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Justice sought for wrongfully convicted
Although police are expected to maintain civilian safety, there are often unreported cases of police torture, according to Joey Mogul, an attorney for the People’s Law Office. He asserted during an Oct. 3 discussion that defendant testimony in cases of police brutality is usually viewed as false because of the assumed credibility of law enforcement officials.
As part of Roosevelt University’s second annual Wrongful Convictions Speaker Series, Mogul and Darrell Cannon, who was convicted of a 1983 murder based on a false confession prompted by police brutality, spoke about police torture, wrongful convictions and the lasting impact of both.
“Wrongful convictions don’t just mean whether someone is innocent or not,” Mogul said. “What constitutes a wrongful conviction is whether the system was unfair and imbalanced or somehow illegal in the way it goes about seeking justice.”
According to Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, approximately 1,000 wrongful convictions have been discovered in state courts since 1989.
“Of course there are many, many more wrongful convictions that are never established,” Warden said. “And if you look at the sheer serendipity behind the exonerations that have occurred, you’ve just got to know that there are countless others who haven’t been nearly so lucky.”
Mogul explained that illegal justice practices were common in Chicago during Jon Burge’s 19-year reign as the commander of the Chicago Police Department. From 1972 to 1991, Burge authorized racially motivated torture to prompt confessions from more than 200 criminal suspects, most of whom were black, leading to a lengthy investigation of his practices and ultimately resulting in his 1993 termination and a 4 1/2-year prison sentence beginning in 2011.
According to Mogul, torture methods such as electric shock, sleep deprivation, suffocation and physical beatings were often utilized to force confessions, leading to wrongful convictions. Although Burge is no longer in command, Mogul said his administration has left a lasting impact, specifically on those who were tortured.
“In addition to the excruciating physical pain that these individuals were subjected to at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters by Burge and his men, the torture survivors were also mentally and emotionally tortured,” said Mogul. “They were subjected to racist epithets, racist slurs and racist terrorism.”
Cannon, who was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison and served 24 years before his 2007 exoneration, took the podium and relayed an emotional account of his experience with Burge’s detectives.
“I’m the survivor of torture on two levels,” Cannon said. “I was tortured by three racist white detectives, and the judicial system also tortured me [with] what they put me through for 24 years.”
According to him, police believed Cannon knew who committed the 1983 murder of an alleged drug dealer. Despite Cannon’s assertions that he didn’t know the murderer’s identity, Burge’s detectives coerced him to falsely confess to the murder after hours of torture, which included holding a shotgun in his mouth and repeatedly shocking him in the genitals with an electric cattle prod.
“It doesn’t hurt [anymore]; I just get mad,” Cannon said through tears. “I get mad because I grew up where if you hit me, I’ll hit you back. But these cowards … everything that they did to me, they did while my hands were cuffed. I never had a chance to fight back or defend myself.”
The Center on Wrongful Convictions is advocating for increased transparency during interactions between police and civilians.
According to Warden, the best way to ensure confessions are obtained ethically is to record all investigation procedures, from police questioning to courtroom proceedings.
“The vast majority of false confessions [are] psychologically induced,” Warden said. “This can happen during prolonged interrogation in which finally the person being interrogated is so exhausted that basically they’re willing to say almost anything. It’s very important to electronically record interrogations.”