For the first time since Demond Weston was arrested in 1990 for murder and attempted murder, a government body found merit to his claims that he is innocent and was coerced into falsely confessing by police detectives under former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge.
Members of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission unanimously found “sufficient credible evidence of torture to merit judicial review,” resolving a commission review that had ended inconclusively in October. Weston was a 17-year-old high school student in the Englewood neighborhood on May 29, 1990 when a shooting spree erupted that police concluded involved Gangster Disciple members seeking revenge on a rival gang.
Days later, police detective Michael Kill stopped Weston on the street and took him to the station where, hours later, Weston gave a statement saying he had brought a .22-caliber gun with him and fired it in the May 29 shooting incident that left a man named Joseph Watson dead.
Though no physical evidence tied Weston to the crime, he was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 75 years in prison. At trial, he testified that the confession he gave detectives was false and given after Kill, Detective William Moser and Detective Anthony Maslanka abused him and threatened him at the police station. All three officers worked under disgraced former Commander Burge.
After Weston was convicted, an internal review confirmed that Burge, who was fired in 1993, and his squad beat confessions from repeated suspects over a period of years. Kill, Moser, and Maslanka, who all have since retired, all have been implicated in multiple incidents of abuse.
In October, Weston’s case went before the torture commission, where the six commissioners present voted 4-2 that his claim had merit. But commission rules require five or more votes from the commission, which has eight seats, to refer the case to a judge for a hearing.
On Monday Injustice Watch published an examination of the case, noting that three men connected to the crime spree have now given statements saying Weston was not involved.
When the case came up on Wednesday, the two commissioners who had opposed referring the case changed their votes, and a seventh member was present and supported the referral.
After the vote, Weston’s family and supporters hugged and celebrated. “This is a great outcome today,” said Lawrence McIntosh, Weston’s brother. “It’s been a long time coming.”
In October commission members had expressed concern that Weston’s allegations of abuse became more sensational over time. Weston’s lawyers say his trial attorney told him that his description of what occurred would not be believed and would hurt his case.
Schiff Harden LLP attorney Brook Clason-Smith, who conducted a review of the case for the commission, had previously recommended the referral but had called it a close call. “This case is especially unique compared to any other decision we reviewed,” Clason Smith told the commissioners on Wednedsay.
A ruling of “credible evidence of torture” from the commission cannot overturn a conviction, but it refers the petitioner’s case to the court for a new evidentiary hearing. Weston has already been granted a new hearing by Cook County Associate Judge Angela Petrone; in the past commission referrals have been consolidated into any existing pending court case.
Weston’s lawyers believe the commission’s ruling will be helpful even though Petrone already has granted a hearing. They hope it might help move the case along in the courts, said Rita Srivastava, one of Weston’s lawyers.“We’ve had a number of delays in front of Judge Petrone as part of our proceedings and we do believe that it would be helpful to be able to present that we also have a referral from the commission,” Srivastava told the commission Wednesday.
Weston’s ruling brings the commission’s total number of claims referred since 2011 to 23. The cash-strapped commission still has 457 claims pending. It was already backlogged when a 2016 law expanded its jurisdiction to allow it to accept torture claims unrelated to Burge.
While Burge was fired from the department in 1993 and served time in federal prison from 2011-2014, there are still 28 men in prison, including Weston, who claim they were tortured into confessing by Burge or his subordinates.