Row 10, the group of African American men whose confessions, tortured out of them by Chicago police, are the main reason that they landed on death row.

And all three declared, even as they met reporters outside the jails where they had been incarcerated, that they would keep the fight for justice for the men and women they left behind.

A couple days after their release, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty held two forums in Chicago to celebrate Madison, Leroy and Aaron’s freedom. The three spoke at these events. Below are excerpts from their speeches.

Madison Hobley

I want to thank everybody for coming out and showing your concern and support for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and our cause. Our cause right now is to remember the guys from the Death Row 10 who remain in prison. I don’t want to forget about them. And the guys who aren’t one of the 10, but are innocent, too--we can’t forget about them.

Tomorrow will be a week since I’ve been free from death row, and although I’m happy, I’m not completely happy, because I left some friends behind, and I think they should be out here--in fact, I know they should be out here. I told them that I wasn’t going to forget about them. So that’s why I’m here today.

Sixteen years ago, I was falsely accused of setting a fire to my apartment building in the middle of the night. I lost my wife and child. I was subjected to being in the custody of a couple bad apples from the Chicago Police Department. I was beaten and suffocated, called racist names.

Sixteen years ago, I had no idea about this. But I have a story to tell. I’m on a mission--a mission to end this death penalty.

I want to talk to the family members that have loved ones who are still there: Just like Kim and my family, just don’t lose hope and continue to fight. We were wondering when our turn was going to come. Their turn is going to come, too. You just have to keep fighting. We have to fight and make noise, just like the Campaign did for me.

This is a good cause. This is not a waste of time. We have to keep working the fields and educating people, because there are a lot of people who are ignorant out there. Oprah Winfrey said yesterday that ! she changed her mind, and she was very conservative. We had a little session on her show that actually was mocking Governor Ryan at first, and when they showed the families of the victims calling him all kinds of names, it hurt. But by the time it was over, the guys that were mocking Ryan were changing their minds.

He did a courageous thing. He saved lives, and that can never be wrong.

As far as Dick Devine, that man is wicked. Anyway we can vote him out? And all those judges that continue to turn their heads--they know what’s going on. It’s a clique. They wanted to kill me just so that they wouldn’t be embarrassed.

It’s ugly what they did to me. But the whole world knows now. All these people in power, they’re looking over their shoulder, because we’re coming. So let’s continue to fight, let’s do our work.

Leroy Orange

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, I’m not a speaker. The 13th of January will mark my 19th year being incarcerated. Thank God that I’ll celebrate that at home.

I’m tired. It feels like 19 years of war. Every time you think the lawyers filed a motion or something against Burge and his crew, something else comes up. I didn’t even believe I was pardoned until I walked out the door. I wouldn’t allow myself to dream or fantasize that I could be so blessed. But I was.

And now we have to do what we have to do to get the rest of the guys that were tortured out of prison. I’m not going to speak about the work we have to do. So you let me know what I have to do, and I’ll be there.

Aaron Patterson

I want to thank everybody for their support for the Death Row 10--the Burge 66--all those who were in the prison population on an unjust basis. We must remember one individual specifically that brought this situation to light, because of the intensive brutality and torture he received, under the orders of Jon Burge and his rogue detectives in 1982! . We don’t give enough recognition to this particular brother--Andrew Wilson. There were others before him, starting in 1973.

Let’s go back through the history of the Burge cases. People who were the pioneers--people like Mary Johnson. Mary Johnson has a son named Michael Johnson, who was brutalized by Burge back in the 1980s. And she was the first mother to actively publicize what was going on--back in the days when the Burge issue was not a front-page issue. Mary Johnson, along with Citizen’s Alert and Mary Powers--they’re the ones that started this in the trenches. And people like John Conroy, who wrote "The House of Screams." It opened up this can of worms.

And there was the overly aggressive attack by Burge and his cohorts, who beat the living daylights out of Andrew Wilson at the infamous Area 2. This fellow was put over a hot radiator, like he was put on a grill. And he screamed loud, but nobody heard him. The man was brutally beaten, electro-shocked. And they got into such a frenzy that they got carried away.

And fortunately for us, they did get carried away--because all of that became a story that would get told some years later. If it was not for Andrew Wilson receiving all of these wounds, you might not have the issue, because they would deny that anything happened at Area 2 and Area 3. There was no proof, and they had no pictures.

Then there were the efforts of the People’s Law Office, led by Flint Taylor--that’s the man who got secret information from police officers. And the issue just built, one brick at a time.

Guys in the street--we didn’t know that all this was going on. We knew that in the police station, they’re going to rough you up some. But this last episode at Area 2 in 1986 scared the living hell out of me. They had me so bad, that I had to come up with a plan. I had a few choices--either to go along with what the police told me to do, which was to read this statement and sign it, and then yo! u can leave.

I had a plastic bag wrapped around my head. And I got a sense that this was just a touch of what was to come. I saw that they got off doing this--I could see something in their eyes. I thought I was in the room with the KKK. There was no doubt in my mind.

So I said that I ought to just go ahead and sign this and get the hell out of here. I was sure that the courts would straighten it out later on--I could show that I didn’t do this. But something in me said, "Wait a minute. I don’t like how this is happening. Let me see if I can leave a message, to let somebody know that if I accidentally got killed in that police station, it wasn’t an accident."

And I saw one thing--these knuckleheads had left a paper clip on the table. I thought, "What could I do with a paper clip?" I can take it and try to jimmy this lock on these handcuffs and see if I can make it to the door and get out here. It wouldn’t be the first time I ran from the police department.

But I was so upset and outraged that I said, "Okay, if they’re going to play that game with me, I’m going to let somebody know that this wasn’t no accident. So I took this paper clip, and I scratched something on the bench. I had to put it somewhere where they can’t see it. So I started scratching where I had been sitting. I said that I lied on this statement, and I was going to sign it--and that I was slapped around, threatened with a gun.