Jon Burge gets 4 1/2 years in police torture case

February 7, 2011 8:54:36 AM PST
A federal judge has sentenced former Chicago police commander Jon Burge to four and a half years in prison.

Burge was convicted on federal charges of lying about the torture of prisoners in June of 2010. Sentencing guidelines for the charges - three counts of perjury and obstruction of justice - were 21 to 27 months. Judges have the right to depart from those guidelines, and U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow did so, doubling the potential sentence.

The former Chicago cop made an emotional plea to Judge Lefkow during the two day sentencing hearing.

"I'm not a perfect person," Burge told the judge, "but I'm not the person portrayed in the media."

"The claim that I'm racist deeply disturbs me," he went on to say. Race had no bearing on his dedication to police work, and the suggestion that he was on a "mission to frame innocent people, nothing could be further from the truth," Burge said.

While Burge told Lefkow he's "deeply sorry" his case had harmed the police department's reputation, he stopped short of admitting any guilt. To this day, Burge denies ever torturing or allowing the torture of any suspects while he was a police commander in the 1970s and 80s.

Finally, his voice choking with emotion, Burge said, "I'm 63. I try to keep a proud face. In reality I'm a broken man."

Judge Lefko then told Burge she did not believe him, and that his behavior demonstrated a serious lack of respect for the due process of law. She said the entire Burge saga was due to a dismal lack of leadership in the police department and by extension, local and federal prosecutors who did nothing about it.

After the sentence was handed down, prosecutors expressed satisfaction, while alleged victims hoped to see more charges against officers they say were accomplices to torture.

"Mr. Burge got a smack on the wrist. And what I'm so really interested in seeing today is to see if the U.S. District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald hold true to his word and indict additional officers that played roles with Jon Burge," said former prisoner Mark Clements, with tears streaming down his face.

"I thought the judge's decision was wonderful and a tremendous message. What she called the abysmal leadership of this city," said Flint Taylor, civil rights attorney. "This is a significant step in the process to bring some justice to all of those people who were tortured."

The government was pleased with the sentence but said the investigation is not over.

"Justice was delayed in this case. And what happened never should have happened and justice should have come sooner, but justice delayed isn't justice completely denied. It is important that justice was accomplished," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Burge's attorney, Rick Beuke, said his client is innocent.

"I don't think a day in jail for Jon Burge is just," said Beuke.

Lefko said she tried to figure why Burge did what he did years ago and she said she could only concur that it was ambition unchecked by the higher ups. She said the ex-cop had demonstrated a serious lack of respect for the due process of law along with an unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in the face of all the evidence.

During the hearing, the judge heard from alleged torture victims as well as members of Burge's family.

"I still have nightmares," alleged victim Anthony Holmes told Judge Lefkow on Thursday, the first day of the sentencing hearing. "I wake up in a cold sweat."

In their plea for a lenient sentence, his family and friends described Burge as a man's man, a cop's cop, married to the job he loved. They said he was gracious, caring, funny and colorblind.

Burge's older brother Jeff on the stand Friday called his brother "demanding" and "fair." He said Jon Burge had been "tried and convicted in the press and has already served many years."

Referring to his brother's many health maladies, including prostate cancer and heart problems, Jeff Burge said, "almost any sentence will be a death sentence. I don't want to see him die in prison."

Others, however, said Burge's sentence was light.

"Burge gets four years, five years and he goes home. That's not right. My brother spent 16 years on Death Row for something he didn't do," said Robin Hobley, Madison Hobley's sister.

Sergio Acosta, who helped oversee the Burge investigation when he was in the U.S. Attorney's office, said the case must send a message to today's police officers

"Good police officers who observe this type of conduct taking place - that they not be quiet," said Acosta.

Burge will begin serving his sentence on March 16.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.