A City Descends Into Madness
It began in 1983.
A sergeant working the south side of Chicago was flagged down by a man. The man, Cedric Mahaffey, told the sergeant he had information about a double murder that had occurred in Rogers Park on the north side of the city a few days earlier. In response, the sergeant called Area 2 detectives, who came out and interviewed Mahaffey.
Mahaffey told them that his two brothers, Reginald and Jerry, were responsible for the killing of a couple and the attempted murder of their son in the course of a home invasion, a crime that had shocked the entire city. Cedric stated that some of the loot taken by Reginald and Jerry from the home included firearms.
Skeptical that Cedric was lying, the south side detectives called the north side investigators and got specific information on the weapons, which included a handgun, a shotgun, and a rifle.
Sure enough, when the detectives asked Cedric to describe the weapons, his description matched that of the stolen weapons exactly. The detectives now knew that Cedric was likely telling the truth.
The detectives went to one residence and took one Mahaffey brother in custody, then to another. At each location, they obtained loot taken from the home of the victims, including a videotape of the Pueschel’s wedding. Both men openly admitted to the crimes. They also confessed to the crimes in front of a prosecutor and told the prosecutor that they had been well treated by the detectives.
In one revealing moment while the Mahaffeys were in custody, one of the brothers told detectives, “Here, you might as well take this, too” and he pulled a ring off his finger, telling them that they had stolen that as well.
Detectives slowly pieced together the horrifying narrative of what happened that night, based in large part on the confession provided by the Mahaffey brothers.
Jerry and Reginald Mahaffey had traveled from the south side in a friend’s beat-up van, planning the burglary of a store at Howard and Western. When they arrived early in the morning, there was a police car parked in the lot, so they abandoned their plan.
They decided on a possible home burglary and headed down the alley on the 2500 block of Jerome, near the border of Evanston. Their van broke down, so they got out and began to walk. They spotted a bedroom window of an apartment open. Here was their opportunity.
The Pueschel family was inside, sleeping. They had packed many of their belongings in boxes. They were moving into an apartment in Skokie.
Reginald and Jerry entered the room of 11-year-old Ricky Pueschel. One of the Mahaffeys placed him in a chokehold and covered his mouth and nose. Jerry then stabbed Ricky repeatedly. Ricky passed out.
Ricky was a baseball fan and there were several bats in his room. Reginald Mahaffey found one and began beating Ricky with it. The Mahaffeys figured Ricky was dead.
The Mahaffeys entered the other bedroom where Jo Ellen and Dean Pueschel were sleeping. They both struck Dean Pueschel repeatedly with the bat in the head. Jo Ellen awoke.
The brothers took her into the kitchen.
Is it even necessary to mention what these two monsters did then?
It is, because it helps to understand the nature of the people now involved in the case and what is happening in it.
The brothers raped Jo Ellen repeatedly, in different manners.
It turns out the Mahaffeys had not killed Ricky Pueschel. He woke up and walked out into the apartment. Ricky would eventually witness the Mahaffeys murder his mother after she begged for their lives. Then they beat Ricky again, thinking once again that they had killed him. The brothers left in a car they stole from the Pueschels, a car packed with guns, jewelry and other items they stole from the apartment.
Later that day, around eight am, Ricky’s grandparents became alarmed when he was not dropped off at their house. The grandfather drove over to the apartment. There he found Ricky walking around the alley, covered in blood and disoriented. Ricky was rushed to St. Frances Hospital. He survived and testified in court against the Mahaffeys. He would eventually lead a distinguished career in law enforcement.
In 1984, while awaiting trial, the Mahaffey brothers staged one of the most daring escapes in the history of the Cook County Jail. They convinced a paramedic to smuggle a gun into the facility, taking a corrections officer hostage. They opened up the cells of other inmates, many of whom joined them. They were recaptured.
Ultimately they were convicted and sentenced to death. It was an open-and-shut case. The brothers repeatedly admitted they had conducted the murders. Their own brother had turned them in. They confessed to a state’s attorney, said no one had treated them badly. The property taken from the Pueschels was found in both their apartments, including the weapons. The viciousness of the crime indicated their true criminal depravity. Ricky Pueschel also identified the Mahaffeys in open court.
But in the years that the Mahaffeys were in prison, there was a steady breakdown in the criminal justice system. Convicted murderers were suddenly able to obtain exonerations from prison, sometimes even without any new evidence. These exonerations were based on claims that the offenders were tortured into confessing to crimes. Not only were these inmates able to obtain exonerations, they were able to garner settlements from the city, making themselves millionaires.
The allegations of torture were leveled mostly against former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his men from Area 2 on the south side of Chicago. These men were portrayed as racist thugs, willing to torture African American men for murder confessions.
For a long time these allegations were held indisputable in the city. A sign that these claims had become part of the official narrative of the city’s criminal justice system was the creation of The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC), a commission formed specifically to review allegations of torture against Burge and his men. There is now a bill on the fast track that would expand TIRC’s jurisdiction beyond Burge cases.
The Mahaffey case fell into this category because their arrest was handled by detectives who had worked for Burge.
