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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Feds punch hole in 'perjury trap,' statute of limitations excuses

That was the $7 million answer that a special prosecutor delivered two years ago in the case of former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, accused with his men of torturing false confessions from as many as 148 defendants, most of them minorities, in the 1980s.

Attorneys for those who said they were tortured had argued that, even if the statute of limitations had expired for the torture, Burge and other officers and prosecutors who took part or cooperated in any such coerced confessions could be charged with lying under oath in civil suits.

Not practical, special prosecutors Ed Egan and Robert Boyle concluded after spending four years on a probe that ultimately cost $7 million. Burge and the others could get any perjury or conspiracy charges dismissed on a "perjury trap" defense, Egan and Boyle said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made clear he disagrees.

"I don't know that the law has ever recognized a 'perjury trap,' " Chicago's top federal prosecutor said. "If it ever was recognized, this ain't one of them. People in this courthouse have received substantial sentences for perjury if convicted."

Experts say that, given that city of Chicago officials concluded Burge tortured people when they fired him, it should be easy enough to prove he perjured himself when he denied torture in written answers in a civil suit, especially if fellow officers come forward to testify. [Mark Godsey]

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