Crooked City

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Filtering by Category: TIRC

Bill Aims to Balance Controversial Torture Commission

There's more smoke in the cockpit of the Illinois Torture Commission. A bill has been introduced to add a member advocating for victims' rights to the commission, which has been under fire from the families of murder victims for violating their own rules. 

Recently, the former head of the commission, Dave Thomas, resigned in the wake of accusations of incompetence and bias. From the Trib:

"The bill, among other changes, would add a ninth commissioner who would represent crime victims; have the governor — instead of the commission — appoint the executive director; and allow a victim to appeal a commission finding to the Cook County chief judge if the commission did not properly follow victim notification rules.

Among Radogno’s constituents is Jerry Heinrich, a critic of the commission over its handling of the Jerry Mahaffey case. Heinrich is the brother of JoEllen Pueschel, who together with her husband Dean was slain in 1983 in their Rogers Park apartment, while their son was beaten. Family members were angry that the commission did not notify them when considering the Mahaffey case, as required by law. Members of the commission said the omission was an error. Jerry Mahaffey and his brother Reginald are serving life sentences for the double murder."

Just a short time ago, a judge threw out a case in which a convicted killer, Shawn Whirl, claimed he was abused by a detective who once worked with former police commander Jon Burge:

But Whirl, now 44, “needs to be credible in order to sustain his burden in this case,” Judge Jorge Alonso said before announcing his decision Thursday.

Whirl, who is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence, confessed to the 1990 murder of cabbie Billy G. Williams and stayed silent about being beaten by Pienta for nearly two decades, Alonso noted.

Moreover, Whirl recently spoke about having his mouth smothered by a potato chip bag but had never talked about it before, the judge said.

Whirl also changed his stories about how he was hurt and whether Pienta was alone in the interrogation room, Alonso said.

He also said he was wearing red sweatpants when he was questioned when they were actually light blue, the judge said.

Alonso discussed at length the “atrocities” that happened at Area 2 under disgraced former Cmdr. Jon Burge.

While Burge didn’t “invent police torture,” he had since left Area 2 when Whirl was arrested, Alonso pointed out.

Whirl’s attorney G. Flint Taylor said he will appeal the ruling.

“We’re very disappointed. We thought we had a strong case,” the defense attorney said following the short hearing. Pienta was a Burge protégé, Taylor said.

Apparently, the inconsistencies cited by the Judge, including the fact that Burge didn't even work in the unit at the time Whirl claimed he was tortured, were not apparent to the commission, which reviewed Whirl's claims and:

...issued decisions finding that inmates Darryl Christian, Shawn Whirl and George Ellis Anderson were tortured into confessing to murders.

The commission’s responsibility isn’t to decide whether the inmates are innocent, but whether their convictions or guilty pleas stemmed from confessions under torture.

Again, one has to wonder, why were these inconsistencies, all of which point to a legal Hail Mary by a convicted killer, clear to the judge, but not the commission?  

Simon Confession at Heart of Porter Case...

The one thing wrongful conviction activists and their allies in the media keep focusing on is the fact that Alstory Simon confessed repeatedly to a double homicide. This confession was the key reason Anthony Porter was allowed to go free and Simon get a 37 year prison sentence.

Why, journalists and activists ask, would Simon repeatedly confess to a crime he didn't commit.?

One reason Simon's confession is such a mystery to the media is that they never bothered to look into it. Journalists like Eric Zorn, Steve Mills and Mike Miner never bothered to interview Simon or look at any documents related to his incarceration, though the three journalists seemed to have an open exchange of information with representatives from the Innocence Project at Northwestern. These same journalists also never spoke to the detectives, attorney Walter Jones, the witnesses and failed to see the obvious bombshells in the transcripts and police documents that refuted the Innocence Project claims.   

The alleged shady tactics of Private Investigator Paul Ciolino in obtaining the original confession by Simon at Simon's house early in the morning 16 years after the murders has been well documented:

Simon says he repeatedly told Ciolino to get out. Simon says he tried to call 911 and he repeatedly denied the killings to Ciolino.

Simon says Ciolino misrepresented himself as the police.

Simon says Ciolino unleashed a barrage of "evidence" against Simon as a means to get Simon to confess, including two affidavits later recanted by Simon's ex-wife and her nephew, a video tape by a fake witness Ciolino manufactured ahead of time and the threat that Simon could get the death penalty if he didn't confess.

Simon also stated Ciolino promised a short prison sentence and wealth through movie and book deals in exchange for the confession, not the first time Ciolino or Protess were accused of such manipulation.

Most incredibly, when Simon asked for a lawyer, Ciolino got him one, a close friend of Ciolino who had worked with Ciolino. This attorney actually rented office space from Ciolino. Simon says he spoke to this attorney, Jack Rimland, on the phone. Rather than advise Simon to keep his mouth shut and get Ciolino out of his apartment, as any lawyer fresh out of law school would, Rimland, incredibly, encouraged Simon to confess.

So, Simon said, he confessed. 

A few facts about Rimland's "representation" should be noted.

Just one day after Rimland became Simon's lawyer, he stated in a Tribune article by Steve Mills that Simon could get the death penalty. How could Rimland have even begun to look at the case enough to make such a public statement? There were already six witnesses fingering Porter. Rimland had not had time enough to look at these records or talk to these witnesses. He did not have enough time to look at all the evidence that vindicated Simon. But Rimland got in front of the media and throws his client in front of the death penalty, right after he encouraged him to confess to the crimes to Ciolino.    

But what about the interval from February of 1999 until September 1999 when Simon confessed in open court? Didn't Simon wise up then?  

Here again, no journalist ever looked into the facts or looked closely at the court documents.

Simon claims that he was distraught on what to do during this period. He says that at one of his first hearings, he pleaded not guilty. Rimland, Simon claims, cursed Simon out and told him if he didn't stick with the plan to plea guilty to the murders, Simon could get the death penalty. 

Nevertheless, Simon said he did change his mind about pleading guilty and reached out to other lawyers to do so. Simon met with attorney Dave Thomas, former head of the Illinois Torture and Relief Commission, who recently resigned from the commission in a scandal over his handling of several cases. Simon says he told Thomas he didn't want to confess to a crime he didn't commit. Thomas, Simon says, said he would take the case, but Simon would have to fire Rimland. When Simon confronted Rimland about getting a new lawyer, Rimland, Simon says, went ballistic. He warned Simon that if he didn't take the deal and stick with Rimland, Simon would be convicted for another murder case in Milwaukee and could get the death penalty or more than the 37 years Rimland could get Simon in the plea deal, Simon says. 

Sure enough, within a few days, Simon says he went to the cafeteria in the county jail where the TV was playing. The news was on. He saw his picture on the screen, along with a story that he was a suspect in a Milwaukee murder case. Simon, he says, took it as a direct threat.  Terrified that he would be wrongfully convicted for another murder case (he was already in jail for a double homicide he didn't commit) Simon says he stuck with Rimland's game plan and confessed to the crime, still clinging to the fading hope that Rimland and Protess would see to it that Simon would only serve a few years and would make a lot of money off movie and book deals. 

When asked about his role in the Porter case, attorney Dave Thomas acknowledged he met with Simon at the county jail, yet, remarkably, he did not remember much about it. It seems strange that someone involved in the biggest wrongful conviction case in the state's history would not remember much about their role in it, but the fact that Simon met with Thomas is clear sign that Simon was seeking alternate counsel and that his claims of wanting to plead not guilty have merit.