Chicago Police Torture Survivor Alonzo Smith Wins a New Evidentiary Hearing!
Today, in an important ruling, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Erica L. Reddick granted Alonzo Smith a new hearing to present evidence that he was tortured by Chicago Police and forced to confess to a crime he did not commit. The night he was tortured, Mr. Smith was left bloodied on the floor, fearing for his life. He eventually relented to the abuse and falsely confessed to the murder and robbery of James Fullilove.
This tortured confession led to his wrongful conviction and incarceration for 20 years. Mr. Smith has steadfastly maintained his innocence and has persistently alleged that he was tortured by Sergeant John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan, members of the now convicted, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s notorious Midnight crew.
January 21, 1983: Tortured Into Confessing
Mr. Smith claimed that on January 21, 1983, he voluntarily traveled to Area 2 Police Headquarters to answer questions about a criminal investigation. Once he was there, he was interviewed by Burge, who threateningly warned him that he would talk “one way or the other” “before the night was over with,” and that they “had ways of making [him] talk.”
Later that evening, Dignan and Byrne took Mr. Smith down to the basement, where he was forced to sit on a swivel chair with his hands cuffed behind his back. Dignan then opened a grey plastic bag and brandished a rubber black night stick. Dignan hit Mr. Smith several times between the legs with the rubber nightstick and Byrne kicked him in the stomach. Both Dignan and Byrne hit Mr. Smith on the palms of his hands and the back of his legs with their nightsticks.
Dignan and Byrne then pulled a plastic bag over Mr. Smith’s head and tightened it with a large rubber band. While the bag was over Mr. Smith’s head, Byrne kicked him in the stomach, and Dignan hit him in the stomach with his nightstick. Dignan and Byrne told him that this was just “round one,” and when Mr. Smith again denied involvement in the crimes, Dignan and Byrne bagged and beat him again. This torture left Mr. Smith on the floor with his lip busted and blood on his clothes. Unable to take any more punishment, Mr. Smith agreed to falsely confess to a crime he did not commit, reciting a fabricated statement to a Cook County State’s Attorney fed to him by Byrne and Dignan.
Challenging the Torture-Induced Confession and the Way Forward
Back in 2000, Mr. Smith filed a successive post-conviction petition, which was amended in 2013, setting forth a wealth of newly discovered evidence to corroborate his torture allegations. This evidence consists of reports, testimony and court decisions which unequivocally establishes that Burge and the men under his command systematically tortured and abused suspects and witnesses at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 through 1991. The new evidence also demonstrates that Dignan and Byrne have been accused of torturing scores of African American suspects, just as they did Mr. Smith, in a strikingly similar manner with precisely the same or similar objects. Many of these individuals have since been exonerated or have had their convictions overturned because their confessions were physically coerced.
Today, announcing her decision from the bench, Judge Reddick ruled that Mr. Smith was entitled to have an evidentiary hearing regarding his allegations that his confession was the product of physical coercion, finding that the that the newly discovered evidence presented in his petition was “monumental” and “significant.” She further found that Mr. Smith was entitled to proceed with his Brady claim in which he claims that evidence demonstrating the pattern and practice of torture at Area 2 Police Headquarters was withheld from him throughout his legal proceedings.
If Mr. Smith prevails at that hearing and the Court finds that his confession was physically coerced, his conviction will be vacated and he will be entitled to a new trial.
In response to learning of the decision, Mr. Smith said “I am overwhelmed with happiness. It is the first step towards freedom. God is good.”