Pritzker commutes life sentence of man who claims Burge cops tortured him into confessing
Gerald Reed was convicted of a 1990 double murder. His attorneys urged the governor to free him from prison because he faced serious health risks from the spread of COVID-19 behind bars. Now that he’s being freed, he plans to try again to have his conviction vacated.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday commuted the life prison sentence of Gerald Reed, who says he was framed for a 1990 double murder by detectives working for disgraced Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
Reed had been granted a new trial in 2018, but last year a judge stunned his supporters when he ruled the 57-year-old man should stay in prison.
Reed’s attorney, Sheila Bedi, said she received a call from Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton on Thursday “that Mr. Reed, who’s spent 29 years in prison, will be coming home.”
Bedi, a law professor at Northwestern University, said she filed a petition about a year ago seeking a commutation for Reed on the basis that his health was jeopardized by the spread of COVID-19 in prison. She said she also emphasized that Reed has been a model prisoner who leads Bible studies and mentors other inmates.
Reed might live with his mother, who has fought for his release, Bedi said, adding, “This does not mean Mr. Reed has abandoned his effort to clear his name.”
Reed’s criminal defense attorney, Elliot Zinger, said he’ll continue to push to have Reed’s conviction vacated.
Reed, who’s in Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, was convicted of the fatal shootings of Pamela Powers and Willie Williams on the South Side. Reed said he was forced to confess. He said detectives beat him so badly they dislodged a metal rod in his leg.
Those detectives worked for Burge, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2010 in connection with his testimony in a lawsuit accusing him of torture. Burge served a four-year federal prison sentence and died in September 2018.
In December 2018, Cook County Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. threw out Reed’s oral confession and ordered a new trial. Gainer then retired, and Judge Thomas Hennelly took over the case. Reed was in the Cook County Jail awaiting his new trial when Hennelly reinstated his conviction in February 2020, ruling that the oral statement used to exonerate Reed was never even presented at his original trial.
A special prosecutor had argued for Reed to be held in prison, saying he’d boasted to witnesses about the killings and was linked to the murder weapon through forensic evidence.
“To God be the glory,” said one of Reed’s supporters, Wallace “Gator” Bradley, after learning of Thursday’s commutation. “This is true justice.”