CROOKED CITY

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Bill Aims to Balance Controversial Torture Commission

There's more smoke in the cockpit of the Illinois Torture Commission. A bill has been introduced to add a member advocating for victims' rights to the commission, which has been under fire from the families of murder victims for violating their own rules. 

Recently, the former head of the commission, Dave Thomas, resigned in the wake of accusations of incompetence and bias. From the Trib:

"The bill, among other changes, would add a ninth commissioner who would represent crime victims; have the governor — instead of the commission — appoint the executive director; and allow a victim to appeal a commission finding to the Cook County chief judge if the commission did not properly follow victim notification rules.

Among Radogno’s constituents is Jerry Heinrich, a critic of the commission over its handling of the Jerry Mahaffey case. Heinrich is the brother of JoEllen Pueschel, who together with her husband Dean was slain in 1983 in their Rogers Park apartment, while their son was beaten. Family members were angry that the commission did not notify them when considering the Mahaffey case, as required by law. Members of the commission said the omission was an error. Jerry Mahaffey and his brother Reginald are serving life sentences for the double murder."

Just a short time ago, a judge threw out a case in which a convicted killer, Shawn Whirl, claimed he was abused by a detective who once worked with former police commander Jon Burge:

But Whirl, now 44, “needs to be credible in order to sustain his burden in this case,” Judge Jorge Alonso said before announcing his decision Thursday.

Whirl, who is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence, confessed to the 1990 murder of cabbie Billy G. Williams and stayed silent about being beaten by Pienta for nearly two decades, Alonso noted.

Moreover, Whirl recently spoke about having his mouth smothered by a potato chip bag but had never talked about it before, the judge said.

Whirl also changed his stories about how he was hurt and whether Pienta was alone in the interrogation room, Alonso said.

He also said he was wearing red sweatpants when he was questioned when they were actually light blue, the judge said.

Alonso discussed at length the “atrocities” that happened at Area 2 under disgraced former Cmdr. Jon Burge.

While Burge didn’t “invent police torture,” he had since left Area 2 when Whirl was arrested, Alonso pointed out.

Whirl’s attorney G. Flint Taylor said he will appeal the ruling.

“We’re very disappointed. We thought we had a strong case,” the defense attorney said following the short hearing. Pienta was a Burge protégé, Taylor said.

Apparently, the inconsistencies cited by the Judge, including the fact that Burge didn't even work in the unit at the time Whirl claimed he was tortured, were not apparent to the commission, which reviewed Whirl's claims and:

...issued decisions finding that inmates Darryl Christian, Shawn Whirl and George Ellis Anderson were tortured into confessing to murders.

The commission’s responsibility isn’t to decide whether the inmates are innocent, but whether their convictions or guilty pleas stemmed from confessions under torture.

Again, one has to wonder, why were these inconsistencies, all of which point to a legal Hail Mary by a convicted killer, clear to the judge, but not the commission?  

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