Chicago Sun-Times

Outrage Lies at Heart of Burge Charges

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BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

Justice for Melvin Jones is coming late.

Jones is dying. In and out of consciousness, according to his lawyers, it's possible he doesn't yet know the big news that broke Tuesday. That former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, the man he met in an interrogation room years ago, heard a loud federal knock on the door of his lovely home nestled beside a boat dock in Florida early Tuesday morning.

Arrested and cuffed, Burge is now charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, and he is ordered to appear in federal court in Chicago Monday.

It took too long, 26 years. And it took the intervention of the feds.

That's because neither the Chicago Police Department nor the Cook County state's attorney's office nor Mayor Daley, who once served as state's attorney, nor a court-appointed special prosecutor had the courage or the political will to stand up against the shame that Burge brought upon this city.

It's not that Melvin Jones is a sympathetic character. He is a career criminal I met nine years ago in state prison. But the story he told then -- the one he never wavered from -- was chilling. And corroborated, by the way, by attorneys for the city of Chicago. It's not something they've ever wanted to talk about.

Here's the story.

And here's why it should outrage every one of us who sends a nickel in tax money to city or county officials.

In 1982, Melvin Jones was picked up on suspicion of murder. He was taken to Area 2 police headquarters on the South Side. That's where he met the infamous Jon Burge.

In a 1999 interview for CBS' 60 Minutes II, Jones quoted Burge as saying, "You only have two rights when you come in here, and that's to confess or get your ass kicked."

Jones said he refused to confess to a crime he didn't commit. That's when, he told me, Jon Burge and two other officers brought out a small hand-cranked electrical device with alligator clips. He saw it spark, then felt a shock as they touched his foot with the clip, and then his inner thigh. And then, Jones said Burge told him, "I'm going to put it on your testicles." Jones said he was in tears, "Trying to holler as loud as I can. . . . I was begging them to stop."

They didn't until Jones confessed. Convicted by one court, Jones was ultimately freed by


In 1993, when the heat on the city was too great, Burge was finally fired for the torture of murder suspect Andrew Wilson. Little-noticed at the time was that city attorneys admitted in court that Wilson wasn't Burge's only victim. The city acknowledged, "Burge electro shocked Melvin Jones on the genitals and thigh and threatened him with a gun."

The same city officials who until that point defended Burge, deserted him, offering not a shred a public explanation. But they continued to pay for his defense in all the civil suits that would follow. As a result, you and I are still paying. Twenty million dollars in just four cases.

Seven million for one investigation. Uncounted millions in outside legal counsel for Burge and his band of officers.

Jack Byrne is one of them.

A decorated sergeant, he is now retired and working as a private detective.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Byrne said, "I feel very bad for Jon Burge. I've known him all my life. I don't believe these charges. And I stand by all my statements that I never tortured anyone."

Byrne said one more time, "I feel bad for Jon."

I don't. I feel bad for the suspects -- 122 of them by one count -- who were tortured.

I feel sorry for Melvin Jones. A thug and crook, you bet. Even he admitted police had a good reason to question him.

"I'm a prime candidate," he told me. "But I also could be innocent."

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Where was the State's Attorney?

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on October 22, 2008 8:57 AM.

Oberweis v. Foster was the previous entry in this blog.

Torture: Media Gets Some of the Blame is the next entry in this blog.

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