Chicago’s dark era when police were allowed to beat and torture suspects with impunity, forcing confessions out of dozens of innocent suspects, may be in the past. But reverberations from the two decade-long nightmare won’t be going away for a long time, as yesterday yet another wrongly convicted man stepped out of prison — after 31 years behind bars for a rape he says he did not commit.
Stanley Wrice confessed to taking part in a brutal gang rape in 1982, but only because two detectives, John Byrne and Peter Dignan, wouldn’t stop beating him with a flashlight and 20-inch rubber hose.
Between 1972 and 1991, a police commander named Jon Burge (pictured below) led a secret unit of South Side cops who carried out the brutal beatings, choking’s and electrocutions of suspects that led an untold number of innocent men to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, even crimes carrying the death penalty.
The case also created a reputation for the Windy City as a self-contained police state where law enforcement authorities could get away with any crime.
The torture regime of Burge, who was never prosecuted but is currently in prison for perjury in a civil case stemming from his reign of terror, played a part in the suspension 13 years ago of Illinois’ death penalty when then-Illinois Governor George Ryan condemned the state’s “shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row.”
Illinois had freed more innocent people from death row than inmates it actually executed, since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated. The state officially abolished its death penalty in 2011.
Wrice did not face the death penalty for the crime to which he confessed under torture, but he was sentenced to 100 years in prison, effectively a slow death penalty had he been forced to serve out the term.
Chicago has already paid more than $85 million in settlements in 17 torture cases, with about 100 more cases soon to hit.
“Unfortunately, the taxpayers will bear the burden of this,” said Wrice’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean. “But Mr. Wrice lost 31 years of his life.”
Wrice has not yet decided whether to sue the city. Now, he says, he simply wants to celebrate the freedom he never should have lost.
“I just want my cheeseburger,” he told interviewers upon his release yesterday.
No cops were ever prosecuted for their years of torturing suspects. Now the statute of limitations has expired on any possible charges.