Burge speaks despite taking the 5th

Does not have to appear in Chicago
May 12, 2009

Burge told the court about his role with the police department at the time the inmate says he was tortured into making a false confession.

Burge was not under oath when he made Tuesday's statements. A Chicago attorney wants a Florida judge to force Burge to testify in the case of Cortez Brown, who is trying to get his murder conviction overturned.

There is a vacant lot today where a house once stood on South Bishop. It was here that a young man was shot to death nearly 19 years ago. Cortez Brown, now 38, was convicted of that murder and one other slaying. He was sentenced to death by a judge who called him "a killing machine."

Brown confessed at the time, but later contended his confessions were coerced by detectives under the command of former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who was fired by the department and has lived for years in Florida.

Tuesday, Brown's attorney went before a judge in Hillsborough County, Florida, in an effort to compel Burge's return to Chicago to testify in the post-conviction case of Cortez Brown.

Because he is under federal indictment for allegedly lying about a number of police torture cases, Burge has consistently refused to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights. But Tuesday, on the stand, Burge briefly talked, saying that he never had any direct involvement in the Cortez Brown case and that the whole thing is part of long-running legal harassment aimed at him.

"My personal feeling is that this is only harassment on Mr. Taylor's part, which has been going on and on and on for years," Burge said. "I don't know that I could add to this case. I would be more than happy to testify in anything that I could. But regretfully, due to the fact that I have these other charges...pending, that will not allow me to testify."

Burge was not under oath, had no attorney with him in court, and was attempting to explain to the Florida judge why he shouldn't be required to return to Illinois. But Brown's attorney says you can't address the case and then later claim the Fifth.

"He opened up a can of worms for himself by not taking the Fifth Amendment but rather by attempting to exonerate himself in this case," said Flint Taylor, attorney for Cortez Brown.

As of now, though, the Florida judge is not going to require Burge to return to Cook county next Monday, though other detectives who worked under Burge are expected to appear in the case of Cortez Brown, and they are expected to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights.

Burge's Chicago attorney says the former police commander's remarks from the witness stand Tuesday were true; he had no direct involvement in the Cortez Brown case, and just because he said as much to a judge while claiming harassment doesn't mean he is waiving any rights.

Brown is seeking a new trial.

Burge's trial on the federal charges that he lied about police torture is set to start, in Chicago, in late October.

Burge faces federal charges of obstruction of justice and perjury. Prosecutors charge Burge lied when he said he and other detectives under his command at the Chicago Police Department more than 15 years ago.

He was arrested in October 2008 at his home in Apollo Beach, Florida, and indicted on three federal counts - two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of perjury.

Burge has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

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