Nearly nine years after the $20 million settlement issued by the City of Chicago to four former death row inmates who claimed they were tortured and beaten by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge—torture victim Mark Maxson has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking $54 million in damages.
At 55, Maxson was released from the prison for the wrongful conviction of the murder and rape of six-year-old Lindsay Murdock in September 2016. During the summer of August 1992, Maxson worked around the neighborhood as a handyman and was familiar with his neighbors. On August 29, 1992, it was like any particular summer day—kids playing outside enjoying the final days before the new school year started. More trust was extended to children care freely going to the local corner store than today—and young Murdock was given $1 by his grandmother to get some candy.
He never returned home.
The Devil In Disguise
The events that followed thereafter the boy’s disappearance and discovery of his body would change the lives of several people including Maxson. He knew the young victim and assisted the Chicago police—cooperating with them as he explained spotting the young boy later that night. Little did Maxson know, the interrogation and torture inflicted by then-Lieutenant Jon Burge and his detectives would coerce his false statement of admission of the murder and rape of a child.
This type of brutality was commonplace during what is now called the “Burge era”– from the early 1970s to mid-1990s. Unfortunately, it is a culture which has had lasting effects throughout the Chicago police department long before Jon Burge earned his stripes.
Under false testimony from detectives and crime laboratory testing, which found the blood on the victim’s clothing was neither the victim’s nor Maxson’s, a jury found Maxson guilty. He would be sentenced to life in prison without parole while Burge would continue to inflict irreparable damage to other lives.
After several attempts to appeal his conviction and file a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Maxson was denied. Without giving up, a motion was filed in May 2016 for DNA testing of the crime scene and was determined the blood found on the clothing was that of Wade Osbourne. Released after serving 22 years in prison for stabbing his uncle to death in 1994, Osbourne failed to register as a convicted murderer in 2016. His videotaped confession of the murder and rape of Murdock would lead to Maxson’s release from prison.
Wallace “Gator” Bradley has worked with Maxson on his case since February 2013. His unique style of communicating with individuals from the streets has earned him the court appointed role of the “Urban Translator.” It’s been over two decades ago since Bradley’s release from Statesville prison. He has made it a mission to help those in the criminal system with fair representation as a trusted liaison between the courts, community and political allies.
“You figure an individual charged with a crime they didn’t commit and in this situation, it was the murder of a child…individuals inside of those institutions, they do not condone crimes like this so every day that he was locked up and incarcerated—it was a target on his back,” Bradley says.
“He didn’t know if he was going to be poisoned… If he’s in the shower, if he wasn’t going to be stabbed, abused or whatever happens. Harming a baby is another level. You figure he didn’t do this, you figure he’s the one who told the news media he knew the young child. He was doing everything as a citizen within the neighborhood to help them apprehend whoever and [find out] whatever they did to the child.”
Released, Rebuild and Reparations
Upon his release, Bradley says one of the obstacles they ran into was acquiring Maxson’s identification. “Not only did Jesse White get him the I.D. –he didn’t pay for it.” He recalled White saying how important it is to give people a second chance. Knowing Bradley’s past and his journey, he told him “it’s good to help those who have been wrongfully convicted and the best I can do is to welcome you back to society because I don’t see you as a criminal.”
Bradley says, “That was September 28, 2016 and a month later, he received his Certificate of Innocence. Once he received the COI, he was eligible to receive compensation from the State for being wrongfully convicted for 24 years.”
The state budget stalemate delayed payment to several exonerees. Fortunately, Maxson was granted his award based on the amount of years he served as an innocent man.
Elliott Zinger has represented Maxson since November 2012, walking him throughout the process of appeal and eventually his release. Understanding the deep emotional and psychological damage his client endured while incarcerated, he filed a federal civil rights suit against the former CPD detectives, James Dwyer, John Duffy, William Marley, Angelo Pesavento and the City of Chicago.
In the Initial Status Report filed by Maxson’s attorney, in Section 2, it says: “Plaintiff’s complaint seeks judgement against Defendants Dwyer, Duffy, Marley and Pesavento for the sum of thirty-six million in compensatory damages and eighteen million dollars in punitive damages, plus costs of this action and attorney’s fees.” A recent court date for discovery is coming up on December 15.
Zinger says, “We’re in the discovery stage, there’s been no settlement. We’re in the process of discovery, finding out the facts, going through the files, ordering a lot of the records. We have also spoken to several experts that we intend to retain for the trial. We have an expert on false confessions, and a mental health expert. Those are the type of things we’re looking at preparing for trial,” he said.
If won, this would be the biggest settlement the city would be responsible for awarding due to the wrath of Burge and the unleashing of police brutality and torture of African American men.
Fighting Systematic Slavery
According to Mark Clements, it would still not be enough to heal the damage that has been endured by Maxson and the victims of torture in our system. A victim of the torture endured at the hands of Burge’s command—Clements was 16 when he was brought to Area Three Violent Crimes headquarters. There he was physically interrogated into a false confession of arson-murder charges he never committed. Released from Pontiac Correction Center in August 2009 after being locked up for 28 years—he is relentless in his advocacy for bringing awareness to what many go through after they are exonerated.
