Meet The Death Row Ten: Frank Bounds

"We Need To Demand Better"

Costella Cannon, mother of Frank Bounds
By: Alice Kim

The Death Row Ten 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 Ten 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 Ten, 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 will be profiling each of the Death Row Ten in upcoming issues so that our readers will get to know their individual stories.

Frank Bounds died on Illinois' Death Row, but not by lethal injection.

On October 10, 1998, Frank died a horrible death -- alone in a hospital room -- the result of untreated cancer. Only months before his death, the Illinois Supreme Court had thrown out Frank's death sentence, but Frank never got the chance to clear his name through the courts. Prison medical officials diagnosed Frank with lung cancer, but it was too late.

Frank was an easy target for the police. He was poor and Black. He was homeless at the time of his arrest, living in abandoned buildings. And on top of that, Frank had a prior criminal record.

Frank may not have been a model citizen, but nothing can justify the treatment he received after his arrest. Police arrested Frank as he was passing out literature for the homeless in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, but never read him his Miranda rights. He was taken to Area III headquarters, placed in an interrogation room without access to an attorney and brutally beaten.

For hours, Frank was handcuffed to a ring on a wall while detectives questioned him about the rape and murder of Carolyn Lewis. When Frank denied any knowledge of this crime, detectives beat him and threatened his girlfriend. Fearing for his own life and his girlfriend's, Frank signed a statement -- which he never even fully read -- confessing to the crime.

According to Frank's mother, Costella Cannon, the state had no physical evidence against him and no eyewitnesses linking Frank to the crime. Witnesses who could support Frank's alibi weren't called to testify during his trial.

While on death row, Frank learned the law and worked on his case from the inside. "He wasn't into any nonsense," said Death Row Ten member Ronnie Kitchen. "He was like a peacekeeper."

"But then he got sick. To see a guy go from being healthy, energetic and playful to being nothing -- that's hard to chew on. It's like it happened overnight. One day, he stopped going out. He lost all his teeth. He couldn't hold any food down. Suddenly, his clothes didn't fit him any more. He was like a skeleton with skin."

But Frank was a fighter to the very end. He loved his family and prayed for the day that he could be with them again.

"I keep a lot of unsaid things that need to be expressed on the inside," he wrote in a letter to his mother before he died. "And what comes out is my pain and bitterness. We don't have to accept crap from anyone, even ourselves. We need to demand better and do better whenever the opportunity arises."

Costella has been doing just that. A leader in the abolitionist movement and a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Costella continues to fight tirelessly against the death penalty in her son's memory. She recently organized a vigil outside of Cook County Jail on the anniversary of Frank's death -- more than 40 people attended. Prisoners from inside pounded on the prison walls to show their solidarity.

"The reason for all my zeal and all my energy is because of Frank," says Costella. "Every time I march, I'm marching for Frank Bounds and what he stood for. And I'll keep fighting until we can be sure there are no innocent men on death row. The fight has really just begun."

New pamphlet on the Death Row Ten

This pamphlet -- which includes writings by members of the Death Row Ten -- tells their stories and explains what we can do to help in their struggle for justice.