Stanley Wrice, alleged police torture victim, will not be retried in 1982 rape

December 12, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Stanley Wrice will not face a retrial on rape charges. Wrice talked about a source of inspiration during his decades in prison.

Over his many years in prison, Stanley Wrice would sing the gospel song, "Oh Lord, I'm still waiting." He sang it Wednesday to fellow inmates before his release from prison after nearly 31 years behind bars, and he sang it again Thursday morning at reporters' request after an important court hearing.

This was the hearing at which Wrice would learn whether a special prosecutor would seek to retry him on a 1982 rape charge. The hearing lasted 30 seconds. Prosecutors - who would not comment on camera - said that because of recantations and the unavailability of witnesses, the charges should be dropped. The judge said case dismissed.

Stanley Wrice, age 59, starts over now, having spent Wednesday with a daughter who was 1 when he went to prison, and later - privately - with six grandkids he'd not met. He'll be working with the Chicago Innocence Project and hopes to be part of a prison ministry that may take him back inside Pontiac.

"It wouldn't be hard to go back knowing that there's other brothers I could help out, you know, reach or encourage or whatever. I want to do something positive now that could help other brothers," Wrice said.

Wrice won his freedom after years of arguing that his confession was the product of police torture - by detectives under the command of Jon Burge. His attorneys confirmed Thursday that Wrice will sue the city, as have others from the Burge era. For now though, Stanley Wrice looks ahead without forgetting the past.

Stanley Wrice's attorneys will now attempt to get what's called a "certificate of innocence." The judge who dismissed the charges stopped short of declaring Wrice "actually innocent." And prosecutors may challenge Wrice's effort. If, however, he succeeds, the state would pay him an established amount - $200,000 for wrongful imprisonment. That's apart from the civil suit, which would follow.

"It's just an overwhelming feeling of joy, happiness that finally it's over," said Wrice, who was greeted by his two daughters, his attorneys, and other supporters. He wore sweat pants, a dark jacket and baseball cap and carried a cardboard box filled with letters, photographs and legal papers - all of his possessions after three decades in prison.

Wrice, who was sentenced to 100 years behind bars for a 1982 sexual assault, is among more than two dozen inmates - most of them black men - who have alleged they were tortured by officers under the command of disgraced former Chicago police Lt. Burge in a scandal that gave the nation's third-largest city a reputation as haven for rogue cops and helped lead to the clearing of Illinois' death row. Some of the prisoners have been freed; some are still behind bars, hoping to get the kind of hearing that Wrice got that eventually led to his freedom.

Wrice's case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court before he got that hearing. But it marked a major victory for other inmates and former inmates, because the courts said that no matter what other evidence authorities have against a defendant, a coerced confession could never be dismissed as "harmless error." That means that if such a ruling is made, a case must return to the trial court, as was Wrice's, for a hearing.

In ordering Wrice set free and granting him a new trial, Judge Richard Walsh said Tuesday that two officers had "lied" about the way they'd treated Wrice, who testified that the officers beat him with a flashlight and a 20-inch piece of rubber. A witness testified that he, too, was beaten by the same officers until he agreed to give false testimony against Wrice at trial.

Wrice's case also may play a role in one in which defense attorneys are preparing to argue next week that a judge should certify inmates with claims of torture as a class so they can proceed with a class-action lawsuit. If the judge certifies the class, that would also trigger hearings for many of the inmates, according to attorney Locke Bowman and his co-counsel, Flint Taylor.

The city has already paid more than $80 million over the years in torture cases, but the total could rise significantly with a class-action lawsuit.

One of Taylor's clients is former prisoner Darrell Cannon, who claims he was tortured by the same two detectives who Wrice says beat him.

"They tortured him after they tortured Wrice," said Taylor, who said he was rushing to file a transcript of the judge's comments in Wrice's case into the court file in Cannon's case.

Dozens of men have claimed that, starting in the 1970s, Burge and his officers beat, shocked and suffocated into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder. The allegations of torture eventually helped prompt a moratorium on Illinois' death penalty, which was later abolished in Illinois. They also earned Chicago a reputation as a place where police could abuse suspects without notice or punishment.

No Chicago police officers were ever convicted of torturing suspects, but Burge is serving a 4 1/2-year sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in a civil suit when he said he'd never witnessed or participated in the torture of suspects.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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