EXCLUSIVE: Professor Protess turns to Illinois Supreme Court to free tortured and wrongly convicted man

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Stanley Wrice jailed 28-years in prison on “tainted” evidence

By Chinta Strausberg


After spending half of his life in prison for a crime he never committed, attorneys for the Chicago Innocence Project, headed by David Protess, is filing an Amicus Curiae brief to the Illinois Supreme Court Tuesday on behalf of Stanley Wrice, 57, who was allegedly beaten and tortured into making a confession by two of now jailed former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s top men.

Serving a 100-year sentence, Wrice, 57, is incarcerated at the Pontiac Correctional for the past 28-years wrongfully convicted of raping and engaging in a deviant sexual assault against Karen Byron, a white 32-year-old mother of two who on September 8, 1982 went to a liquor store on the South Side who accepted a ride from Rodney Benson an African American man.

The other two men, Michael Fowler and Lee Holmes, who was with Benson, walked to the home of Wrice on South Chappel Avenue.

According to the brief, this year Dr. Protess and his students, Kayla Bensing, Tania Karas, Lauren Kelleher, Kira Lerner, Christina Rosales, Quinn Thacker and Jamie Vailliancourt, conducted their own independent investigation into Wrice’s case.

Wrice sought to file a successive post-conviction petition on the grounds of new evidence that his confession “was extracted by means of physical torture by former Chicago Police Sergeant John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan” who are two of Burge’s top men. Burge is now in prison convicted of obstructing justice and lying about his role of tortured victims at the Area 2 Police Headquarters.

The brief states, “All of the evidence amassed against Stanley Wrice and presented at trial, in one form or another, came from the ‘police work’ of Byrne and Dignan.”

The brief asks the court to “set aside all evidence procured by two of the most notorious Burge-era police officers: Byrne and Dignan…. This proves that the problem of Area 2 was a systematic one” and hopes his brief will be a step towards restoring justice for Stanley Wrice and further inform the public about the tragic era on the South Side in which Jon Burge” was allegedly involved in the torture of more than 100 suspects.

Protess said the evidence against Wrice was clearly “tainted.” He added, “Jon Burge’s tragic legacy lives on even though he is incarcerated.” Byron never identified Wrice as one of her attackers and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. All those in the house when the crime occurred swore Lewis, who falsely testified that Wrice was one of several men who gang-raped, beat and burned Byron, was not in the house that night. Lewis had left the house to get him some barbeque chicken.

Back in 1982, Wrice, who lived in the bungalow with his siblings, often entertained his friends at his home. That night, Wrice came home but Benson and Byron came through the back door.

According to court records, Byron asked for liquor and cigarettes. Benson took her upstairs to an attic, which is where Wrice slept. There, Fowler and Holmes were already drinking.

Byron was reportedly gang-raped and burned with torched paper, a wooden clothes hanger, a two-pronged fork and a stove-heated iron.

Court records state that Wrice claimed he was downstairs most of the time or at a nearby phone booth talking to his fiancée. Wrice said he did go upstairs twice, once to tell his friends to be quiet and the second time to tell them to leave. He then fell asleep downstairs on the couch.

In the interim, Byron staggered to a nearby Shell gas station. Badly beaten and burned over 80 percent of her body, she was taken to the Jackson Park Hospital. A rape kit was taken.

The next morning, Wrice was awakened when police entered his home. He was arrested and taken to the infamous Area 2 Chicago Police Department headquarters known for alleged police brutality acts against black men. At that time, the commander was Burge.

There, two of Burge’s top men, Detective Peter Dignan and Sgt. John Byrne, reportedly questioned Wrice for more than seven hours including beating him with a rubber hose against his groin, back and legs as cited in a report by the Special Prosecutor looking into his case.

After the beating, Wrice was escorted into another room. There, an assistant state’s attorney claimed he gave a verbal confession; however, Wrice never signed that paper and continues to deny confessing to a crime he says he never committed.

His friend, Lewis initially claimed that Wrice beat Byron; however, there were no witnesses to corroborate his statement. Strangely, all the others said they never saw Lewis in the house on that tragic night. Even more egregious, Byron, the victim, never once identified Wrice as her attacker.

Even stranger, court records say that prosecutors claimed there was no semen found on the swabs taken from the rape kit. There was no explanation given as to the absence of semen from the victim.

Wrice was not the only victim claiming to be beaten by the police. According to court records, Williams claimed the police beat him on September 9, 1982. Much later when he was at 26th and California, court records said he said a female lawyer took him in a room and showed him pictures of Byron’s battered and burned body. She allegedly told Williams he would be charged with this crime if he didn’t finger Wrice as the batterer and rapist. Records state she then took him directly to the witness stand.

However, March of this year, Williams recanted that statement claiming that he witnessed Wrice raping Byron and burned her with a heated iron.  Williams signed an affidavit saying, “The lawyer warned that if I didn’t testify against Mr. Wrice, I would be charged with the rape and beating of Ms. Byron. I realized my testimony was false, but I was afraid to tell the truth.”

The other arrestee, Fowler, who accused the police of beating him, also signed an affidavit recanting his statement saying he never saw Wrice in the attic when he and Byron were upstairs. He said in his statement, “I feel unburdened.” Referring to Wrice, Fowler said, “That dude shouldn’t be locked up.”

According to the Chicago Innocence Project, the Illinois Appellate Court granted Wrice an evidentiary hearing on the grounds of the pattern and practice of torture in Chicago’s Area 2.” Special prosecutors who were assigned to all Burge torture cases appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. The justices heard the case last March.

Since Wrice’s conviction, both Lewis and Byron have died.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

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