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Torture Commission Victory a Catastrophe For Chicago Cops?

Court Ruling Frees Another Convicted Killer, Gives New Life to Tainted Torture Commission...

An appeals court decision that prompted the release of yet another convicted killer two weeks ago could be a catastrophe for members of the Chicago police department.

The court overturned the conviction of Shawn Whirl for the 1990 murder and robbery of a cab driver. Whirl claimed he had been tortured into confessing by a detective who had worked with former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. A special prosecutor declined to retry the case, so Whirl went free. 

The appeals court decision reversed a ruling last year by a circuit court judge, who rejected Whirl’s claims, saying they were baseless. 

Whirl’s release is another sign that convicted killers can garner their release merely by claiming they were abused by a detective who once worked with Jon Burge, a former commander who has become the poster child for the wrongful conviction movement’s claims of torture. 

What makes the Whirl case so threatening to Chicago Police Officers is the crucial role played by the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) in securing Whirl’s freedom. 


The case took a circuitous path through the courts. After losing his initial appeals, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC), created to investigate abuse allegations against Burge and detectives under his supervision, found Whirl's claims credible in 2012. The commission held that Whirl had consistently alleged torture and that his allegations were "strikingly similar" to those of other Burge victims.

What is TIRC? Ostensibly, it is supposed to investigate torture claims against former commander Jon Burge and his men. But since its inception, the actions and integrity of the commission have been called into question. Now a long body of evidence paints a clearer picture of TIRC’s real purpose. 

The creation of TIRC in 2009 was one of the greatest accomplishments of wrongful conviction law firms like the People’s Law Office (PLO). It was an extension of the PLO’s war on the police extending back to the early 1960s.  Their clients include numerous domestic terrorists engaged in bombings and other violent “revolutionary” campaigns, including the murder of police officers. 

More and more, TIRC reveals itself as an arm of the wrongful conviction movement, employing the kind of legal “end-around” the criminal justice system common to these activists in their campaign to overturn legitimate convictions and vilify cops.   

For many years, this end-around the criminal justice system by these activists and lawyers was accomplished through intense media pressure, as wrongful conviction activists found key allies among the city journalists and editors. This pressure intimidated prosecutors, judges, and politicians into doing the bidding of law firms like the PLO, which claimed many Chicago cops were racist, violent criminals protected by a sympathetic police department hierarchy. 

But with the creation of a state commission, comprised almost exclusively of their own advocates, the wrongful conviction law firms are no longer on the outside pushing their cause. Now, with TIRC, they are a powerful force within the criminal justice system itself. 

It was the kind of power radicals like the People’s Law Office and their terrorist clients and allies could only dream about in the 1960s. 

The bias built into TIRC was apparent from the outset to the family members of murder victims. 

Joe Heinrich’s sister was raped and murdered in 1983 by brothers Jerry and Reginald Mahaffey during a home invasion on the far north side. His brother-in-law was also murdered and his nephew was severely beaten and left for dead by the Mahaffeys. Here is what Heinrich observed about the corruption inherent in the commission. Heinrich confronted the commission on this bias:

Before being appointed to this Board, many commissioners were already involved in Burge-related issues and have already decided that any person interrogated by him or those under him should go free.  Some commissioners have written articles, some have added their support and names to court documents favoring the defendants, one founded an organization to investigate and sue police officers, and another runs an organization that has investigated many of the cases this commission has and will consider.  Just last Friday, Governor Quinnannounced that he wants to add a defense attorney who works for a law firm that has been involved in Burge-related court proceedings and a priest who has been arrested and sued police officers.

The bias Heinrich observes reveals itself clearly in their “investigations.” Remember the claims by TIRC in arguing that Whirl should be released, their observance that his claims were part of a larger pattern of abuse by Burge and his men? 

The commission held that Whirl had consistently alleged torture and that his allegations were "strikingly similar” to those of other Burge victims.

Well, this penetrating ability to spot patterns of potential criminal behavior and other misconduct is strikingly absent among TIRC members when it comes to their own movement, a pattern now well established in the media and courts. 

Consider, for example, who Whirl’s attorney is, Tara Thompson. Thompson is a wrongful conviction crusader with the notorious law firm Loevy and Loevy. According to court transcripts, Thompson worked on another wrongful conviction bid that floundered in the courts just a year ago. It fell apart because a judge ruled that a witness, Willie Johnson, brought forth by Thompson’s law firm, was lying under oath in an attempt to free two killers serving life sentences. After the judge stated he thought the witness was a not telling the truth, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Johnson with perjury. 


A 43-year-old Texas man was sentenced Tuesday to 30 months in prison for lying on the witness stand about a 1992 double murder in Chicago… 

“My office does not take the decision to charge perjury lightly and this charge is brought in very limited circumstances and only when it is appropriate to do so.  We believe this was certainly the case in this particular matter and we are very pleased with today’s plea of guilty by this defendant,” Alvarez said in a prepared statement.

