A man who spent 33 years in prison for a double murder he did not commit and who says he was tortured by protégés of former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge is suing the city and the detectives for $66 million.
“No amount of money will constitute ‘justice’ for what the defendants did to Robert Smith (which the system then ignored and covered up for 33 years), but the City could at least help bend the arc of the moral universe in that direction by admitting what these defendants did and compensating Robert for the 33 years of his life that were lost,” attorney Stuart Chanen said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Robert Smith was 39 years old when he was arrested Sept. 19, 1987, for the murder of his wife’s mother, Edith Yeager, and her grandmother, Willie Bell Alexander, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
Officers placed Smith “in a small windowless interrogation room and handcuffed him to a ring on a wall,” the lawsuit states. Then, detectives proceeded to “beat him in the chest,” threaten and choke him.
Smith was interrogated like this for 19 hours and only confessed to the murders “because he believed that he could escape the detectives’ further beatings and that once he was transferred to the hospital, he would be able to show he was beaten into the confession,” the lawsuit states.
Smith was convicted of the double murder in 1990.
Burge was fired by the Chicago Police Department in 1993 and later sent to federal prison for lying about the torture of suspects arrested under his watch in the 1970s and 1980. He died in 2018 at the age of 70.
On Oct. 23, 2020, Cook County special prosecutors moved to vacate Smith’s conviction with prejudice based on questions about the integrity of the police investigation, the lawsuit states.
That day, Smith was released from prison and greeted by his son, whom he had never hugged outside of prison, his attorneys said.
“Although Robert, who is now 72 years old, has finally regained his freedom and has finally received judicial recognition of his innocence, the injuries he suffered as a result of Defendants’ malicious misconduct, including his more than three-decades-long depravation of liberty and isolation from family and society, are profound and immeasurable,” the suit states.
The suit seeks more than $33 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages.