Video played in court shows Jon Burge taking 5th in alleged torture case
Wearing a gray and white prison jumpsuit, Jackie Wilson sat in a Cook County courtroom Tuesday and watched video of disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge — the man he accuses of taking part in his torture — repeatedly decline to answer questions about how he handled Wilson’s interrogation in 1982.
Burge, an oxygen tube hooked to his nose, looked directly into the camera and answered repeatedly in a gravelly voice: “I exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
Video of the 2016 deposition was played in court Tuesday at an ongoing hearing to determine whether Wilson was beaten into confessing over his role in the fatal shooting of two Chicago police officers in 1982. Wilson’s lawyers argue he should be given a new trial and his confession tossed — a development that would likely make it difficult for prosecutors to retry him.
Wilson, 57, who is serving a life sentence for the killings of Officers Richard O’Brien and William Fahey, sat next to his lawyers with his chin in his hand, eyes fixed on Burge’s image.
Clips from three depositions of Burge were played in Judge William Hooks’ courtroom. At the most recent deposition in 2016, G. Flint Taylor, one of Wilson’s attorneys, asked Burge a litany of questions about his alleged role in Wilson’s interrogation.
“Did you witness or participate or order the kicking, poking in the chest or other beating that Jackie Wilson was subjected to?” Taylor asked. “… Were you present for or participate in or direct that any of the detectives put a revolver in Jackie Wilson’s mouth and cock it backwards and forwards? … Did you come in with a black box and put a clip on Jackie Wilson’s wrist area and crank the box a couple of times, giving him a shock?”
Burge — by turns frustrated, deadpan and defiant — answered each the same way: invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not incriminate himself.
At times during the video, Burge seemed amused, including when Taylor asked him if he had communicated with former Mayor Richard M. Daley, formerly the Cook County state’s attorney, about the “torture and abuse” of Wilson’s brother, Andrew. He laughed quietly, then again declined to answer.
“You seem to be chuckling,” Taylor responded. “Is that because you think it’s funny that I would ask you that, whether Richie Daley was involved or had any knowledge?”
“I think it’s very stupid, sir,” Burge answered.
Hooks called special prosecutors to task later Tuesday for declining to ask Burge any questions during the 2016 deposition even though a representative of the office was present for the questioning.
Michael O’Rourke, the special prosecutor on the Wilson case, said he did not personally attend but understood that Burge would have declined to answer questions from anyone present.
But Hooks continued to press O’Rourke.
“Why, as the state’s attorney in this matter, did you all just (go) along with the assertion of the Fifth Amendment and basically just sit there and let this go on and on?” asked Hooks, hinting that in such cases a judge can infer that a witness remained silent so as not to testify about wrongdoing. “Do you understand how dangerous that is?”
Scores of African-American men have accused Burge, who is white, and detectives working under him of torturing or abusing them during the 1970s and 1980s on the South Side. The scandal has stained the city’s reputation and so far cost taxpayers at least $115 million in lawsuit settlements, judgments and other compensation to victims.
Wilson himself took the stand Tuesday, the second time in three weeks that he testified about enduring violence at the hands of police: punching, kicking, beatings with a phone book, electrical shocks.
“This is upsetting, Judge,” Wilson said in the midst of cross-examination, his voice raised. “I’m reliving this, and it’s upsetting.”
On Tuesday prosecutors highlighted inconsistencies in Wilson’s recent testimony compared with statements he made in the 1980s.
Hooks continued the hearing until late this month. The hearing was ordered after the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission found “credible evidence” that Wilson was tortured after his arrest.
Wilson confessed in 1982 to being present when his brother, Andrew, shot and killed O’Brien and Fahey.
Disciplinary authorities fired Burge in 1993 after determining he had tortured Andrew Wilson, who died in 2007.
Burge was convicted in federal court of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2010 after jurors found he lied when he denied witnessing torture or abusing suspects in connection with a lawsuit. He was sentenced to 4½ years in prison.
This article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune