Torture Commission Enabling Obstruction of Justice?
Commission Not Answering Questions From FOP
Is a controversial state commission with wide authority to overturn Cook County Criminal Court felony convictions enabling offenders to commit obstruction of justice?
The question arises in the wake of decisions by the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) when claims of police coercion are rejected by the commission.
TIRC, created in 2009 to investigate torture allegations against former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his men, has generated criticism by the FOP and many prosecutors as a politically motivated, arbitrary, and unconstitutional panel that undermines the criminal justice system. In 2016, the scope of the commission was expanded to any case within Cook County.
Under TIRC, commissioners—some of whom have a strong connection to law firms that regularly sue the police department based on claims of police misconduct—have the power to toss long-settled cases back into the courts when the commission rules that claims by offenders that they were coerced into confessing have merit.
These TIRC decisions often fly in the face of the investigations and rulings of detectives, prosecutors, juries, judges, and appeals courts. Prosecutors are then faced with the dilemma of retrying a two-decade-old case, often after key witnesses or victims are deceased.
The most controversial case for TIRC was putting the conviction of police killer Jackie Wilson back into the courts earlier this year. Wilson and his brother Andrew were convicted twice for the murders of Officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien in 1982. Jackie Wilson’s conviction was overturned by Cook County Criminal Court Judge William Hooks, who also granted Wilson bond pending a retrial.
That’s right, a Cook County judge granted bond to a man against whom there is overwhelming evidence tying him to the murders of the two police officers.
But a ruling in the last meeting of TIRC begs an important question: What happens to those cases in which the commission determines that the claims are baseless? Can inmates make claims against detectives that are determined, once again, to be false and not face any legal repercussions? It seems as if they can.
Well, FOP second vice president Martin Preib asked these very questions, but TIRC has refused to answer. TIRC director Robert Olmstead referred him to a woman who, he said, answers such questions. But this spokesperson also refused to answer the questions. Indeed, she would not stop interrupting Preib.
Consider the case of John Hersey, convicted for his role in the robbery of a liquor store and the fatal shooting of two store clerks. One of the clerks reportedly begged for his life before being shot. In the course of his arrest, Hersey originally stated that he was treated well by detectives and prosecutors.
But then in May 1999, Hersey filed a pro se petition claiming he was coerced into confessing to the crime.
The timing of that petition is compelling. Earlier that year, inmates throughout the state watched as Anthony Porter walked out of death row on the claim that he was coerced into confessing to a 1982 double murder. But in the last five years, that exoneration has imploded under renewed scrutiny.
Inmates have stated that Porter’s release from death row sent shock waves of optimism through the prison system, compelling other inmates to make similar claims for freedom. Are Hersey’s claims another example of inmates jumping on the Porter bandwagon? Hersey, after all, did not claim abuse until some 19 years after his arrest, soon after Porter walked free.
Hersey’s claims went nowhere until TIRC was established. TIRC conducted an exhaustive investigation of Hersey’s claims but decided at their September 11 meeting that they would not recommend his case go back into the criminal courts.
But Hersey’s case is unique in another manner. Many of the offenders who file TIRC cases have little hope of getting out of prison without a positive ruling from that body. Not so for Hersey. TIRC investigators announced that he is scheduled to be released in a few years. This brings up a central question.
If even TIRC investigators do not believe his claims about being coerced into confessing, let alone his innocence, isn’t there probable cause to consider that Hersey has fabricated his claims? And if he has fabricated his claims in an attempt to undermine his conviction, shouldn’t he be investigated for obstruction of justice?
Indeed, isn’t there a basis to investigate many of the rejected torture and coercion claims on the grounds of obstruction of justice? And as representatives serving on a state commission, aren’t TIRC commissioners obligated to refer cases like Hersey’s to prosecutors? Isn’t Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx obligated to investigate these rejected claims?
These questions are more important now than ever, as TIRC is gearing up for a litany of cases against detectives, particularly former detectives Jack Halloran and Kenny Boudreau. Shouldn’t TIRC be punishing those who are making false claims as much as it is rewarding those the commission claims are making legitimate ones?
As a state-funded commission, such a refusal by TIRC to answer basic questions from the FOP is troubling. It is a striking absence of transparency in the agency.
Perhaps these questions are better answered by Governor Bruce Rauner or the U.S. Department of Justice.