It was almost 30 years ago when five Chicago police detectives working under disgraced former Cmdr. Jon Burge burst into Jerry Mahaffey's South Side apartment to question him in the home invasion, rape and slaying of a Rogers Park couple and near-fatal beating of their son.
When Mahaffey denied knowledge of the attack, one detective punched him in the nose and another threw him into a wall and put a gun to his head, according to a court records. The detectives allegedly pummeled Mahaffey, nearly suffocated him with a plastic garbage bag and threatened to put his children in an orphanage. Mahaffey eventually confessed, was convicted and is serving life in prison.
On Thursday, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission found credible evidence that Chicago detectives had tortured Mahaffey -- as well as four others sentenced to lengthy prison terms -- into confessing to murder. Each of the five cases will now be assigned to a Cook County Criminal Court judge to decide whether a new trial is warranted.
The commission has found 17 credible instances of torture since it began inquiries in 2011, and investigations into more than 100 additional claims continue, said David Thomas, the commission's executive director. New claims continue to come in "at a fairly steady trickle," he said Thursday.
Four of the five cases filed Thursday involved Burge or detectives who worked on his infamous "midnight crew." Burge is serving a 41/2-year sentence in federal prison for lying under oath about his knowledge of the torture.
Among the alleged torture victims is Anthony Jakes, who was 15 when Detectives Michael Kill and Ken Boudreau allegedly punched and kicked him and threatened to throw him out a window during a 16-hour interrogation for a 1991 armed robbery and slaying, according to the commission's report.
Finally, in the early morning hours and without a parent or lawyer present, Jakes signed a four-page confession to the murder. He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Records show he was paroled last month.
By the time Scott Mitchell was allegedly beaten and threatened into confessing to a murder in 1996, Burge had been forced out of the Police Department because of mounting evidence of torture, according to the commission's court filing.
But one of the detectives on the case, Joseph Danzl, had worked under Burge, and the interrogation of Mitchell -- who had been in psychiatric treatment since he was a toddler and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia -- bore many of Burge's hallmarks, according to the torture commission.
"One characteristic of the Burge cases ... is the coercion of confessions from the mentally handicapped and psychologically vulnerable," said the court filing in Mitchell's case. Another notable Burge pattern was that detectives threatened to lock up Mitchell's mother and have state welfare workers take away his siblings, according to the filing.
Other cases filed Thursday include that of Robert Smith, who allegedly was beaten by Burge subordinates and confessed to a 1987 double murder, and Kevin Murray, who claimed that two West Side detectives slapped him and punched him in the ribs during an interrogation into another double homicide that same year.
The crime for which Mahaffey was convicted was by far the most notorious, a double murder that shocked Chicago in 1983 not only because of its brutality but because the victims appeared to have been chosen randomly.
According to his confession, Mahaffey and his younger brother, Reginald, had driven to the North Side to burglarize a clothing shop. But when their borrowed van broke down, they started walking until they saw an open window and crawled into the West Rogers Park apartment of Dean Pueschel and his wife, Jo Ellen.
Prosecutors alleged at trial that the Mahaffeys beat the couple's sleeping 12-year-old son, Ricky, with his own Little League bats and stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife. Jo Ellen Pueschel, 30, was raped before being pistol-whipped and clubbed to death with a baseball bat in the living room. Her 26-year-old husband was beaten to death in his bedroom.
Ricky miraculously survived the attack and identified the Mahaffeys as the assailants in court, though he had failed to pick them out of a police lineup shortly after the arrests.
Jerry and Reginald Mahaffey were convicted and are serving terms of life without parole.
According to the torture commission's report, Jerry Mahaffey was treated at the Cook County Jail hospital for bruises and scrapes after he was charged. As part of an effort by his lawyers to have his confession thrown out before trial, Mahaffey's wife testified that she had witnessed the beating at their home. A neighbor, Charles Patterson, gave a sworn statement that he heard Mahaffey getting "the (expletive) beat out of him" for five minutes after police had surrounded the apartment with guns drawn.
"I asked a white plainclothes officer what was going on and he told me that they had just arrested the '(expletive)' who had killed the North Side couple," Patterson said in his statement.
Mahaffey's confession was allowed in after all five detectives denied any misconduct, according to the commission's finding.
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