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Jury selection begins in Burge trial

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jury selection began Thursday in the trial of a former Chicago police lieutenant accused of perjury.

Jon Burge is accused of lying about whether he or officers under his command tortured suspects in the 1970s and 1980s.

Some former inmates claim they were wrongfully convicted after they were tortured into making false confessions by officers under Burge's command.

After two decades of torture allegations, demonstrations, investigations, lawsuits and civil settlements comes the criminal trial of the former Chicago police commander. It is a trial that may last more than a month, and that requires a big jury pool.

The process of picking those who would sit in judgment of Jon Burge began Thursday morning with a courtroom full of potential jurors filling out a 30-page questionnaire.

He's 62 now and said to be in poor health. When asked how he's feeling Thursday, Jon Burge said, "I feel terrible." That evokes little sympathy among the men who say they were tortured by Burge and detectives under his command and were railroaded, as they've claimed, into wrongful convictions.

"He took my most productive years away from me and I'm now working from scratch," said Alton Logan.

Logan spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He has sued Burge, contending the former Chicago police commander knew Logan was innocent, but manipulated the evidence to win a conviction.

The city of Chicago has spent over $25 million in settlements and attorneys' fees in civil cases brought against Burge, but this is a criminal trial. Burge faces federal charges of obstruction of justice and perjury for allegedly lying when asked if he'd ever taken part in any torture or had knowledge of it.

Rick Beuke, Burge's attorney, said he hopes his client can get a fair trial, given all the publicity surrounding the case.

On Thursday morning, 80 potential jurors in the Burge case filled out lengthy questionnaires to determine whether they'd be suitable for jury service in what may be a six week trial.

When introduced, Burge rose, turned to the jury candidates, and with a booming voice said, "good morning ladies and gentlemen.

Though the statute of limitations has long since expired on the torture allegations, federal prosecutors must demonstrate to the jury that it happened in order to prove up their contention that Burge lied about it.

Alton Logan says while he's most interested in the outcome of the trial, he won't be going. He still spends much of his time looking for steady work, more than two years after winning his freedom.

"Don't let nothing stop you. It might get in your way. It might block you, but it can't stop you," said Logan.

In the Burge case, the government is expected to call some of the alleged torture victims as well as former Chicago police detectives who once worked with Burge. Former Chicago police detectives are also on the defense witness list, which numbers 64 possible witnesses. Certainly not all will be called, but the list includes a Cook County judge, two former police superintendents, former mayor Jane Byrne and Mayor Richard Daley who was Cook County state's attorney when much of the alleged torture under Burge occurred.

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jon burge, local, paul meincke
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