Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why Didn't Daley Prosecute Burge?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    While we’re celebrating torturer Jon Burge’s conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice, we should also be asking a question that was first raised by the Chicago Reader’s John Conroy in the series of articles that exposed Burge’s misconduct: Why didn’t Mayor Daley do anything to stop Burge?

    Daley was Cook County State’s Attorney throughout the 1980s, when Burge was running his gulag in Area Two, yet he never prosecuted Burge, despite receiving a letter from a doctor who examined torture victim Andrew Wilson. Daley claimed it was because Wilson’s court-appointed attorney refused to cooperate. Also, Wilson killed two cops, and going to bat for a guy like that will probably not endear a politically ambitious prosecutor to the voters.

    “Daley’s office had been told on numerous occasions that Burge and some of the detectives under his command were torturing suspects,” Conroy wrote. “It had been put on notice by the Wilson case, by defense attorney Earl Washington’s public claims about the use of the ‘black box,’ by repeated testimony linking a small number of detectives with unusual methods … None of this prompted an investigation.”

    This indifference, of course, later cost the city that Daley now oversees $19.8 million in settlements to Burge’s victims. It also contributed to the end of capital punishment in Illinois. Daley’s fellow state’s attorneys can’t be happy about that: the death penalty is a useful prosecutorial tool, at least for threatening defendants into a plea bargain.

    Daley’s failure to investigate Burge also brings up the larger question of why Chicago always has to depend on the U.S. Attorney’s office to bring its worst public malefactors to justice. Burge, George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Conrad Black, and Daley’s patronage chief, Robert Sorich, were all brought down by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. There are rewards to being so embedded in a political system that you can’t see its faults. Daley is now the mayor. But its obvious that, more than most cities, Chicago needs an outsider to point out its faults.