SUPPORTERS OF Stanley Wrice rejoiced and celebrated on December 11 when he walked out of Pontiac Correctional Center south of Chicago after more than 30 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Wrice has been fighting for his freedom all that time, maintaining that he was another victim of the Chicago police torturers commanded by former Lt. Jon Burge--who is now serving time in prison himself in connection with the torture ring he commanded.
Wrice was arrested on September 9, 1982, in connection with a sexual assault. At Area Two police headquarters, he was beaten with a flashlight and 20-inch piece of rubber until he made the confession the cops wanted him to. He was found guilty and sentenced to 100 years in prison for rape, deviate sexual assault and other charges--along with several other Chicago men who have all since been released.
Wrice and his lawyers have always had evidence from medical reports to show that he was tortured. Two of the witnesses who testified against Wrice at his original trial have now come forward to reveal that when they were questioned by police, they themselves were tortured and forced to implicate Wrice. This was not uncommon in Burge-related cases--people agreeing to finger others in order to stop from being tortured themselves.
But judge after judge turned down Wrice's claims, finding procedural grounds to block him from having a new day in court to show he was innocent.
That finally changed when the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the original trial court to reconsider the conviction. On Tuesday, December 10, Judge Richard Walsh ruled that two Chicago police officers lied about how they treated Wrice and his confession--and ordered him released on bond pending a new trial. Prosecutors could still make Wrice a defendant in a new trial, but it's less likely now.
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WEDNESDAY STARTED a new chapter in Wrice's life as he walked free from a prison into the arms of one of his daughters, Gail Lewis, who was 1 year old when her father went to prison.
The day before, Lewis was all smiles outside the courtroom where her father was granted a $5,000 recognizance bond. At a news conference inside the Cook County court building, she cheered that her dad would finally be a part of her life on the outside world.
Wrice told me in a letter in September and told me in a telephone conversation that he had faith he would walk out of prison, and that he wanted to have a meaningful life in the society where his name has been tarnished by the actions of police and prosecutors. He acknowledged that without several Chicago organizations such as the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression fighting for his release, he would not have an effective voice outside of the courtroom.
I was locked up with Stanley Wrice and watched him suffer. When I was released myself, I became dedicated to his fight, spreading the word and educating as many people as would listen about this case.
Men like Wrice are still serving time in prison because they were tortured by Burge and his men in Area Two and Three police headquarters. Like so many others, all of them African American and Latino, Wrice was beaten and subjected to racist and degrading verbal abuse.
The first known act of torture by Burge and his subordinates came in 1972. Burge was finally suspended in 1991 and fired in 1993 after allegations that Burge ordered his to Andrew and Jackie Wilson, two brothers from the South Side of Chicago who had been accused of killing two police officers.
For a long time, Burge's firing was the only outcome of the torture scandal, as the statute of limitations expired on criminal charges being filed against him and other officers. In July 2006, a Cook County special prosecutor's report concluded that Burge and his detectives had committed torture, but not could be charged with any crime.
In 2008, Burge was charged by a federal prosecutor with perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the torture right in a federal lawsuit. Burge was convicted and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in a federal prison on these charges--while some of his victims continued to endure long prison terms.
In February 2011, the Chicago Police Pension Fund board voted 5-4 to allow Burge to keep his pension despite being sent to prison for carrying out torture of suspects. So Burge is sitting behind prison walls today, collecting money from the taxpayers, while his victims suffer behind bars.
No one knows better than I do how it feels to be wrongly locked up for decades. I was sent into the Illinois Department of Corrections at age 16 for 28 years of my life. I experienced similar abuse to Stanley Wrice while I was questioned at Area Three headquarters. No one believed us--until the evidence of torture couldn't be denied.
Today, there are police, prosecutors and judges who have been promoted because of these cases, and they continue to insist that torture did not occur, despite numerous city and county investigations that show it did.
But for Stanley Wrice, he will begin a new life. When he entered prison, cigarettes were $1 a pack, pops were 25 cent, and a person could go to the movies all day long for 75 cents or $1.50. Times have changed--and we all must dedicate our time and support to Stanley Wrice and all the innocent men and women who were put in prison by an unjust system.