First witness testifies in police torture trial

May 26, 2010 4:13:31 PM PDT
The first witness took the stand Wednesday in the perjury trial of former Chicago Police Commander John Burge. Anthony Holmes testified he was shocked and suffocated by Burge and several other officers in 1973.

The final members of the jury were chosen Wednesday and both sides delivered their opening statements. Much of the evidence in the case will be about allegations of torturing suspects. But, ultimately, 12 jurors will decide whether or not Jon Burge lied about his past actions.

Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge arrived for the first day of his trial. Now in his sixties, with prostate cancer, he is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for testimony he gave in 2003.

Allegations of abuse have dogged Burge but he was never charged with those allegations. Now he is accused of lying to cover up the abuse of suspects in his charge. Some came to witness the trial for themselves.

"Here's a man who's embarrassed the police department, he's embarrassed the City of Chicago--I guess the only person who is not embarrassed is him," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward.

"We are thankful that the federal government, US attorney's office, has saw fit to charge Mr. Burge where the state's attorney in our city failed to deliver justice," said Jonathan Jackson, Rainbow PUSH.

In opening statements, a prosecutor opened with "Hear no evil, speak no evil, say no evil. That could have been the motto at Area Two." Prosecutors plan to show the jury that Burge was involved in four abusive interrogations of suspects, solicited false confessions and lied about his involvement.

Burge's defense team urged jurors to look at the facts and consider the motivation of some of the witnesses. "We ask you to listen to the evidence, keep an open mind, and presume the defendant is innocent."

One of the men Burge is accused of abusing was first to take the witness stand Wednesday. Anthony Holmes, now 63, testified that in 1973 John Burge arrested him for a murder he did not commit. Holmes described how Burge attached wires from a black box to his hand and leg cuffs, and he said Burge put bags over his head, suffocating him and shocking him with the wires until he passed out several times.

Holmes testified, "Finally, I didn't know if it was daytime or nighttime. He just kept shocking me. I couldn't take it...When he took the bag off my head I said I'd say what he wanted me to say."

While testifying, Anthony Holmes described himself in his youth as "wild". His nickname was "Satan". He served time for several crimes. But he testified that he has been free of legal trouble since 2004.

The trial is expected to take six weeks. It resumes Thursday.

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