On July 7, Ronald Kitchen became a free man. Convicted of the murder of five people in 1988, he spent over a dozen years on Illinois’ death row facing execution, until former Governor George Ryan commuted his sentence, along with all other Illinois death sentences, to life without parole in 2003. But his conviction was based on a confession he gave to Chicago police after they tortured him. According to Kitchen, he was “hit in the head with a telephone, punched in the face, struck in the groin and kicked.” Tuesday, all charges against him were dropped, and he was released.
“If you’re getting whooped for over 39 hours and you’re constantly saying that you didn’t do it and they’re constantly doing what they’re doing, somewhere along the line you’re going to realize they’re not going to stop unless somebody gives in,” Kitchen said in a Chicago Sun Times article.
Kitchen’s wrongful conviction was one of many obtained by officers serving under Police Commander Jon Burge. During the 1970s and 1980s in Chicago, prisoners, mostly African American, were routinely tortured and abused into giving false confessions. Amnesty International reported on these and other abuses ten years ago. Because the arc of the universe bends towards justice, Burge now faces his own day in court, though for perjury and obstruction of justice charges, not torture.
Kitchen’s exoneration came in part thanks to the efforts of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University; but, despite the clear evidence of torture, it still took dozens of people years of work to win his freedom. As the video above makes clear, many others who may be equally innocent aren’t lucky enough to get that kind of support.