Alleged torture victim to be freed

March 16, 2011 8:40:11 PM PDT
Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge reported to federal prison Wednesday for lying about police torture. Thursday, a man who says he was tortured into a murder confession will be released after spending 25 years in prison.

Eric Caine was sentenced to life in prison, but Wednesday, a Cook County judge ordered him released.

While Caine says police beat him to get him to confess, he never came in direct contact with Jon Burge. But Burge was involved in his case. It involved the murders of two elderly people on the South Side.

Caine's confession was the only evidence linking him to the crime, and with nothing else to go on, prosecutors dropped their case Wednesday and the judge ordered Caine set free.

"Prison's a terrible place for everybody, but is particular bad for those persons who are not supposed to be there," said Russell Ainsworth, Caine's attorney.

Yet Caine has been in prison for 25 years, sentenced to life in prison for the murders to two elderly neighbors Vincent and Rafaela Sanchez at their home at 89th and Burleigh back in 1986.

"We've always known he was innocent and couldn't understand why such a thing would happen to him. We just stayed prayerful," said Tonisha Lockett, Caine's cousin.

Caine's attorney said the only evidence prosecutors had at the time was a confession that Ainsworth signed. That and he was implicated by another man convicted in the same crime, Aaron Patterson, who was sentenced to death but pardoned by former Governor George Ryan.

Patterson's confession was allegedly coerced by former police lieutenant Burge. Coincidently, Burge reported to federal prison Wednesday for lying about the torture of murder suspects.

While attorneys have been working on his exoneration for years, Caine's case never got as much attention as some others.

"Because he was sentenced to life and not death, his cause wasn't championed and it wasn't presented to Gov. Ryan," said Ainsworth.

His attorneys say Caine has been a model prisoner. Just 21 when he was convicted, he has spent just about his entire adult life behind bars. They expect freedom will be a difficult adjustment.

"I don't think there's anything that can really prepare you for facing life after innocence," said Ainsworth.

The judge's order came as a bit of a surprise to everyone Wednesday. But it was too late in the afternoon for Caine's attorneys to be allowed to talk to him in the prison. He is set to be released from the Menard prison Thursday afternoon.