Pressure grows for Death Row Ten

Prosecutor admits police torture may have occurred

Rallying for the Death Row Ten
By: Hylton White

On July 29, Chicago's Death Row Ten and their supporters woke up to an astonishing piece of news: the day before, Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine had asked the Illinois Supreme Court for stays of execution for three of the Ten -- Aaron Patterson, Derrick King and Ronald Kitchen.

Devine asked the court to freeze appeals proceedings for the three while another court ruled in a case that centers on the issue that unites the Death Row Ten -- that confessions were tortured out of them by Chicago cops.

Lawyers for the Ten say Devine's move isn't good enough. For starters, each member of the Death Row Ten needs an individual hearing. Second, the judge presiding over the current case is notorious for his bias against defendants' claims of police or prosecutorial misconduct.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Devine was forced to finally acknowledge that torture may have occurred. After almost two decades of continuous denials from the prosecutors' office, we now have a public admission that there may be substance to the charges that former Lt. Jon Burge and his colleagues at Chicago's Area 2 and 3 police stations used torture techniques against some of the Ten.

Devine's decision follows a lengthy struggle by anti-death penalty activists, including family members of the Ten. They have organized tirelessly to publicize this sequel to a story that many people thought was over in 1993, when the Police Board fired Burge after revelations of torture against Black suspects.

Last year, the Ten risked retribution to organize themselves inside Illinois' prison system. The campaign on the outside has developed from community meetings to rallies, marches and civil disobedience acts.

Now the public has begun to take notice. State Rep. Connie Howard recently called for a federal probe into the Chicago Police Department and the State's Attorney's office concerning "the pattern and practice of police torture and alleged prosecutorial misconduct" in the cases of the Death Row Ten. Howard's call is supported by Illinois Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush -- and the plight of the Ten was raised repeatedly at Congressional Black Caucus hearings into police brutality in Chicago on July 31.

In short, Devine has been put on the hot seat.

And well he should be nervous. He was the First Assistant State's Attorney when Burge's victims were prosecuted during the 1980s. And he and his law firm represented Burge in the cop's termination and civil rights proceedings during the 1990s!

Devine's job is up for grabs next year, and obviously he's got one thought on his mind: Will his name be linked to the most explosive scandal in Illinois legal history, or will he make sure he's seen by the electorate to be doing the right thing.

Either way, the Death Row Ten's struggle for justice has taken a step forward.