He says, “The criminal justice system needs people who have been wrongfully convicted or placed in places of crimes they did not commit with very few options. Those very few options cause you to linger in our prison system.” The course of action of filing for appeals was a tedious and long trail of court paperwork for him and his team. With the help of the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions, a petition for his clemency was filed.
“These appeals take its course and they can take three to five years. If you basically adjudicate three or four appeals, you’re looking at two decades inside an Illinois prison. I feel that the process is fast as far as how the system wants to execute the process, but the system is very slow when it comes to the individual’s innocence. Because it’s so slow, it causes an inmate to sit in that kind of environment when they should not be there at all,” Clements said.
In many of these cases when a person is released, they are dealing with a heavy weight of adjustment. Clements says living “boxed-in” can bring on “stress, stroke, worry and all of that creates forms of mental illness.”
Dealing with the repercussions first hand, he too, went through an emotional whirlwind—including a divorce due to the stress. “It creates a burden on the family that is still in [the accused person’s] corner. The criminal justice system as a whole has allegedly created reforms but those reforms have served for their benefit and has not served for the benefit of the accused. The Mark Maxson situation is a tragedy,” he explains. “It’s a tragedy due to the fact that our criminal court system has brought DNA into evidence but the DNA can only work through the process if the accused requests it. Once the accused has requested it, it takes years for that process to be carried out. I think that is so unfair.”
Having dealt with other similar cases for clients dealing with rebuilding their lives, Zinger admits Maxson’s situation carries a different type of weight.
“In Mr. Maxson’s case, his situation is far worse than most of the others that I have encountered–both as representing and those I’ve spoken to which are probably dozens by now. As an African American man in our society, to be faced as being labeled as a child killer and a child molester and to be sitting in the county jail for 25 years—you can’t imagine… the psychological turmoil upon him was deep,” says Zinger.
Maxson has been advised by his team to refrain from conducting interviews with the media until the lawsuit is settled by the courts. He is adjusting, and the undying support of his mother has helped him move through the shadows.
The city council has awarded $111 million in damages to Burge victims for reparations, judgements and legal fees.
Pain, Suffering and Reparations
Bradley believes the “chickens are coming home to roost” with numerous complaints being filed, and unlike the Laquan McDonald settlement being voted unanimously by the city council without opposition—this case will be weighed heavily and with questions.
“In light of the Laquan McDonald case when the elected officials didn’t realize what was happening when the lawyers wrote a letter to the general counsel…. They didn’t file a case in court, and when they got the money, they didn’t realize what was happening because the corporate counsel didn’t brief them. Now, they want to know everything that’s happening with these settlements and police misconduct cases,” says Bradley.
Currently, Hale Law and The Sotos Law Firm have been retained as outside counsel on behalf of the city–private law firms whose hourly fees can range from $185-$250 and can add up to $250,000 to $1 million in legal fees once it’s over —all at the taxpayers’ expense. Maxson’s team is confident that there will be closure in favor of the plaintiff.
Clements maintains unless the system changes, there will continue to be ongoing cases with people of color at the center. “I think we are under a culture of slavery. That culture of slavery has enacted forms of the new Jim Crow. That process was measured to take its time because they don’t care. It’s a ‘not caring’ process. It’s a process of ‘if they had been found guilty, they have committed the crime.’ In reality, Illinois is not far off each year as serving as a wrongful conviction capital.”
The former police Commander retired to Florida after his release from prison on perjury and obstruction charges for his denial of abuse. Many feel it’s still not enough justice compared to the brutal pain and suffering incurred by his victims while the city is left to carry the bag of snakes that continue to rear its ugly head. Clements doesn’t blame Mayor Rahm Emanuel for an era that dates back on record to Mayor Richard J. Daley and then-Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley; he blames a criminal justice system that treats Black people as second-class citizens.
He adds, “The Burge era literally dictates slavery. You mean to tell me that we have a police department that can pick off our communities…as many as 200 African -American and Latino people and take them down to the police stations and legally torture them on their genitals to beat them and to get them to say things that they have no intentions of saying? That worked as a form of justice and it’s been revealed—even by the City of Chicago–that tortures have occurred.”
As Zinger and his legal team gather evidence for the mid-December court appearance, they are prepared for a possible lengthy, bureaucratic ball of red tape ahead, but then again, it may fall on the fate of the City Council Finance Committee.
“I would imagine it would take another year or year and half. There’s a lot of discovery to be had. There’s also a lot of policies from the city of Chicago. There’s policies for similar cases of police misconduct in the Burge era. We look forward to bringing them forward but they all do take time,” he says. “We’re very confident in Mr. Maxson, we’re confident in his family and we believe we have a very strong case.”
This article is the cover story for the November 1 issue for The Chicago Defender. Correction to the Page 3 photo caption: Mark Maxson (not Mark Clements) pictured with IL Secretary of State Jesse White and Wallace ‘Gator’ Bradley.