Allegedly beaten into confession, ex-con seeks to clear his name
By: Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune: September 16th, 2015
Retired Chicago police Detective Michael Kill has never backed away from the interrogation practices he says yielded confessions in more than 90 percent of his murder cases.
A salty, old-school Chicago cop who worked under disgraced former Cmdr. Jon Burge, Kill has defended under oath his repeated use of the N-word while questioning black detainees and acknowledged he wasn’t out to treat murder suspects like royalty.
But while Kill has remained largely under the radar in media reports on the police torture scandal, court records show he’s been accused of abusing suspects in at least 19 investigations, including the alleged electroshock torture of one suspect in an infamous quintuple homicide investigation in 1988.
Now the wiry, intense ex-detective is scheduled to meet face to face in a Cook County courtroom with one of his accusers: Anthony Jakes, who had just turned 15 in 1991 when he alleges Kill beat and coerced him into confessing to a murder.
A little more than two years after Jakes was released from prison after serving half of his 40-year sentence, he is seeking to have his conviction overturned, a step that could lead to a certificate of innocence and a lucrative wrongful conviction lawsuit down the road.
The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission has already found credible evidence existed that Kill used violence and threats to coerce Jakes into signing a four-page confession that was virtually the only evidence used to convict him at trial.
Last month, Jakes testified about his treatment at a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, telling Circuit Judge William Hooks that Kill threatened his life and his family, then slapped and kicked him while he rolled into a fetal position on the floor. His bruises were photographed two days after the alleged beating when he complained to a bond court judge, he said.
Jakes, 37, told the Tribune in a recent interview that he’s not looking forward to seeing Kill for the first time since his trial 22 years ago but that he remains determined to clear his name.
“I feel like an injustice was done,” he said. “I didn’t have nothin’ to do with that murder.”
Kill, who could be testifying as soon as next month, has long denied taking part in any police torture and insisted he never laid a hand on Jakes. Now 73 and retired since 1994, he answered the door at his Tinley Park home on a recent afternoon dressed in a T-shirt that read “Tough Old Bird.” He declined to comment for this story.
‘Like trying to explain physics’
In his years working homicides at the old Area 3 headquarters at 39th Street and California Avenue, Kill had a reputation as a skilled interrogator during a time when the city’s annual homicide tally often topped 900.
Despite the controversial cases he has handled, Kill has shown a surprising willingness to answer questions in legal proceedings, testifying at length in sworn depositions in at least two wrongful conviction lawsuits.
That would seem to be a risky move. Burge, after all, was sentenced to 4½ years in prison after a federal jury in 2010 convicted him of obstruction of justice and perjury for denying under oath in a lawsuit that he knew of the alleged abuse of suspects.
But unlike many of the other Burge detectives who have pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, Kill hasn’t been deterred by the conviction of his former boss. In a 2011 videotaped deposition in a wrongful conviction lawsuit brought by Ronald Kitchen, who was charged in the quintuple murder, Kill jousted with attorney Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, accusing him of failing to appreciate the reality of the streets, particularly when it came to Kill’s use of the N-word when addressing suspects.
“It’s like trying to explain physics to my grandson who is 3 months old,” Kill, who is white, said with a scowl. “You’re not there. You haven’t been there. You don’t understand it, OK? You have to live it.”
In no uncertain terms, Kill was adamant that he had done nothing wrong.
“I’m not like some of the people that you run into that run and hide any chance they get,” Kill said. “I ain’t hiding. I’m looking you right in the eye and telling you upfront this is what happened.”
The city later settled the lawsuit for $12.3 million.
‘My dreams? … They shot’
Jakes was a grown man stuck in time when the cell doors opened for him 22 years after his arrest. He’d never even gotten a driver’s license, let alone graduated high school. Since his release, he’s found himself trying to catch up on things that may forever be out of his reach. His old friends from the neighborhood have matured, held jobs, had children. In many ways, Jakes identifies more with their kids.
“It’s too much to put in words because you can’t get nothin’ back,” Jakes, 37, who is working as a janitor, said in a recent interview. “Nah, my dreams? Man, I’m telling you they shot.”
