Weeks before an expected shutdown for lack of funding, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission issued three decisions Wednesday supporting inmates' claims that Chicago Police detectives coerced their murder confessions.
The commission was established in 2009 in response to allegations that Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his detectives tortured suspects in the 1970s and ‘80s. About 110 prisoners have submitted claims to the commission saying they were tortured into confessing to crimes.
On Wednesday, the commission submitted its first three decisions to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans. By law, Evans must assign a trial judge to consider those decisions, said David Thomas, executive director for the commission.
Thomas said he expects the judges will order new hearings on whether to suppress the confessions in the inmates' cases. That could lead to new trials or the cases being dismissed, he said.
On Wednesday, the commission issued decisions finding that inmates Darryl Christian, Shawn Whirl and George Ellis Anderson were tortured into confessing to murders.
The commission's responsibility isn't to decide whether the inmates are innocent, but whether their convictions or guilty pleas stemmed from confessions under torture.
Legislators, though, have whacked the commission's $150,000 annual budget as they try to address the state's multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.
Thomas said he anticipates the commission will shut down on June 30.
Before then, he expects the commission will issue two more decisions supporting inmates' claims they were tortured into confessing — as well as four other decisions concluding that inmates' torture claims weren't credible.
More than 20 other cases are being actively investigated, but those claims and the dozens of other pending claims will get shelved if the commission closes, Thomas said.
Whirl, 42, was convicted in the 1990 fatal shooting of Chicago cabdriver Billy G. Williams — a father of three. Whirl claimed detectives repeatedly scraped a wound on his leg with a key until he confessed. Whirl is serving a 60-year prison term.
Christian, 56, was convicted in the 1989 stabbing of his 74-year-old stepmother. Police said they were arguing over house chores. Christian claimed detectives struck him in the face, prompting his confession. Christian is serving a 55-year term.
Anderson, who was arrested in 1991, claims he was beaten into confessing to two murders. Once, he was beaten with a rubber hose while handcuffed with his arms over his head, he alleged.
Anderson, 49, was convicted of one of the murders and sentenced to life in prison. He pleaded guilty to the other killing and received a 40-year term.
Detectives in all three cases had worked under Burge, according to the commission.