Jury selection continues in police torture trial

May 25, 2010 11:39:19 AM PDT
A federal judge has questioned nearly four dozen potential jurors in the trial of former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge, who's accused of lying about the torture of suspects in the 1970s and 1980s. By Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow had dismissed at least 12 of 46 potential jurors -- including a woman who said she couldn't refrain from watching the news or reading newspapers.

No jurors had been seated as of Tuesday afternoon, but a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office says it's possible opening arguments could begin as early as Wednesday.

Burge has pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice and perjury. He's accused of lying when he denied in a civil lawsuit that he and other detectives had tortured anyone.

The name, the lawsuits and the protests have been part of Chicago fabric for so many years it's not surprising that almost all of the prospective jurors questioned Monday knew the name Jon Burge, and they know the nature of the government's case against him.

One potential juror said, "I've been reading about this case for years. I have some strong feelings, and I don't think I could put them aside." She was excused. But most others in the jury pool -- under questioning -- said that while they had heard about the case, they don't have fixed opinions.

Protesters outside the Dirksen Federal Building Monday did have fixed opinions. They believe Burge and a circle of officers under his command tortured suspects and coerced confessions. Anti-Burge demonstrations have been going on for roughly two decades. The difference is, Burge is now about to be tried, not for torture, but for lying about it.

The former Chicago police commander, now 62 and in declining health, arrived early Monday at the Dirksen Federal Building.

In court, Burge watched and listened as prospective jurors were brought in one at a time and questioned.

"It is very important that he get a fair trial that the men who were tortured by him -- 110 men -- did not get," said People's Law Office attorney Flint Taylor.

Taylor has represented some of those men who were wrongly imprisoned. What he and others will be keenly watching will be testimony from a Burge subordinate, now-retired Detective Mike McDermott, who has been granted immunity and is expected to provide direct knowledge of some of the incidents of alleged torture under Burge's command.

"If McDermott comes forward and tells the truth under the grant of immunity, then that is something qualitatively different than the cover-up that's gone on for these many years," Taylor said.

The city fired Burge in 1993 and has paid out millions in civil settlements and legal fees in the years that have followed.

"This trial should have been settled a long time ago. We should have been out of this. Justice has to be served, no matter what," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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