But times are changing.
Many wrongful conviction cases are falling apart under renewed legal scrutiny, none more so than the Anthony Porter exoneration. Porter was exonerated in 1999 for a 1982 double homicide after members of Northwestern University’s Innocence Project, headed by former professor David Protess, obtained a bizarre confession from another man, Alstory Simon. It was Simon’s confession that allowed Porter to go free. Simon was sentenced to 37 years in prison.
Last year, the Porter exoneration and the Simon conviction imploded amidst allegations of illegal activity by Protess and his sidekick private investigator Paul Ciolino. In response, Simon was released from prison after prosecutors reviewed Northwestern’s conduct in the case. Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez tossed the conviction and assailed Protess and Ciolino for violating Simon’s rights by coercing a confession from him.
From the Tribune:
“The bottom line is the investigation conducted by Protess and private investigator Ciolino as well as the subsequent legal representation of Mr. Simon were so flawed that it's clear the constitutional rights of Mr. Simon were not scrupulously protected as our law requires," said Alvarez, who indicated she would have considered obstruction of justice or witness intimidation charges if the statute of limitations hadn't run out.
But it is not just the Porter case. Several other exonerations have been rejected in the courts, and there is ample evidence of bribery, obstruction of justice, and witness intimidation and other malfeasance in other cases. This evidence of corruption by wrongful conviction lawyers and activists is emerging even in the central cases involving Burge and his men.
This evidence casts a dark shadow on the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission.
Here is why.
One strategy employed by wrongful conviction activists—one that was used in the Porter case—is employing an intense public relations campaign in the media to undermine court decisions on murder cases.
The record now reveals, for example, that there was never any real evidence of Porter’s innocence or Simon’s guilt, but wrongful conviction activists like Protess and his media allies engaged in a massive media campaign to intimidate officials into letting Porter go and arresting Simon, based on their trumped-up evidence.
More and more, TIRC seems a manifestation of this same strategy. Unable to get the courts to reject cases like the Mahaffeys’, wrongful conviction lawyers and academics demanded the creation of this commission, which now rubber stamps claims of wrongful conviction, regardless of what the courts have determined.
In doing so, the commission seems little more than a front for the wrongful conviction movement, a clear example of the movement’s willingness to circumvent the rules of evidence in an effort to undermine the legal system and attack police and prosecutors.
Consider, for example, the fact that the courts have ruled time and again on the Mahaffey case and bolstered their conviction for the murders, including their confessions. Despite the police investigation, the prosecutors, the trials, and the appeals, TIRC announced last year there is now credible evidence that Jerry Mahaffey was tortured. At one point, the commission voted for an evidentiary hearing that could lead to a new trial.
A new trial?
One wonders: What is it exactly that this commission sees that so many court proceedings painstakingly reviewing the evidence could not? There was so much evidence recovered from the Mahaffeys. There were their repeated confessions, the fact that their own brother turned them in. There was all the property belonging to the Pueschels recovered from both brothers, including the guns.
More so, why would the detectives risk giving these two monsters a defense by torturing them?
The Mahaffeys attempted their torture allegations in the course of their criminal trials. They were rejected. Why does TIRC see validity in them, and, equally important, by what authority, by what standard of evidence and justice?
In fact, the Mahaffeys’ torture allegations are as much evidence of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement as they are any legitimate claim against the detectives. Their crimes took place in 1983, a year after Anthony Porter’s. Several inmates have stated under oath that encouraging inmates to claim torture, particularly from arrests that took place in Area 2, was commonplace in the prison system. In 1992, Porter got into a fight with Jerry Mahaffey when they were at the Menard prison. In 1993, also at Menard, the corrections officers were taking Porter out of his cell when Jerry Mahaffey threw his mirror at the corrections officers. Porter and Mahaffey were clearly housed close to each other.
When inmates saw Porter walking free out of death row, many believed they could do the same thing. All they had to do was claim torture.
And who are the members of TIRC? A collection of impartial investigators, a fair balance including representatives from law enforcement, like a retired detective?
Overwhelmingly, they are the lawyers, politicians, and academics with a long record supporting wrongful conviction claims, even claims that have been shown to be thoroughly corrupt, like the Porter case.
Consider, for example, commission member Rob Warden, who recently retired from Northwestern University’s Law School.
Warden is an icon in the wrongful conviction movement. During his tenure at Northwestern, the school fought for the release of more than a dozen inmates, often claiming they were the victims of police coercion.
Protesss, the man who coerced Alstory Simon into confessing in order to get Anthony Porter out of prison, is an old associate of Warden. The two have worked together on cases and have written two books together. Warden has described his relationship with Protess as “almost like a marriage.”
Members of Warden’s Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University spoke in favor of Jerry Mahaffey at a clemency hearing.
But what is so troubling about the Porter case is the fact that Warden was presented time and again with the evidence that Porter’s exoneration was a sham. He ignored this evidence, leaving Simon in prison, and all the while he worked on other cases claiming wrongful conviction, including the Mahaffeys.