Jakes’ allegations of mistreatment by Burge detectives are not as sensational as many others. No cattle prods, no electric shock box hooked to his genitals, no typewriter covers or plastic bags placed over his mouth.
But his attorney, Russell Ainsworth, said Jakes’ case illustrates the almost routine manner in which detectives working under Burge obtained confessions from dozens of young black men and boys through abuse, threats and false promises.
“They say, ‘All we want is the triggerman, you just tell us that you were there and there is a possibility you can go home tonight,'” said Ainsworth, of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project. “‘All you have to do is tell the assistant state’s attorney what he wants to hear.’ And they got a 15-year-old kid, and he repeats their story.”
Chicago was in the midst of a bloody year when Rafael Garcia was gunned down in September 1991 outside Queen’s Sub Shop on West 51st Street. Police were still reeling after an August that had seen 121 homicides — a rate of nearly four killings a day that still ranks as one of the most violent single months in the city’s history. The final homicide tally for the year would be 928, more than double the number in 2014.
At the time, Jakes was living with an aunt a few doors down from the shop. He had racked up a series of juvenile arrests, mostly for petty offenses such as shoplifting and fighting. But Jakes said that was just part of life in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, a dividing line between black and Hispanic gangs where poverty and violence reigned.
On the night of the shooting, Jakes was in front of his home when a group of men in a passing car threw a bottle through the upstairs window of his aunt’s two-flat, he said in recent testimony. He and a cousin cleaned up the glass and were in the alley throwing it in the garbage when a group of teenagers they had feuded with earlier in the day chased them down the block. As he returned to his home, he saw an ambulance responding to the shooting, he said.
The next day, Jakes was upstairs ironing a pair of pants for a meeting with his youth probation officer when police came to his home and took him in for questioning. At the station, an officer claimed to find a tinfoil packet of drugs in his pants pocket. Jakes insisted police planted it on him. He was charged as a juvenile with drug possession and put in an interview room.
Stomped on his back
Kill and his partner were calm when they first began questioning him that afternoon, Jakes testified. They took a Polaroid photo of him and asked him some questions, showed him other photographs of people from the neighborhood. After Jakes told them the names of some people who often hung out near the sandwich shop and may have witnessed the murder, the detectives left for several hours.
When they returned, they were agitated. Kill slammed the door and got in Jakes’ face, screaming, “You’re a (expletive) liar,” Jakes testified. Kill held up the back of a Polaroid and said “the guy in the picture knows more than he’s saying,” Jakes said. Kill turned the photo around to show Jakes his own face. That’s when Jakes said he became concerned.
Jakes testified that when he again insisted he knew nothing about the shooting, Kill slapped him across the face as he sat in a folding chair. Standing behind Jakes, Kill threatened to throw him out the third-floor window, tried to burn him with a lit cigarette and said he’d have Latin Kings who owed him a favor “jump my family,” Jakes testified.
Kill then knocked Jakes out of his chair with a forearm and stomped on his back and midsection while he rolled on the floor, according to Jakes’ testimony.
“I balled up in a fetal position because he was kicking me,” Jakes said.
After he was told to get back in his chair, the detectives started to feed him the story, Jakes said. An acquaintance from the neighborhood who went by the street name “Snake” had already told detectives that Jakes wanted the two of them to act as lookouts in a robbery. If Jakes would just admit to what he did, he might be able to go home, Jakes testified he was told.
By the time he signed a statement, it was 4:30 a.m. Jakes had been at the station for more than 16 hours without food or contact with a family member, according to his testimony.
No physical evidence
On a recent afternoon, Jakes revisited the scene of the murder he was convicted of nearly a quarter-century ago. Many of the houses that stood near 51st Street and Racine Avenue back then have been leveled; others are boarded up. As Jakes picked his way through an overgrown yard, he pointed out his old bedroom window on the second floor of a dilapidated gray coach house, two doors from where Garcia had been ambushed.
Jakes’ lawyers have pointed out that his statement includes at least one fact that cannot possibly be true — that after he returned home he saw Garcia dying on the street. The coach house where he lived had views of only the backs of two buildings.
