A man who claims a detective working under former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge beat him into confessing to a murder he didn’t commit will get a new trial, an appellate court has ruled.
Shawn Whirl, 46, was convicted in the 1990 fatal shooting of Chicago cabdriver Billy G. Williams, a father of three. Whirl claimed detectives repeatedly scraped a wound on his leg with a key until he confessed. Whirl is serving a 60-year prison term.
“The appellate court got it right,” said Whirl’s attorney, Tara Thompson. “It’s really hard to get up a decade after your conviction … and talk about how you were tortured into giving a confession. But we believe Mr. Whirl met his burden, and we are happy the appellate court recognizes that he needs to receive a fair trial.”
Whirl, who is housed at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, remains hopeful, his attorney said.
“He knows this is just one step toward hopefully getting a new trial,” Thompson said. “He’s hopeful this is heading in the right direction.”
In 2014, a Cook County judge denied Whirl’s petition for a new trial even though the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission ruled that Whirl’s confession had been coerced.
But on Wednesday, the state appellate court reversed the Cook County judge’s ruling. Among other things, the appellate court noted that Whirl has consistently claimed his confession was coerced.
The appellate court took particular note of the fact that the detective Whirl accused of torturing him had a long history of being involved in “abusing suspects in order to obtain confessions.”
The appellate court also noted that rather than denying Whirl’s allegations in court, the officer instead invoked his Fifth Amendment rights on the stand.
“Without Whirl’s confession, the state’s case was nonexistent,” according to the appellate court ruling. “It consisted of fingerprints on the passenger door of a cab, a public conveyance that Whirl has never denied taking.”
The court also noted a murder weapon was never recovered and that there were no eyewitnesses to the crime.