An inmate who claimed police tortured him into confessing to two murders he didn't commit was granted a new trial Friday after 18 years behind bars.
Circuit Judge Clayton Crane granted the request from Victor Safforld, 38, following a hearing this week that included evidence Safforld was tortured. Based on his confession, Safforld was sentenced to death for murder. The sentence was later commuted to life.
Safforld, who was listed in police records under his alias Cortez Brown, said he was tortured by Chicago detectives working under Commander Jon Burge. Burge, 60, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of lying under oath about the torture of African-American suspects by his police unit during the 1970s and 80s.
At least 20 men in prison have said they are innocent but confessed to crimes under coercion.
Safforld was convicted of two gang-related shootings in May and August 1990. He said he signed a confession only after three detectives assigned to Burge's unit beat him, deprived him of food and ignored his requests to see a lawyer.
His attorney, Locke Bowman, said the ruling Friday "brings redemption not only to Victor Safforld and his family, but to all of those who have steadfastly fought for so long to hold Jon Burge and his henchmen accountable for their reprehensible acts."
Under Burge's watch
One of Burge's attorneys, William G. Gamboney, said the former commander "had nothing to do with this case."
"The detectives who were working on the case reported to a sergeant who reported to a lieutenant who in turn reported to Burge," Gamboney said. He said there was no way Burge would have known about what happened to Safforld.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is prosecuting the inmates' torture claims, has sought to have Safforld's conviction upheld.
Flint Taylor, an attorney for Safforld, said Madigan "must come to the reality that she cannot in good conscience fight for the imprisonment of Burge's torture victims."
Madigan spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said that the attorney general's goal "has been to ensure that the public is served by carefully reviewing the merits of each of these cases and presenting the facts of each case to the court for a decision."