Monday, January 31, 2011

Was justice served? Detective John Burge Sentencing

By Laura Caldwell

Last week, Detective Jon Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice. As nearly every Chicagoan knows, Detective Burge, while reputed to be a very good police officer in many respects, also brutally tortured suspects at Area 2 on a regular basis. But by the time Burge’s tactics were revealed and confirmed, the statute of limitations for bringing torture charges against him had passed. A civil case against him resulted in a hung jury. Detective Burge was finally fired, and he retired to Florida on his city pension.

However, many in Chicago continued to demand that justice be served, not the least of who were the victims of Detective Burge’s tactics. Yet the only thing he could be brought to court on was obstruction of justice and perjury. In essence, the allegations against Burge were that he lied about torture in earlier cases. Detective Burge was found guilty, and Judge Lefkow (whose husband and mother were tragically killed by a former litigant) sentenced him to 4 1/2 years, saying, “…the jury did not believe you, and I must agree. I did not either.”

After the verdict, Mark Clements, someone who was tortured by Burge as a teenager, said of the sentence, “It’s outrageous,” and “It's not justice.” I know Mark personally and respect him immensely, but I have to disagree. The recommended sentence for Burge, via federal guidelines, was roughly 2 years. By giving him 4 ½ years, Judge Lefkow more than doubled that sentence. If she had given him, say, 10 years, 15 years or 30, as many suggested, she would likely have been overturned. And then Detective Burge would have once again escaped any ramifications for his actions.

The fact of the matter is, in our society, we must pay attention to the established rules and procedures. If Jon Burge had done that, he would not have caused all the pain he did. So if we insist that Jon Burge should have followed the law, we must still follow the law too. And that law says if you’re convicted of perjury, the suggested sentence is 2 years. Sentences must be commensurate with the crime. By more than doubling Burge’s sentence, Judge Lefkow went as far as she could. We cannot allow Judge Lefkow to go above and beyond the law, any more than we should have let Detective Burge do that.

Marvin Reeves, a good friend of mine and a client of Life After Innocence, was tortured by Burge and his men, and subsequently served 21 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Marvin has been completely exonerated, but he spent many days at the courthouse watching the Burge trial and sentencing. He told me, “Judge Lefkow had to be fair and impartial. That’s her job. If being fair and impartial allowed her to give Burge a thousand years, I think she would have done it, but she had to sentence him according to the guidelines. She did her job. In fact, I think she did a fantastic job.”