Free Aaron Patterson

An Innocent Man on Death Row

By: Noreen McNulty

On April 15, 45 people attended a spirited public forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago, sponsored by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Aaron Patterson Defense Committee.

Aaron has been on Illinois' death row for twelve years. Beaten and tortured by Chicago police, Aaron refused to sign a confession and maintained his innocence. No physical evidence links Aaron to the murders of an elderly couple for which he was convicted.

Speakers at the forum included Aaron's mother, who has diligently fought over the years to free her son. She expressed the anguish she has suffered.

"It's like living with an elephant in your home," she said. "You try to go about your business, you try to pretend the elephant isn't there. But it's there, and you can't get around it... It's hard sometimes to see the light at the end of the tunnel." Because Aaron is protesting the degrading body-cavity searches prisoners must go through prior to a visit, Aaron and his mom haven't seen each other in over a year.

Aaron's lawyer, Tim Lohraff, described in horrifying detail the torture Aaron endured during the police's 25-hour interrogation.

"When Aaron refused to confess, the lights in the room were shut off, a typewriter bag was placed on his head, and the plastic bag was held there until he passed out," Lohraff said. "The lights would come on, the bag off. Aaron would still refuse to confess, and the whole process was repeated." Lohraff said that this was accompanied with beatings and threats with a gun.

Speaking for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and as a member of the Aaron Patterson Defense Committee, I pointed out that Aaron's case is not unique. The racism and bias found in Aaron's case is all too common to the experiences of others on death row.

We must organize now to free Aaron Patterson by petitioning, holding meetings and getting support. When Aaron's case goes in front of the Illinois Supreme Court this fall, we must pack the courtroom with supporters.

Aaron spends all of his time fighting for justice, not just for himself but for others on death row. A few days after the forum, I got a 10-page letter from Aaron with ideas of future actions, articles and individuals to contact. Aaron and Aaron's mom continue to be an inspiration to activists who have had the good fortune to get to know them and get involved with the struggle to free Aaron. Please join us.

As Aaron said in his pamphlet, "Do the right thing and choose not to turn away from the realities of the injustices being done to me and others here on death row or prison. Because it could very well happen to you or someone close to you. Power to the people who choose to stand up for truth and fair play. Let them not be a minority in society but instead a vast majority of citizens. Make it happen now - before the disease of injustice engulfs society as a whole."

You can write to Aaron directly:

Aaron Patterson #B00567
P.O. Box 99
Pontiac, IL 61764.

"Free Aaron Patterson" buttons are available from the Campaign for $1. A pamphlet, entitled "Aaron Patterson Speaks Out," is also available for 25 cents each. Also available from the Campaign are petitions and facts sheets on Aaron's case.