The Illinois Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear the case of a man who claims Chicago police, under the command of a convicted former lieutenant, tortured him into giving a false confession nearly 30 years ago.
CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear the case of a man who claims Chicago police, under the command of a convicted former lieutenant, tortured him into giving a false confession nearly 30 years ago.
Stanley Wrice, 56, said he confessed to a 1982 sexual assault only after officers working for former Lt. Jon Burge beat him in the face and groin with a flashlight and a piece of rubber. He’s serving a 100-year sentence.
In December, the appellate court granted Wrice a new evidentiary hearing on his torture claims. Prosecutors looking to block the move asked the higher court to take the case, and the justices agreed.
Burge was convicted last year of lying about whether he ever witnessed or participated in the torture of suspects. He’s serving a 4 1/2-year sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.
Wrice was arrested in 1982 at his Chicago home, where a woman said she’d been beaten, burned and sexually assaulted by three men. Wrice has alleged ever since that two police officers ignored his insistence that he wasn’t involved in the attack and beat him until he confessed.
No physical evidence ties him to the assault, the victim didn’t identify him, and a key witness against him has recanted, alleging that police tortured him into giving false testimony, his attorneys argue.
At issue before the Illinois Supreme Court is whether a coerced confession can ever be considered "harmless error" in a criminal trial, attorneys said.
The special prosecutor’s office that is handling Wrice’s case has argued that a conviction could stand — even if it involved a coerced confession — if the person could have been proven guilty without the confession.
The state Supreme Court has held in the past that "the use of a defendant’s coerced confession as substantive evidence of his guilt is never harmless error" and that a new trial is always warranted in those cases.
Heidi Lambros, one of Wrice’s attorneys, said she hopes the high court agreed to take up his case to make its position on the matter more clear.
"I’m hoping that the Illinois Supreme Court wants to make … a proclamation against torture," Lambros said. "I’m hoping that they do something positive with this."
Both sides can now file briefs. The earliest that oral arguments could be heard is September.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.
(AP Photo/Illinois Department of Corrections)