Court: Coerced confession is 'never harmless'

This undated photo provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections shows inmate Stanley Wrice. (AP Photo/Illinois Department of Corrections)

February 2, 2012 3:22:05 PM PST
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning that a man who claimed Chicago police tortured him into confessing to a rape should have a new evidentiary hearing.

The court handed down the order on Thursday. Stanley Wrice, 57, was one of three men convicted in the brutal rape, beating and burning of a woman at a South Shore home in 1983. Wrice confessed to the crime, but said police under former Chicago commander Jon Burge beat him and coerced him into a confession.

Wrice is serving a 100-year prison sentence in the case.

Prosecutors had argued that even if Wrice's confession was coerced, it was a so-called "harmless error" because there was enough other evidence to convict. But on Thursday the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed, saying that, "using a defendant's physically coerced confession. . . is never harmless."

"The Supreme Court of Illinois did a very brave and bold thing today by making sure everybody understands you cannot use a confession coerced by police brutality in Illinois," said former governor Jim Thompson.

Thompson and other former prosecutors, defense lawyers, and politicians had weighed in on the issue in part because of the Wrice case, but also because there are similar claims by 14 other men alleging brutality by police officers under Burge's command. They are also imprisoned.

The next step for Wrice is a return to court with evidentiary hearings. If he can convince the judge that his confession was coerced, he will likely get a new trial.

"And in that new trial, the obligation of the state will be to convict him - if it can - without tortured evidence, and if can be reconvicted, so be it. If he can't be, he needs to go free," Prof. Locke Bowman, Roderick McArthur Justice Center, said.

There is no forensic evidence against Wrice, and the two men who testified against him have since recanted. One said, "...none of my testimony implicating Mr. Wrice was truthful." The other said, "Stanley Wrice was never present." Both of those men say they, too, were beaten by police.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said she can't comment on the ruling or consequences for the Wrice case at this time.

It is likely that the 14 other men who allege brutality at the hands of Burge and his officers will pursue the same legal argument as Wrice.