Meet the Death Row 10

"Torture in our own backyard"

By: Alice Kim

This page has been reserved for profiles of the cases of the Death Row 10, a group of men who were beaten and tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives and sent to death row in Illinois. In summer 1998, the Death Row 10 came together inside prison and asked the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to be their voice on the outside. In January 2003, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan pardoned four members of the Death Row 10. The Campaign is continuing the struggle to win justice for those who remain behind bars.

The horrific images of American troops torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison last year shocked the world. When the photographs hit the international media circuit, George Bush proclaimed, "People in Iraq must understand...that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know." Following suit, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld called the degradation of Iraqi prisoners "un-American." But the truth is that torture and prisoner abuse are as American as apple pie.

Right here in our very own backyard, at police stations on the South side of Chicago, over 100 African American men were tortured by white police officers over the span of two decades. Jerry Mahaffey is one of these men.

On September 2, 1983, Jerry and his brother Reginald were arrested for the double murder of Dean and Jo Ellen Pueschel and the attempted murder of their son Ricky. When police arrested Jerry, they hit him in the face, threw him against the wall, pointed a gun at his head, kicked him in the groin and the ribs and suffocated him by putting a garbage bag over his head.

Police took him to Area 2 Headquarters, also known as the House of Screams, and placed him in an interrogation room. After Jerry denied any knowledge of the crime, the officers tightened his handcuffs and told him, "You are going to tell us what we want to know because you are going to die anyway." Under these brutal circumstances, Jerry confessed to the crime.

Jerry's brother, Reginald, endured similar treatment at the hands of the police. Even worse, while Reginald was awaiting trial at Cook County Jail, he suffered serious head injuries, broken ribs and a ruptured spleen. Police claim that Reginald brought these injuries on himself in an attempt to commit suicide by throwing himself out of a second story window. But it is suspected that police hung Reginald out a window to intimidate him, a practice Chicago cops have been known to use in other cases, and dropped him. As a result, Reginald was in a coma for six weeks and now has permanent brain damage.

Unlike Abu Ghraib, there are no photographs of the torture. Burge and his men have been able to get away with torture because their victims were poor and Black. Although Burge was fired in 1993 for "systematic torture," this was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Today, Burge lives in sunny Florida receiving a full pension from the City of Chicago while many of his victims remain behind bars.

Jerry has been fighting for a new trial in the courts. The primary eyewitness in his case, the boy whose parents were murdered, could not identify Jerry or his brother in a police line-up. On top of that, the jury that convicted Jerry was all white. Despite the fact that prosecutors used "peremptory challenges" to exclude all seven African Americans from the jury, Jerry recently lost an evidentiary hearing that was granted to determine if prosecutors discriminated racially in selection of the jury.

But activists are continuing to fight for justice. As Jerry himself has said, "I think now people are opening their eyes and seeing that everything that they see on TV or read in the newspapers isnft necessarily true. We need to see, as people, what's really going on in the world. Everything is not what it seems to be. People have been found guilty for something they didnft do and they've been spending time in prison for something they didn't do. So we really need to open our eyes and see what's really going on in this system. Itfs broken."

In 2002, a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the allegations of police torture as a result of a petition filed by activists. Three years later, Burge's victims are anxiously awaiting the results of his investigation. The special prosecutor's findings are expected to be made public in the near future. We are demanding indictments for Burge and all of the detectives who tortured suspects. Our message is that torture is not acceptable here or anywhere, and victims of police torture, like Jerry Mahaffey, deserve new trials.