COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Claiming that Chicago police, under the direction of Cmdr. Jon Burge, starved and beat him until he confessed to murder, George Anderson has maintained his innocence from a prison cell for more than 20 years.
Anderson’s story of wrongful conviction is a familiar one in Chicago — dubbed the “capital of false confessions” — except for one thing.
The assistant state's attorney who prosecuted Anderson’s case in 1994 would make history in 2008 as the first woman and first “career prosecutor” ever to be elected Cook County State’s Attorney — Anita Alvarez.
Anderson and his attorney are now trying to get the conviction overturned, and on Thursday a judge ordered a special prosecutor be appointed to defend the county in Anderson's legal efforts to be set free.
Anderson's attorneys are calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor because they say the the state's attorney's office, which normally would handle the case, is “tainted” by Alvarez's prior involvement in the case.
Alvarez's office said she has no conflict or personal interest. It asserted in court filings that "State's Attorney Alvarez stands ready, willing and able to represent the people."
But Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr., said "nothing has changed. The state's attorney's office continues to operate under a conflict of interest."
Court documents said Alvarez will not contest the ruling.
Under a money-saving law passed by last year by Illinois lawmakers, the court must seek out a special prosecutor from other agencies like state's attorney's offices in other counties and the Illinois Attorney General.
Biebel said he plans to report back regarding the search on May 7.
Liskow, Anderson's attorney, called the judge's ruling "the only fair decision for anyone who has claims that they are incarcerated as a result of Burge and his people."
On Aug. 21, 1991, 11-year-old Jeremiah Miggins was killed by a bullet that wasn't intended for him, according to testimony given at Anderson’s trial.
Jeremiah, the son of a South Side minister, and two friends were cleaning a next-door neighbor's Englewood backyard for $3. A stray bullet tore through a fence and hit him in the chest, killing him.
At the time, Chicago was about halfway through a year almost twice as deadly as 2012. In 1991, police recorded 922 homicides, including 121 that August.
Police arrested Anderson on the same day as the shooting.
Over the course of almost three days that followed, he was starved, threatened and beaten until he confessed to Miggins’ murder as well as the murder of a second child, his attorneys allege.
According to court transcripts, Anderson said he refused to talk to police at first and repeatedly asked for a lawyer.
But officers cuffed him, kicked him and left him without food or water.
Michael Kill, one of Burge's detectives accused of "torture and brutality" in a federal lawsuit filed by exonerated Death Row inmate Ronald Kitchen, is among the detectives Anderson names.
Burge long denied knowing about or participating in the torture of suspects. But he was convicted in 2010 of obstruction of justice and perjury for saying, during a civil case, that he didn't know about the abuse. He was sentenced to 4½ years in prison.
When Anderson signed the statement confessing to a role in Miggins’ murder, the torture continued until he agreed to sign a second confession in the murder of 14-year-old Kathryn Myles, who was gunned down a month prior, he alleged.
“They asked me was I ready to talk to them about what happened,” he said, according to court documents. “I told them I didn’t know what they were talking about.”
One of the detectives hit him five or six times with a pipe or rubber hose, Anderson said, and then he was left hanging in a locker room by his handcuffed wrists. “[They] just left me hanging,” he said.
Less than three months after he was transported to the Cook County Jail to await trial, an internal police review board found Burge guilty of systemic abuse, and he was suspended.
The case for Anderson, an Englewood mechanic who was 25 at the time, marched on.
"Think about it, an innocent person, a little boy down the block gets killed and who’s responsible? … It's all of them, every single one of them, including Mr. Anderson," Anita Alvarez told a Cook County judge as part of her closing statements in Anderson’s 1994 bench trial.
"They think they have the right, these gangbangers, to be out there on the streets shooting up the intersection at 12 o'clock on a hot summer afternoon."
Prosecutors had a handwritten statement signed by Anderson that implicated him as the driver in a premeditated shooting.
But according to Samantha Liskow, Anderson’s attorney, the contents of the confessions “are not his words.”
Police used “terrifying tactics, sleep deprivation and food deprivation,” to coerce his confession.
According to his attorney, Anderson continues to relive the torture he allegedly suffered and the resulting murder trial.
“He has trouble sleeping, picturing the scene when he was hanging from his handcuffs and beaten,” Liskow said. “As he stays locked up, George relives this. It would be hard for something like that to fade away, particularly when you are incarcerated based on the tortured and coerced confession.”
It’s also been a lonely road for Anderson’s wife, Roslyn. The two met weeks before Anderson was arrested for the Miggins murder.
Never doubting his innocence, Roslyn, now 57, married Anderson in 2002 at the Menard Correctional Center.
“I said I wouldn’t turn my back,” she said. “[Alvarez] has these peoples’ lives in her hands, and she doesn’t seem to care.”
After his conviction in the Miggins case, Anderson pleaded guilty in Myles’ murder. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.
He was sentenced to life in prison.
But according to a 2012 finding by the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, Anderson’s allegations of torture, along with claims filed by four other men who say their confessions were coerced, merit a new hearing.