Justice IS Served!

For those of you who might be under the impression that I don’t have much respect for courts and the legal system in general after the Supreme Court’s supremely stupid ruling on the 2nd Amendment, well, that isn’t so. Quite the opposite. A recent court case none too far from me actually gives me hope for both the courts and trials in general.

The case is one that has been brewing for some time, one that started with a group of dirty cops and ended with justice being served; if not fully, at least in part. During the 1980’s, in Chicago, if you were unlucky enough to be suspected of a crime, and that crime occurred in what is known as Area 2, you were likely to encounter Jon Burge and his violent crime unit. Unofficially known as the “Midnight Crew”, the unit had an extremely high rate of convictions, many gained via confessions from suspects. They had a very good reason for getting those confessions: they tortured people until the confessed.

Burge was eventually fired from the Chicago police department as rumors spread about his conduct and that of his unit. Subsequent investigations resulted in several convictions being overturned and those who had been serving time for crimes they had not committed being set free. The problem was, there was no way to gather enough information or proof, several years after the fact, to prove what happened. That, coupled with the ‘blue wall of silence’, police ‘looking out for their own’ and remaining silent, meant that Burge walked free, and it looked as though nothing could be done to bring any sort of justice to bear on him.

He ran into one problem, though, and that proved to be his downfall. Burge, along with several other officers, were asked about their conduct in the Area 2 violent crime unit. Those questions were asked under oath, and Burge told the same story he had told since he had been fired: no torture took place and no prisoners were mistreated. Once people started to be freed, and when a few police officers finally decided that the truth was more important than covering for the ‘brothers in blue’, the evidence started to come out that Burge had lied, under oath. As such, the federal prosecutors in Chicago decided to go after Burge on charges of perjury.

The case took time to come to trial. Appeals, motions and delays meant that nearly three years passed before a jury began hearing evidence. From the start, the defense based it’s case on two pillars it hoped would support it: the people who had been convicted had criminal records, and even more to their point, they hoped that the jury would, like most people, feel that a police officer should be trusted. The prosecution, for it’s part, counted on the weight of evidence, the sheer number of people who were willing to testify about what happened to them when they were in the less-than-gentle care of the “Midnight Crew”. It also had an officer who had initially agreed to testify, but who’s final statements were far less than unambiguous.

In the end, after hearing the testimony, Burge was found guilty of perjury. Based on the number of counts in the indictment, he could face as many as 48 years in prison. He will in all likelihood never be charged for what he actually did; for the mock executions, the beating, the electrical shocks or anything else. That he will, barring some unforeseen reversal on appeal, spend the next several years in the place he sent so many innocent people, however, is a small amount of justice. More important, seeing one of their own going to prison may, one hopes, give some other officers pause if they are thinking of how they might short-cut the legal system, and that is something every citizen of this nation should celebrate.

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