By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
A Chicago man who is serving a 50-year sentence on murder and armed robbery charges is having his case reviewed by a group of law students and attorneys who are part of an organization that takes a comprehensive look at convictions that could have been obtained by torture.
Tony Anderson, 52, was convicted in 1991 on 18 counts of armed robbery, attempted murder and murder. His cases are now being given a second look after he applied to the Torture Inquiry Relief Commission.
The commission started out to review cases related to disgraced former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who for years used torture techniques during interrogations. It has now been expanded to other officers who were under Burge’s command and who may have used his torture techniques to extract confessions from suspects.
Anderson was convicted of nearly a dozen cases stemming from one alleged coerced interrogation where he admitted to committing several crimes, said an attorney assigned to his case.
The infamous “midnight crew” consisted of detectives who worked under Burge and who used his torture techniques, which included suffocation, electric shock and handcuffing suspects to a hot radiator while being questioned. The victims were primarily African American men. Anderson is claiming he is one of those victims.
Anderson became a suspect in a string of armed robberies on the South Side and in the south suburbs in the early 1990s. During one of those robberies a person was murdered. According to court documents, on April 18, 1990, Anderson was arrested on automobile theft charges and taken to Area 2 headquarters, where he was questioned by Detectives Michael McDermott and Tony Maslanka.
While in custody he made a statement implicating himself in numerous offenses committed in March and April 1990, according to the records. As a result, Anderson was subsequently indicted on over 100 charges in 13 different cases in Cook County.
According to Anderson, Detective McDermott placed a gun to his head and threatened that he would “blow [his] damn brains out” if he did not confess. Additionally, Anderson claims Detective Maslanka jabbed him in the chest, rib, and back with his nightstick. Although he could not say exactly how many times he was jabbed, Anderson estimated it was over a dozen times and he was crying in pain after the assault.
Anderson is also claiming no one ever advised him of his Miranda rights and that during the interview, he made seven requests for permission to make a telephone call but was denied each time.
Attorney Karl Leonard of the Exoneration Project is a 2009 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. Leonard has gotten several Burge victims released during his work with the Exoneration Project. He said people must remember the sometimes sordid history of the Chicago Police Department, before judging his client’s innocence or guilt.
“We have a long history of police officers who would go to great lengths to close cases, whether they had the right guy or not,” Leonard said. “In Tony’s case the TIRC found there to be enough credible evidence of torture, and the next step is to refer it to a court to look into the matter. We’re awaiting a hearing on one of the 12 cases … the judge decided to dismiss the other commission’s referrals.”
In Anderson’s case, a special prosecutor is representing the state as the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has taken the position they have a conflict of interest when it comes to Burge cases. The special prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss all of the cases against Anderson except one in which he did not plead guilty and was convicted at trial. The judge agreed, although Leonard explained why Anderson pled guilty in the other cases.
“We disagree with the judge that any of these should have been dismissed,” he began. “As for the case the judge is still considering, the primary evidence against Tony is his confession; a confession that is the product of torture. We think the introduction of evidence of torture is a violation of your due process and right to a fair trial and should give him the right to a new trial if not outright exoneration. The state’s position is that if you plead guilty you give up the right to challenge your confession. We disagree with that because you are pleading guilty with ‘a gun to your head’ because of a confession that was already used against you once to gain a conviction.”
Leonard noted once the pending case is resolved in the trial court, they can go forward to the appellate court on the remaining cases. Anderson will appear back in court on March 6. Leonard is hoping at that time the judge will set a date for an actual hearing on the case.
In the meantime Anderson is serving his time at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center in southern Illinois near Carbondale.
Prior to his convictions in 1991, Anderson had no convictions. His projected parole date is 2040, with three years of supervision after that. It means he will be 74 if his convictions are not overturned.
According to court records, at the time of Anderson’s arrest on April 18, 1990 for auto theft, he was in possession of a .25 caliber handgun. The same type of gun was used in several armed robberies and in the murder of Leonard Cox, who on March 30, 1990 was killed in an apartment at 7313 S. Green.
Witnesses who were in the apartment identified Anderson during a police lineup on April 19, 1990 as one of two men who robbed them. Three other victims identified Anderson as a man who robbed them at gunpoint in the 6200 block of South Wabash earlier in the day, before Cox was murdered. According to court documents, the victims say Anderson approached them and stuck a gun to the head of one victim, forcing the others inside an apartment where he robbed them of cash and jewelry. Anderson was identified in a police lineup by all three victims.
Other cases Anderson pled guilty to included robberies at a hair salon at 1855 E. 87th Street; attempted murder of a robbery victim in an alley at 7543 S. Ingleside; attempted escape from police custody; and several gas station, liquor and grocery store armed robberies.
Anderson was never convicted on auto theft, the crime he was originally taken into custody for.
The Exoneration Project works in conjunction with the law firm of Loeby & Loeby; people can apply to them if they have been convicted of a crime. In order for a person’s case to be considered by the Exoneration Project, it goes through a long vetting process. The project looks for credible claims of innocence. If that is apparent, they then gather documentation and have their own investigators go out and interview witnesses, and try to find new witnesses, in an attempt to prove their case to the court.
Leonard said they get more applications than they can take but what they look for are cases that meet their organization’s mission: “By investigating and petitioning courts to reverse wrongful convictions, our Exoneration Project is dedicated to restoring justice.”
The Chicago Crusader will continue to follow the Anderson case as it develops.