Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission names new interim director

October 1, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The torture board-- as it has become known-- is controversial even in deciding who will run it. The old executive director was ousted for mishandling family members of murder victims, while the new director appointed late Tuesday afternoon is only temporary and board members were split about whether to hire him.

As board members bicker over administrative matters, murder cases stained by police torture are sidelined, while allegations of politics seep into all of it.

"The members of the commission and the makeup of the commission should be looked at," said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has been a critic of board appointees since Governor Quinn established the commission three years ago. Board members are to "fairly and impartially" investigate claims by any person who alleges they were tortured into making a false confession that resulted in conviction.

"You wonder whether or not everyone on that committee clearly is unbiased and there doesn't seem to be any representation on behalf of victims and I really do think it should be looked at," said Alvarez.

The I-Team has looked. According to 138 pages of board applications we obtained under freedom of information laws, most of the board members have worked on behalf of criminal defendants claiming torture, not as prosecutors or victim advocates.

"For the governor to say it's a fair and balanced commission, it's not accurate. Maybe he intended it to be that way, maybe he tried. This commission should not be able to continue until changes have been made," said Joe Heinrich, victim's relative.

Heinrich's sister and brother in law were murdered and now one of the killers is before the board claiming torture. Despite commissioner's backgrounds, the governor and those he has appointed say they are fair and unbaised in handling all cases. Commissioner Len Cavise, a Depaul law professor and human rights advocate says the critics are wrong.

"I think it's an excellent commission, it's well balanced, too. We have law professors who are ordinarily impartial, we have a prosecutor, we have community people who are not associated with criminal defense matters and then we have a couple people who are more criminal defense oriented. I think our deliberations are what is important," said Len Cavise, board member.

The interim director James Sledge is also an attorney who says he has handled administrative work in human rights cases. He has been with the CTA, city and state government and was a prosecutor handling misdemeanor cases. Sledge has been out of work since May due to a medical condition, but late Tuesday he was brought on for the next two months as executive director of the torture board.

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