In the past four years, Johnson is the only person to be charged with perjury for recanting testimony in a post-conviction hearing in Cook County, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

Witnesses trying to free double murderers convicted of perjury? 

One wonders what would happen if a detective got busted bringing forth a witness who later pled guilty to committing perjury. TIRC and every other wrongful conviction law firm in the city would begin poring over every single case that detective was involved in. 

Another glaring example of commission members failing to observe central patterns of corruption in their own movement is Rob Warden, retired director of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Warden’s longtime colleague, David Protess, former professor at Northwestern, and Protess’ sidekick private investigator, Paul Ciolino, have amassed a chilling body of evidence of corruption, spanning several cases over long period of time. 

A central theme emerging in Protess and Ciolino’s cases at Northwestern is evidence that the two men attempted to bribe witnesses into changing their testimony. 

Well, remember Whirl’s lawyer, Tara Thompson? Remember how she worked with a group of lawyers who brought forth a witness convicted of perjury? 

Thompson’s law firm of Loevy and Loevy was also a key player in one of the biggest exonerations in the state’s history, the exoneration of Madison Hobley for a 1987 arson that killed seven, including Hobley’s own son and wife. Hobley’s exoneration was the work of Loevy and Loevy attorney Ken Feuer and DePaul University Law Professor Andrea Lyon. 

One thing that made Hobley’s conviction for the seven murders airtight were the statements of key witnesses. Two of those witnesses told authorities that they saw Hobley arrive at a gas station near Hobley’s house shortly before the arson. They saw Hobley fill a gas can and walk back in the direction of Hobley’s apartment that would soon catch fire.

Arson investigators concluded the fire was started by gasoline poured outside Hobley’s apartment and then down the stairs. Hobley admitted to the detectives that he bought this gas from this station, just as the witnesses stated. 

Hobley’s attorneys—remember, one of them was Loevy and Loevy attorney Kurt Feuer—fought for years to claim that Hobley was innocent, that he had been—drum roll, please—tortured by detectives. 

To do so, Feuer and Lyon concocted a fairy tale that the detectives, before the evidence was all in, decided to pin the murders on a guy who had just lost his own wife and child in the fire. Not only did the detectives arbitrarily decide to frame Hobley, a man they had never met, but according to Hobley’s attorney’s theory, everyone involved in the investigation went along with it. The detectives did this not knowing whether new evidence would come forward that could uncover their plot. 

The Loevy and Loevy fairy tale that Hobley was innocent never went anywhere in court. Indeed, some judges along the way ridiculed this fairy tale. 

But Hobley’s attorneys, having seen once airtight cases like the Porter conviction unravel in the machinations of their wrongful conviction spin machine, pressed on. 

The witnesses who watched Hobley buy the gas threw a fly in the ointment. It was hard to overcome such compelling statements. Remember, in the last two years, unequivocal evidence of obtaining false statements, even bribed statements, has revealed itself in the Porter case under David Protess and his private investigator Paul Ciolino, and then there is the fact that a witness brought forth in the Willie Johnson case was convicted of perjury.

Well, one day Paul Ciolino and one of the attorneys representing Hobley, Andrea Lyon, paid a visit to the home of one of these the key witnesses, Andre Council. 

Council had told investigators he observed Hobley at the gas station putting the gas into a gas can. Council even had words with Hobley after Hobley spilled gas on Council’s truck. Council told investigators that he saw Hobley walk away. A short time later, Council saw the fire trucks speeding down the street. Council walked over to the site of the fire. There, he observed Hobley in the crowd.

The following day, while watching the news, Council saw Hobley on the television named as a suspect, so he called police to tell them about seeing Hobley buy the gas. That’s what an open-and-shut case it was. Hobley confessed to the crime, then witnesses come forward confirming exactly what Hobley said he had done. Their statements and Hobley’s confession matched in great detail. No wonder the jury not only convicted Hobley, but also gave him the death penalty. 

So one day Council is sitting in his home and he gets a visit from attorney Andrea Lyon and private investigator Paul Ciolino, the same Ciolino accused of bribing statements and coercing suspects in the Porter exoneration scandal. 

Here’s Council’s sworn statement describing what Lyon and Ciolino did when they came to his home:  

Q. Okay. And did they -- how did you first come in contact with them (Andrea Lyon and Paul Ciolino)? Did they call you first? Did they come to the house? What do you remember?