As long as two years ago, Warden was confronted with the evidence by former Tribune reporter Bill Crawford on a local radio program. Rather than address the evidence, Warden assailed Crawford’s intentions and character. Nevertheless, Crawford’s allegations about the Porter debacle proved true when the state’s attorney set Alstory Simon free from prison.
The presence of Rob Warden on this commission in the wake of all the evidence of corruption at Northwestern categorically undermines any credibility this commission could claim.
It’s not just Warden, though.
The other members of TIRC seem all too willing to point out allegations of criminal activity by Jon Burge and his men, but seem altogether unwilling to acknowledge the growing body of evidence pointing to corruption in the wrongful conviction movement, evidence every bit as evil as that posited against the Chicago Police. Much of this evidence is far more compelling than the vague insinuations of torture leveled in the Mahaffey case.
One would be hard pressed to find any member of TIRC who spoke up about the evidence of corruption in the Porter case, including the wrongful conviction of Alstory Simon.
The family members of victims know all too well the connection between the commission and the law firms that have become rich suing Chicago over supposed wrongful convictions.
Joe Heinrich, brother of victim Jo Ellen Pueschel confronted the commission on this sinister alliance:
Before being appointed to this Board, many commissioners were already involved in Burge-related issues and have already decided that any person interrogated by him or those under him should go free. Some commissioners have written articles, some have added their support and names to court documents favoring the defendants, one founded an organization to investigate and sue police officers, and another runs an organization that has investigated many of the cases this commission has and will consider. Just last Friday, Governor Quinn announced that he wants to add a defense attorney who works for a law firm that has been involved in Burge-related court proceedings and a priest who has been arrested and sued police officers.
Yet, you have the audacity to post the following statement on your website: “The State of Illinois and Governor Pat Quinn are committed to fairly and impartially investigating a claim by any person who alleges that he or she has been tortured…” Additionally, “This website will give you information about our mission to provide a neutral forum to investigate and determine the credibility of such claims…”
Fair? Impartial? Neutral? Am I missing something here? Or is this just the way we do business at the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission? I don’t think there is another public body in this State more in need of reform and a total overhaul than this one.
The people who are truly tortured in Chicago are the family of murder victims.
Once assured that the Mahaffeys would be executed, they now attend TIRC meetings religiously and monitor the group’s actions carefully, dreading the possibility that the Mahaffeys might one day be set free.
The Heinrich and Pueschel families have fought a lonely battle, and they’ve uncovered a vast body of illegal actions by the TIRC, actions that have compelled several public officials to question the very existence of the commission.
In one example, the commission was obligated by law to notify family members of victims that the commission is reviewing a murder case. The Pueschel and Heinrich families were never notified about the review of Jerry Mahaffey’s case. In fact, they only heard about it when a reporter called to ask them about it. Talk about a living nightmare, not even being told that the commission was taking up the case of men who raped and murdered their family members.
The family then discovered the commission had not notified several other families in other cases. In fact, the commission never bothered to notify most of them.
Officials lashed out at the commission in response to their own lawbreaking, describing TIRC more as a renegade mob than a state commission with a clear mandate and authority:
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has written a scathing letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, saying the state board that looks into police torture allegations has acted illegally.
“There’s no oversight to this commission. I don’t know who they report to, if anybody. I don’t think anybody’s watching or vetting what they’re doing,” she said.
And it’s not just their actions that are illegal.
There was an event last year that was particularly illuminating about the character, integrity and intent of not just the commission, but the entire wrongful conviction movement.
It is the arrogance, the almost childlike self indulgence that permeates the movement and demands that even their most ludicrous claims, like those in the Mahaffey case, hold merit, merely because they say they do. TIRC gives these people such authority, and they are clearly giddy over it.
In a recorded meeting, the former head of the commission, attorney Dave Thomas, brought up the Mahaffey case. As he did so, he could be heard laughing.
Here is what Joe Heinrich, whose sister was raped and murdered by the Mahaffey in front of her own son, had to say to the commission about the recording:
I listened to the audio tape from your July 17th meeting where Dave Thomas (former head of the commission) is clearly heard snickering and giggling as he presented the Jerry Mahaffey case to this Commission. I have that audio here today for anyone to hear. I am having a very difficult time trying to figure out what was so funny about what Jerry Mahaffey did to JoEllen, Dean and Rick. Was it the rape? The beatings? The stabbings? Or was Thomas just acting like a child, giggling with excitement and a sense of delight that this case was being heard? Or is he just an insensitive and callous human being who couldn’t care less about what Jerry Mahaffey did to my family? Where was the adult in the room?
If we had been there on July 17th he would not have laughed. But we weren’t there, were we? And at that meeting all of you sat on your hands and heard him laugh and you said nothing. To tolerate it is to condone it.
The Mahaffey murders took place in 1983. It has been a living nightmare for the family members of the victims ever since. They have been lied to every step of the way by one crooked politician after another, and they have watched the formation of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission.
They have watched the commission break their own laws in an effort to free killers like the Mahaffeys, and they’ve heard the commission members laughing as they did so.
It’s a laugh that is becoming all too familiar in Chicago, one that comes from some distant corner of hell, given life and form only in the most Crooked City.