Despite Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s promise that Chicago’s police torture scandal will be “brought to a close,” it has instead festered. One reason is that the mayor’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley, has refused to come clean — to reporters or in a court of law — about the systematic torture of African-Americans by Comdr. Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew”during Daley’s tenure as state’s attorney.
There is compelling evidence that Daley was aware of the torture, but it would also be troubling if — as the county’s chief law enforcement officer in the 1980s — he was blind to it. The best path to transparency involves Daley stating, under oath, what he knew and when he knew it.
Now there is finally a case where that can happen. Stanley Wrice has been behind bars for 31 years for an interracial gang-rape based on a confession he claims was the result of torture. His extensive physical injuries have been thoroughly documented. The other evidence against Wrice evaporated when the State’s star witness recanted and two of the actual perpetrators swore he was not involved.
After the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Wrice’s favor, Cook County Criminal Court Judge Evelyn B. Clay ordered a hearing to determine whether he should win a new trial. Clay has already ruled that Wrice “successfully established a substantial showing of actual innocence,” but wants to hear witnesses testify before deciding his fate.
To that end, the judge recently approved a witness list for the hearing that included Daley — as a witness for Wrice. Daley was subpoenaed at his law office on Friday by one of Wrice’spro bono attorneys, Jennifer Bonjean, the Chicago Sun-Timesrevealed. The subpoena commands Daley to appear in Judge Clay’s courtroom at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 23 — the first day of the hearing.
In the past, Daley has dodged testifying, often because the subpoenas were for depositions in lawsuits the City settled — before Daley could be called. In another civil case, a judge dismissed Daley as a defendant. Wrice’s case involves a criminal matter in which Daley has been summoned as a witness, providing the best opportunity to hook him.
But Daley’s lawyers — paid by the taxpayers — are already using the same tired justifications for keeping their client off the stand. Among other things, they are whining that his testimony is not “relevant.” This forced Bonjean to subpoena Daley at his personal law office instead of through counsel. “I am emailing this subpoena to your business email address merely as a courtesy,” she wrote to Daley. “A certified process server has been dispatched to serve you personally.” Daley did not hit reply and send, according to Bonjean, but he nonetheless has been lawfully served.
Why is Daley hiding?
Perhaps he fears answering questions about his role in the torture scandal. Hard to blame him. Who would want to explain doing nothing about a letter he received from Chicago’s top cop detailing acts of torture in the early days of the scandal? How about approving charges in ten death penalty cases that involved tortured confessions? Failing to investigate the problem even after the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a conviction because of overwhelming evidence of torture? And, as mayor, appropriating $15 million for private lawyers to defend Burge in a series of damage claims?
Truthful answers would be devastating both to Daley and his cronies, according to a prominent attorney who represents victims of police brutality. “The City’s handsomely paid lawyers have gone to inordinate lengths to keep Daley off the witness stand because they know he will be confronted with numerous damning facts which establish his decades long involvement in the Burge torture scandal,” G. Flint Taylor told me. “And these facts further establish that he continued to actively participate in the conspiracy to cover up the scandal for the entire 20 years he reigned as Chicago’s mayor.”
So if Daley is somehow not worried about Friday’s subpoena from Bonjean, he should be. A Brooklyn-based civil rights lawyer, Bonjean will demand answers. She sports a tattoo on her right arm that boldly reads NOT GUILTY and is widely known as a badass litigator. Having seen Bonjean and longtime Wrice lawyer Heidi Linn Lambros in action, they will take no prisoners in their efforts to free this one.
Bonjean also subpoenaed one of Wrice’s prosecutors, Bertina Lampkin, currently an appellate court judge. The defense alleges that she and fellow prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in the case, a claim that Judge Clay has agreed to hear. Lampkin accepted the subpoena without drama on Friday at her appellate court chambers in the Loop.
As the subpoenas swirl, with more on the way, one wonders what former Judge Stuart Nudelman is thinking? Nudelman is the special prosecutor appointed in 2009 to defend torture cases. His latest bill to the taxpayers tops $1.8 million.
Will Nudelman consider cutting loose Wrice before the Sept. 23 hearing? Might he decide that freeing a torture victim who has already served more time than a convicted killer is a better option than, say, watching helplessly as a former state’s attorney/mayor and a sitting judge testify at a hearing that Nudelman will surely lose?
If not, game on. Forcing the powers-that-be to tell is the truth is an effective way to further blot the stain of the Burge era. That won’t happen if Daley continues to play dodgeball. But, from what it appears at this point, that game is nearly over.