Ill. high court ruling offers new hope to inmates

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CHICAGO — An Illinois Supreme Court ruling that gave one inmate new hope for freedom Thursday also could revive appeals by more than a dozen others who claim they confessed to crimes under torture by Chicago police officers, defense attorneys said.

Justices ruled Stanley Wrice can continue seeking a new hearing on evidence that officers beat him with a flashlight and rubber hose until he confessed to a brutal rape. Prosecutors contend they had proof to convict him of the 1982 crime, even without the confession.

Wrice, 57, is serving a 100-year sentence for a crime he insists he didn’t commit. He’s among dozens of men — almost all of them black — who have claimed since the 1970s that former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge and his officers used torture to secure confessions in crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder. Allegations persisted until the 1990s at police stations on the city’s South and West sides.

While several of the incarcerated men with torture claims have been released, Wrice’s case could have far-reaching impact on how Illinois deals with such cases in the future. Defense attorneys say the decision in the Wrice case adds new momentum to their efforts to have their client’s convictions thrown out.

The court didn’t order new evidentiary hearings for the men as attorneys had sought in an amicus brief. But defense attorney Locke Bowman, who represents other men with torture claims, said the “opinion points the way forward for the other Burge victims.”

Allegations of abuse and torture have plagued the police department in the nation’s third-largest city for decades and were a factor in former Gov. George Ryan’s decision to institute a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000. Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty in Illinois last year.

An appeals court had sided with Wrice, ruling that he should be granted a new hearing on his claim that Burge’s officers used a flashlight and rubber hose to beat him in the face and groin.

The high court ruled that the appeals court skipped a procedural step in granting the evidentiary hearing but that the trial court was also wrong not to allow his post-conviction case to proceed. The ruling paves the way for a new hearing and perhaps a new trial.

Andrew Levine, special assistant prosecutor, said his office is still reviewing its legal options — including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

“That’s definitely one of the options,” he said.