Man cleared of double murder sues over torture confession

Posted at 7:07 AM, March 2, 2021 and last updated 8:14 PM, July 19, 2023

CHICAGO (AP) — A man who received a certificate of innocence after spending 33 years in prison in the 1987 death of his mother-in-law and her mother has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago, his lawyer said Monday.

Robert Smith, 72, alleges eight former Chicago police detectives working under former commander Jon Burge beat him into confessing the crime. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court also names the former Cook County prosecutor who took his statement.

Attorney Stuart Chanen says Smith, who was released from prison in October, is seeking up to $66 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

“No amount of money will constitute ‘justice’ for what the defendants did to Robert Smith (which the system then ignored and covered up for 33 years), but the City could at least help bend the arc of the moral universe in that direction by admitting what these defendants did and compensating Robert for the 33 years of his life that were lost,” attorney Stuart Chanen said in a statement.

A Law Department spokesman said the city hadn’t seen the lawsuit late Monday and could not comment.

Smith was convicted in the slayings of Edith Yeager and her mother, Willie Bell Alexander. Their throats were slashed with a butcher knife before their home was set ablaze.

According to court records, Smith was arrested after he arrived at the scene. The lawsuit alleges that during his 19 hours in police custody, Smith was repeatedly beaten.

Smith gave an oral admission to the crime, but refused to sign a typed version, according to court documents. He was later taken to the hospital, where he was treated for a broken rib and other injuries.

Smith’s attempts to get his confession thrown out failed and it was key to his conviction at trial in 1990.

The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in 2013 found Smith’s allegations of torture were well-founded. A Cook County judge in October vacated the conviction and ordered Smith released.

Burge was fired in 1993 after it was determined he tortured a murder suspect. In 2010, he was convicted in federal court of perjury and obstruction of justice after jurors found he lied under oath in a deposition for a civil suit when he denied witnessing torture or abusing suspects. Burge spent 4½ years in prison and on home confinement before dying in 2018 at age 70.

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