Meet The Death Row Ten: Madison Hobley

"It's Not Over"

By: Stephanie M. Kubilus

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 and now spends his time fishing on his boat in Florida. But Burge and his cronies were never criminally charged.

In the summer of 1998, the Death Row Ten decided to form themselves into 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 by the Chicago Tribune and 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.

Thirteen years ago, at 2 a.m. on January 6, 1987, a fire caused by arson erupted in a Chicago apartment building, claiming the lives of seven people, including Anita and Philip Hobley, Madison Hobley's wife and infant son. Madison was awakened by a smoke alarm, and when he opened the hallway door, he saw smoke. Madison told his wife to get their baby, and he left the apartment to investigate.

Madison was able to escape the fire. He tried desperately to save Anita and Philip and helped others escape from the fire. But he never saw his wife or child again. In the face of such a tragic loss, Madison had no idea that he would be charged with seven counts of murder the very next day.

Early the next morning, police officers Robert Dwyer and James Lotito arrived at Madison's mother's house and took him to Area 2 police station for questioning. The police told Madison that they only wanted to ask him some questions - that he might be able to help them find the arsonist. But it was Madison they were really after, and Madison never came home.

Far from simple questions, Madison faced brutal physical and racial abuse at the hands of police officers. He was handcuffed to a wall ring, kicked, beaten and suffocated with a plastic typewriter bag until he passed out as the officers attempted to force him to confess. Despite a near-fatal beating, Madison never signed a confession. No written or taped confession was ever produced at his trial - because, police said, their notes got wet. Nonetheless, prosecutors went ahead and used a purported confession to win a conviction.

Other "evidence" is in question - chiefly, the gas can allegedly used by Madison to start the fire. No one denies that the fire was started by arson. However, police say that Madison confessed to tossing the can down a second-floor hallway. Yet when Area 2 Violent Crimes detective John Paladino was sent to the building to look for the can, he found it under a sink in a locked apartment - not in the hallway. So how did the can go down a hallway, through a locked door and under a sink?

In addition, lab results prove that Madison's prints were not on the gas can - yet this evidence was concealed from the defense. And the prosecutor in Madison's case has even admitted that the gas can presented at the original trial was not the can used in the arson - though he later retracted this admission.

Madison is in the middle of an evidentiary hearing to examine questions surrounding this "magical gas can." As John Conroy wrote in a recent Chicago Reader article: "It grows. It shrinks. It leaps through locked doors. If you believe that, you won't mind if the state executes Madison Hobley."

The truth is that the state's case against Madison is full of holes. His conviction represents the injustices of a broken system.

"It was very hard to think that a system could take you and railroad you," said Robin Milan-Hobley, Madison's sister. "We thought the truth would come out. But it has been a nightmare for us. Every night and every holiday, my mom longs for her son. I don't think my mom's had a decent night's sleep in 13 years. All she wants to know is when is he going to come home?"

Madison's family has stood by him for 13 years and continues to fight for his freedom. "Mad [short for Madison] is our strength," said Robin. "When Mad was convicted, I thought my mom was going to lose it. But Mad called home and said, 'It's not over.'"

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.