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Court upholds conviction of ex-police commander

Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 10:33 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, April 1, 2013 11:52 p.m. CST

CHICAGO – A federal appellate court on Monday upheld the 2010 conviction of a former Chicago police commander – whose name became synonymous in the city with out-of-control police – for lying about the torture of suspects.

Jurors at Jon Burge's trial "heard overwhelming evidence" he lied about officers shocking and suffocating detainees in the '70s and '80s to secure confessions, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

"Overall, we conclude that no errors were committed by the court and Burge received a fair trial," the unanimous opinion from the three-judge panel in Chicago said.

Dozens of people, almost all of them black men, claimed for decades that Burge and his officers tortured them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.

Burge, 65, is currently serving a 4 ½-year sentence at a federal prison in North Carolina. A message seeking comment on Monday from one of Burge's attorneys, Richard Beuke, was not immediately returned.

In its 23-page opinion, the appellate court rejected a series of often technical defense arguments, including that on one occasion when Burge allegedly lied, he hadn't been given a formal oath.

"He signed his name below the oath in the presence of the notary," the court said about that instance, "and so no more formality was needed."

As accusations swirled around him, Burge was fired in 1992. But because of the statute of limitations, he was never charged criminally for abuse.

Federal prosecutors eventually did charge him with obstruction of justice and perjury for lying during testimony in a civil lawsuit brought by Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death for a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son.

Then-Gov. George Ryan pardoned Hobley just before the governor emptied death row, and cited the Burge allegations for doubting some convictions.

Hobley claimed detectives put a plastic typewriter cover over his head to make it impossible for him to breathe. The indictment against Burge never said Hobley was tortured but accused Burge of lying about participating in or knowing about torture that took place under his watch.

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