Police torture commission boss David Thomas should quit or be ousted, Gov. Quinn says

September 12, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission is a state panel formed to deal with high-profile cases of alleged police torture in Chicago. Quinn's move to oust it's executive director, David Thomas, comes after complaints from victim's loved ones and criticism from a powerful county prosecutor.

On Thursday night, families of murder victims are caught between Illinois politics and high emotion.

Imagine this: your parents or your siblings are murdered. The killers are put in prison. Law says you are supposed to be notified if the convicts file for a change in status. But when that happens, state officials forget to tell you. It isn't imaginary for some Illinois families who say they were not informed, and they blame state officials for the pain and fear that tonight seems complicated by politics.

"We are outraged and we think the people of Illinois would be outraged if they knew what we know," said Joe Heinrich, murder victim's brother.

What Joe Heinrich says he knows started precisely thirty years and two weeks ago, in1983. His sister JoEllen Pueschel and her husband Dean were savagely killed in their West Rogers Park apartment. Son Ricky saw it. The then-11-year old was left for dead, but survived and testified against Jerry Mahaffey and his brother Reginald. Ricky is now 41 years old.

"Without question they are the ones who swung the bats, they are the ones who grabbed the gun, the ones who stabbed the knives. They are the ones who did unthinkable things to my mother," said Rick Pueschel, attack survivor.

Murder-con Jerry Mahaffey claims he was tortured into confessing under the regime of notorious police commander Jon Burge. When Mahaffey asked the new Illinois torture commission to review his case, under state law, the victims' family members were to be notified. But they never were.

"Up to this point, it's been called a lack of due diligence," said Rick Pueschel. "It's well beyond due diligence. It's neglectful, it's immoral, it's illegal."

"The way the commission is set up right now, the deck is stacked against the victims and victims' family," said Jerry Heinrich, murder victim's brother.

Governor Quinn says it is what David Thomas didn't do that warrants his termination. During the commission's review of at least three murder cases, Thomas didn't notify the relatives of victims as required by law.

"Every time we think we are done with this and we can start the healing process it has to start over again. It's a hit in the gut," said Jerry Heinrich, murder victim's brother.

"I was appalled by what I learned because it wasn't just the Heinrich family, there were other families that were not notified of these hearings and so-called findings by the torture commission," said Anita Alvarez, Cook County State's Attorney.

"Anita Alvarez should spend less time protecting the police and more time trying to eliminate torture in the city of Chicago. This has been a stain on our legacy for years," said Len Cavise, torture commission member.

DePaul law professor Len Cavise says the torture commission made a mistake and has apologized and has rescheduled board cases so loved ones may testify.

"There is no prejudice to the victims or victims' families here; we are willing to do everything we can," said Cavise.

"There doesn't seem to be a clear oversight of this commission or a clear understanding by the commission and by all of us involved in the criminal justice system as to what exactly is this commission doing?" said Alvarez.

Alvarez's repeated criticism led to this letter from Governor Quinn obtained Thursday by the I-Team, in which Quinn asks director David Thomas to resign for not following the law requiring family members to be notified.

"For them to come in to a commission that is supposed to be impartial and not biased and you coincidently forget to notify the victims? That doesn't pass the smell test," said Joe Heinrich, murder victim's brother.

In response to Gov. Quinn's request that he step down, David Thomas wrote in an e-mail to the ABC7 I-Team on Thursday: "I will not be stepping down today for all the reasons stated by Prof. Len Cavise in his interview with ABC today. Basically there is no reason to resign: everything possible has been done to remedy those cases where unintentional mistakes were made, and the procedures have been changed to ensure that it doesn't happen again."

Additional information:

ITIRD's next meeting agenda to take place Sept. 25, 2013
ITIRC's case disposition of Jerry Mahaffey which has since been withdrawn
Pueschel and Heinrich families' response to Gov. Quinn
Anita Alvarez's letter to Gov. Pat Quinn
Gov. Pat Quinn's letter to Anita Alvarez

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