A Cook County judge Wednesday ordered a new trial for Gerald Reed, a South Side man serving a life sentence for a 1990 double murder, a ruling based on credible allegations that Reed was battered by detectives under the now notorious Chicago Cmdr. Jon Burge.
Reed, who has spent 28 years in prison, is the latest defendant to win a bid for a new trial based on 1990s-era torture by CPD detectives who worked for Burge. Reed had long claimed that he was beaten by now-retired Det. Victor Breska before he confessed to the murders of Pamela Powers and Willie Williams, abuse that included a kick to the leg that dislodged a titanium rod that was holding in place Reed’s fractured femur.
Reed slumped over in his seat, resting his head on his forearms, as Judge Thomas Gainer announced his ruling after reading a summation of evidence in the case that lasted more than two hours. In the courtroom gallery, Reed’s mother, Armanda Shackleford, collapsed into sobs.
“I didn’t think this day would ever get here but it’s here . . . I’m so happy my son is going to be home for Christmas,” said a still-tearful Shackleford, gripping a walker as she spoke to reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building after the hearing.
Reed’s Christmas plans remain in doubt, his lawyers admitted. Gainer set a Friday court date for another hearing, at which private lawyers acting as special prosecutors in the case will say whether they intend to take Reed to trial again, this time without his confession to the shootings. If the special prosecutor doesn’t opt to drop the charges against Reed, Reed will ask to be released on bond, said his lawyer, Elliot Zinger.
Shackleford said Reed’s 55th birthday is Saturday, and she’s planning a celebration.
“This time, his birthday is going to be fantabulous, and Christmas is going to be the day he’s been waiting for for 28 years,” she said “It’s overdue.”
Reed’s leg injury pained him throughout his years in prison — prison officials did not authorize surgery to repair the broken rod until 2016, when Reed filed a federal lawsuit — but it also provided key evidence in his bid for a new trial. Medical records introduced at his trial in 1992 indicated that he hadn’t complained about his injury until well after he first was booked, but additional records unearthed by Northwestern University law students decades later showed that Reed had complained about the injury and had been prescribed painkillers months earlier.
Former Cook County Jail warden Fred English in a deposition also said he recalled Reed limping around the jail around the time he first arrived in custody, and that Reed had complained about being beaten by police. In a videotaped deposition, Breska denied beating Reed.
Lawyers for the special prosecutor had argued that the rod in Reed’s femur could have broken loose because of normal wear-and-tear. Special Prosecutor Lawrence Rosen declined to comment on what action he would take at the hearing Friday.