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Murder convict freed over COVID risk gets a chance to prove Burge cops tortured him to confess

Gov. J.B. Pritzker released Gerald Reed in April on compassionate grounds because of his risk of getting the coronavirus in prison, but his murder conviction stood until Monday’s Illinois Supreme Court ruling.

Gerald Reed speaks to reporters outside Stateville Correctional Center on April 2.
Gerald Reed speaks to reporters outside Stateville Correctional Center on April 2.
Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

A man freed from prison last month by Gov. J.B. Pritzker — but not exonerated of the double murder that put him behind bars — has been granted a new trial.

On April 2, Gerald Reed, 57 — who says the Chicago police tortured him to get him to confess to killing two people on the South Side in 1990 — walked out of Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet after the governor commuted his life sentence based on a petition saying he faced serious health risks from the spread of the coronavirus in prison.

But his murder conviction had stood until Monday, when the Illinois Supreme Court vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial.

In seeking a new trial, Reed has said detectives supervised by police Cmdr. Jon Burge got him to confess by torturing him.

Robert Milan.
Robert Milan: Gerald Reed will be retried.
Provided

Robert Milan, a court-appointed special prosecutor in the case, said Wednesday he plans to “retry the case.”

Reed — convicted in the fatal shootings of Pamela Powers and Willie Williams — has said he was framed by Chicago detectives who beat him so badly they dislodged a metal rod in one of his legs.

The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission found that the evidence showed the rod was broken at the police station.

Burge was accused of supervising detectives who tortured suspects over a span of decades. He never was prosecuted over those claims but was convicted of perjury in 2010 for lying when he testified in lawsuits that accused the Chicago Police Department of torture. Burge served a four-year federal prison sentence. He died in September 2018.

In December 2018, Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. threw out Reed’s oral confession and ordered a new trial.

After Gainer retired, Judge Thomas Hennelly took over the case and, in February 2020, issued a surprise ruling reinstating Reed’s conviction because his oral confession was never presented at his original trial.

At that time, Milan said there was “extensive evidence” that Reed was guilty, saying Reed bragged about the killings and was linked through forensic evidence to the murder weapon.

Monday’s Supreme Court decision reinstated Gainer’s ruling that threw out the confession.

“The case shall be assigned to a new judge,” the state’s high court said in a one-paragraph ruling.

Reed’s lawyer Elliot Zinger said that, if Reed is acquitted at his new trial, he plans to sue the police for wrongful arrest.