Former Ill. gang member and witness has nightmares about police abuse
Claims he was suffocated during an interrogation 35 years ago
By Karen Hawkins
CHICAGO — A 63-year-old former gang member nicknamed "Satan" testified Wednesday that he still has nightmares about being shocked and suffocated by former Chicago police lieutenant and his men during a murder investigation more than 35 years ago.
Anthony Holmes was the first witness called in Jon Burge's federal trial on obstruction of justice and perjury charges.
Burge is accused of lying when he denied in a civil lawsuit that he and other detectives had tortured suspects. He faces a maximum of 45 years in prison if convicted of all charges. He's pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on bond.
Burge was fired by the police department in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but no charges were filed.
Holmes testified that Burge and several officers rousted him from bed early on May 29, 1973, and took him to the Area 2 police station on Chicago's South Side to question him about a murder.
Once there, he said Burge cuffed his wrists and ankles, put plastic bags over his head and attached wires to his body so an electric current could be sent through them.
"(It was) like a thousand needles going through my body," Holmes said, emotion in his voice. "I thought I had died."
After several rounds of passing out and being revived by Burge, he said he agreed to sign a confession to the murder to get the abuse to stop. He was later convicted and served 30 years in prison.
"Whatever he wanted me to say, I would've said it," he said.
Holmes said the abuse still gives him nightmares and he feels withdrawn and helpless.
"(You have) no control over the situation, it breaks you down," he said.
The founder of a South Side gang involved in a string of robberies in the 1970s, Holmes said he got the nickname "Satan" when he was 2 years old after he threw his older brother's pants in the dirt.
Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys gave their opening statements, painting conflicting portraits of Burge as either a secretive and zealous torturer or a heroic Vietnam vet who fought to keep the streets safe.
"Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil - that could have been the motto of Area 2" when Burge was in charge, said Betsy Biffl, a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Justice Department. "Area 2 had a dirty little secret."
She laid out the prosecution's case, saying the jury would hear testimony from a former detective who worked under Burge and allegedly participated in the abuse. Prosecutors also plan to call more former suspects who, like Holmes, said they were tortured by Burge or other officers during the 1970s and 1980s.
The abuse allegedly included beatings, gun threats and electric shock. One man said his tormentors poured soda into his nose.
Many of the men have criminal backgrounds, including Andrew Wilson, who was convicted of killing two police officers in 1982. Wilson died in prison, and his testimony from an earlier case will be read to the jury.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Bill Gamboney painted the prosecution's witnesses as "street thugs." He reiterated Burge's claim that no abuse ever happened.
"He's an honorable man," Gamboney said of Burge. "He did not torture anybody, and he had no knowledge of any torture."
The cross-examination of Holmes is scheduled to continue Thursday. The trial before U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow is expected to last six weeks.
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