Jakes said Kill had made up that detail out of thin air. Asked why he didn’t bring it to the prosecutor’s attention before signing the confession, Jakes said he figured both of them were in on it together.
“I signed that out of fear,” Jakes told the Tribune. “Detective Kill introduced me to that state’s attorney. He just got done kicking my ass and he’s there shaking this man’s hand. … They’re standing there, grinning and laughing. You think I’m going to tell (the prosecutor) that he just kicked my ass when y’all standing there laughing and talking together? I don’t think so. I was ready to go home. I been there long enough.”
At Jakes’ trial two years later, prosecutors argued that the bruises evident in photographs of Jakes’ back, arms and legs had been caused in an earlier gang fight and were not the result of any police brutality, records show.
Kill testified that Jakes had volunteered the information about acting as a lookout after he and his partner confronted him with the information from Snake. On cross-examination, Jakes’ lawyer asked Kill point-blank whether he had coerced the confession out of Jakes.
“No, I simply stated what we knew and asked him what he knew,” a transcript quoted Kill as testifying.
“You didn’t kick or punch or slap or try to burn him with a cigarette or anything?” Kill was asked.
“No, nobody had to threaten him at all,” replied Kill, according to the transcript. “In fact, he was very cooperative.”
Prosecutors presented no physical evidence at the trial. Other than Jakes’ confession, the only testimony placing Jakes at the scene came from Snake, who took the stand only after sheriff’s police hauled him in on a subpoena, records show.
The jury convicted Jakes in 1993 of armed robbery and murder. Meanwhile, a separate jury acquitted the alleged shooter of all charges, according to court records.
‘Barking up the wrong tree’
By that time, years of allegations of police brutality and torture involving Burge and his “midnight crew” of detectives had bubbled to the forefront. Burge had been fired months earlier after the Chicago Police Board found sufficient evidence he tortured convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson in 1982.
Kill, meanwhile, had just been named in a lawsuit accusing him and several other detectives of beating 13-year-old murder suspect Marcus Wiggins and using an electrical box to shock him until his jaws clamped together and he fell unconscious. That interrogation occurred Sept. 25, 1991, just nine days after Jakes had signed his confession at the same station, records show.
Based on his confession, Wiggins was charged with the gang-related slaying of a 16-year-old boy. But a juvenile court judge later ruled that the statement was coerced and threw out the case.
But it was the Kitchen case that garnered the most attention for Kill. In 1988, Kitchen and another man were accused of killing two mothers and three children and setting fire to the house because the women had run up a drug debt. Both allegedly confessed to the horrific crime and spent decades in prison — with Kitchen on death row for much of it — before they were freed and their cases overturned in 2009.
In a 2011 deposition in his wrongful conviction lawsuit, Kitchen testified that he was repeatedly punched and kicked in the ribs, chest and testicles during his interrogation, including by Kill. Burge himself climbed on top of a desk and stomped on his back, Kitchen alleged.
Kill then forced him to look at photos of the charred remains of the victims, telling him, “We have our ways of making n—–s talk, so tell us what we need to know,” Kitchen said.
In his deposition, Kill admitted using the N-word but only because it was the way blacks in the neighborhood talked. When asked how many times he used the word in his lifetime, Kill glared at the lawyer and said, “How about a million for starters?”
Kill acknowledged he didn’t roll out the red carpet for Kitchen that night but denied any physical abuse took place.
“I had probable cause for believing he’d killed three babies and two women. I was not going to take extra measures to make him feel like he was the King of England, all right? You seen what I’ve seen or done what I’ve done, then you’d know what I was talking about. He wasn’t beaten, he wasn’t kicked, he wasn’t slapped, he wasn’t abused. May God have mercy on my soul if I treated him like he did something right.”
Kill also bristled when he was asked whether he was covering for Burge, who was then in prison.
“I could care less about Jon Burge,” he said. “It’s not like I’m sending him love letters or mailing him cigarettes, OK? We’re not friends, I ain’t covering for him.”
As his attorney called for a five-minute break, Kill yanked the microphone off his suit jacket and tossed it onto the table.
“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” he said.