A. I remember them coming to the house...

A. …You know, they was telling me that, you know, he didn't do it.

Q. He, meaning who?

A. Madison Hobley. You know, that's the way -- they say Madison Hobley, he wasn't the one who set the fire. The lady [Andrea Lyon] was telling me, you know, that I need to concentrate on looking at him as not being guilty…

A. …My daughter's picture was sitting up there right in front. They was asking me did I have kids, you know…

Q. Who was asking that?

A. Both of them was talking to me about it. And they was talking to me about it.

Q. Asked you if you had kids?

A. Right. Well, my daughter and son look just like me. And so they was asking me, you know, what grade, what grade was they in, how old was my kids, and, you know, was they going to college.I said, Yeah, they -- my daughter is older. And well, she's still older, and they was talking about what she going to college for. I told them I didn't know what was she going to do. And they asked me, you know, how would I like to not work anymore. You know, they said that they have ways they could do it. You know, she said she deal with colleges.

Q. Uh-huh.

A. And he was -- he was telling me the same thing, basically, that they could send my daughter to college and I wouldn't have to pay for it. And I was like

Q. What do you mean, if you changed your testimony?

A. Exactly. They told --they told me, first of all, he's not guilty. I'm like, first of all, you know, I'm saying this to myself, they didn't know Madison Hobley before this case comes up. You know, I could see if they live right next to him or they knew him, but they didn't know anything about him at all. I'm saying this to myself, not to them.

Q. All right. But in terms of that conversation, you're saying they were telling you that if you changed your testimony -- what did they want you to say? Did they tell you what they wanted you to say?

A. They wanted me to say that I didn't -- that I wasn't -- that I wasn't sure, you know, that, you know, you know, she was -- she was writing down, which I never said this before, but I'm going to say it now. She was writing on a sheet of paper the things that I should say.

Bribing witnesses? Change your testimony and we’ll send your daughter to school? 

Remember, some of these activists in the wrongful conviction movement worked with terrorist bombers who went around preaching revolution and killing police officers. Some of their close friends, members of the Weather Underground, bombed the home of a judge while he and his family were inside. The family was only saved by the heroic actions of their neighbors. The connection between PLO and violent radicals continues to this day. Even as recently as 2011, several youths who were caught making incendiary devices were represented by the law firm. Investigators stated that the youths planned on throwing the fire bombs at the police during the NATO demonstrations.  

In the face of these crimes, is gathering bribed statements as a means of getting back at the “pigs” whom they hate so much such a stretch? 

All of this brings us back to the ruling last week that freed Whirl. 

Was Whirl tortured into confessing, as he claims, or did activists push through another wrongful conviction scam, as they did in the Johnson case, the Porter case, the Hobley case? Is Whirl another killer walking the streets of Chicago free as a bird? 

And all of this brings us back to why the Whirl case is so much more dangerous to the police than the many other exonerations spearheaded by the wrongful conviction activists. 

Whirl’s release from prison breathes new life into TIRC, one that will increase their power within the criminal justice system and certainly embolden them to push more and more cases. Now that one of their cases has won, the precedent is now set for the organization to overcome its former scandals and grave misconduct, the evidence of their own duplicity and fraudulence, and vilify a whole new generation of police officers. Wrongful conviction cheerleaders disguised as journalists like Steve Mills, Eric Zorn, John Conroy and a host of others can now crank out stories about the police torturing people by quoting the “findings” of a state commission.  

With each case TIRC overturns on the argument that the detective “once worked with Jon Burge,” they open up a whole market of exonerations and lawsuits for their allies in the wrongful conviction movement. 

They’ve come a long way since the bomb-throwing days of the 1960s, finally seeing their “Marxist revolution” taking shape. 

And as they destroy the career and reputation of one cop after another, other inmates arrested by these detectives will make the same claims. Soon TIRC members will be free from the shackles of only considering the Burge cases. They will establish new villains in the police department, upon whom they can hang the mantle of corruption that has profited them so handsomely and bought them untold power from a political system that has always been for sale. The lawsuits that will follow will fill the coffers of their political allies while the journalists supporting them bask in the glory of more exonerations. 

No cop, no matter how honestly he attempts to investigate his cases, will be immune from their machinations.  

Only one thing stands in their way now: The Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents cops. But that is hardly even a nuisance. The current FOP administration, headed by President Dean Angelo, has shown time and again the union will not take on the wrongful conviction machine, no matter how much evidence arises that they are crooked and that they are victimizing FOP members.  

In the wake of the Whirl ruling, a Chicago cop can be certain of only two things. He can be accused of any crimes, no matter how ludicrous, and his union will do little if anything about it.  

That’s just the reality of patrolling the most Crooked City. 

Martin Preib is a Chicago Police Officer and writer. His first book, The Wagon and Other Stories From the City, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His second book, Crooked City, is available on Amazon. His articles have appeared in Playboy, The Chicagoan, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and New City. He is currently working on his third book about former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and an arson in 1987, titled Burn Patterns.