Monday, January 18, 2010

Alleged Police-Torture Victim Freed

Alleged Police-Torture Victim Freed

Man spent 23 years in prison for murder after he confessed to Chicago police detectives under

direction of former Cmdr. Jon Burge

By Matthew Walberg

Chicago Tribune

January 15, 2010,0,4953389.story


Freed Thursday after almost a quarter century behind

bars, Michael Tillman said it "feels good," but he also

had a grim prediction for the Chicago police detectives

who allegedly tortured him into confessing.


"They'll get what they got coming," Tillman told

reporters in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building.

"The system will do to them what they did to me."


Tillman stood in borrowed clothes and nervously fidgeted

with a black stocking cap as he addressed the news media

moments after special prosecutors dropped charges

against him for the 1986 slaying and rape of Betty

Howard in an abandoned South Side apartment.


He is the latest longtime inmate to be freed because of

allegations of torture by detectives under disgraced

former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.


In court papers, special prosecutors brought in to

handle the case said that if Tillman was retried, the

state would be unable to disprove that the confession

had been coerced. And there wasn't enough other reliable

evidence to convict him of the murder, they said.


The special prosecutors went on to acknowledge evidence

of "a pattern and practice of abuse" at what is now the

Calumet Area police headquarters under Burge and his

detectives -- which Tillman's lawyers heralded as a

first for the state.


"In 35 years -- starting with Richard Daley, Richard

Devine, Lisa Madigan -- no prosecutor in charge of these

cases has ever conceded that a man was tortured or

abused at Area 2," attorney Flint Taylor, who has

handled numerous Burge-related cases, said outside court.


A Madigan spokeswoman defended her office's handling of

some of the Burge-related prosecutions, noting that six

inmates have been freed in recent years after careful

analyses of their cases.


Howard, a single mother, had left for a birthday party

for her 2-year-old son when they were abducted in their

apartment building and taken to a vacant unit. The boy

was locked in a nearby bathroom as his mother was tied

to a radiator, sexually assaulted, stabbed and shot.


Tillman has long alleged he was tortured into

confessing. He was sentenced to life in prison after his

first conviction in 1986 in a bench trial before Circuit

Judge Kenneth Gillis, now retired. He appealed on the

grounds that his confession was coerced and should not

have been used at trial. But in overturning his

conviction and ordering a new trial in 1991, the

Appellate Court found fault instead with the

effectiveness of his lawyer. A jury found him guilty again in 1996.


In raising the alleged torture again last year, Tillman

contended that over three days of questioning, Burge's

detectives beat him with a phone book, staged a mock

execution by holding a gun to his head and covered his

head with a plastic bag. He also alleged that detectives

poured 7UP into his nose after forcing his head back in

what his lawyers called a crude form of waterboarding.


In their court papers, the special prosecutors noted

that detectives under Burge had given conflicting

explanations for blood found on the floor of the room

where Tillman was interrogated.


The prosecutors also pointed out that evidence appeared

much stronger against Clarence Trotter, who is also

serving a life sentence for Howard's murder. He was

found in possession of the murder weapon and personal

property of the victim's, and his fingerprints were

found on a pop can at the murder scene.


Burge, who was fired in 1993 for the abuse of a

suspected cop killer, is scheduled to go to trial in

federal court in May on charges he lied while testifying

in a civil proceeding about the alleged torture under

his watch. No detectives under his command have been

charged with criminal wrongdoing.


During a 15-minute hearing Thursday, Assistant Special

State's Attorney Myles O'Rourke asked that the murder

and rape charges against Tillman be dropped because he

was convicted with "coerced statements" and the state

couldn't prove his guilt based on the remaining

"unreliable evidence." Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan

then dismissed the case, freeing Tillman after about 23

1/2 years in custody.


Moments later, as Tillman's handcuffs were being

removed, O'Rourke approached Tillman's mother, Jean, as

she wept in the front row of the courtroom gallery.


"Sorry this took as long as it took," O'Rourke said.


But Tillman's release devastated Howard's relatives, who

still believe that he was responsible for her murder.

"It's truly messed up that the police messed up this

case, and because of that, Michael is getting let out,"

said the victim's daughter, Angelita.


After his morning release, Tillman celebrated with

friends, family and his legal team over lunch at

MacArthur's Restaurant, his first post-prison meal.


After so many years behind bars, Tillman was startled at

the automatic hand-soap dispenser in the restroom of the

West Side restaurant. He also wasn't sure how to hold a

cell phone up to his ear and seemed perplexed by a flat-

screen television that wasn't turned on. "What's that

for?" he asked.


"I feel that it went great today, but I just didn't

appreciate being locked up for 23 and a half years for

something I did not do," he said over corn bread, fried

chicken, barbecue ribs and collard greens. "It hasn't

hit me yet. When I'm by myself and just thinking, then

it will hit me. Right now I'm just happy."


Taylor said he hopes Tillman's release will help the

more than 20 other inmates he estimates remain behind

bars despite their allegations that their murder

confessions were coerced by Burge and his detectives.


"It is incumbent that everyone who has a documented case

of torture or abuse from Area 2 and Burge's people, that

they have a new hearing and a new trial without that

tortured confession," he said. "It doesn't mean that

they are all innocent. It doesn't mean that they are all

guilty. ... But, regardless, they are all entitled under

the Constitution and the law not to be convicted in part

or in total on tortured, coerced confessions."


Taylor said the next step in Tillman's case will be to

obtain a certificate of innocence -- similar to a pardon

-- that would entitle him to nearly $200,000 in

compensation from the state for his years in prison.


Freelance reporter Jessica Pupovac contributed to this report.



No comments: