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Ex-Chicago policeman jailed for lying about torture

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday sentenced former Chicago police commander Jon Burge to 4 1/2 years in prison for lying about the use of police torture to gain confessions.

Burge, 63 and suffering from prostate cancer, was convicted in June of two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for lying in a 2003 civil lawsuit brought by a victim of police torture.

Burge was dismissed from the police department in 1993, but was never convicted of actually torturing suspects before the statute of limitations expired. Instead, he was charged and convicted of lying under questioning in civil suits brought by victims.

Burge and detectives under his command were suspected of forcing confessions from black suspects by using electric shocks delivered with a homemade device, suffocation with plastic typewriter covers, and mock executions.

"Jon Burge shocked me and suffocated me and forced me into confessing to a murder I did not do," said Anthony Holmes, one of Burge's alleged victims, testifying during the two-day hearing.

"Why did you do this?" asked Holmes. "Why did he take a false statement? He was supposed to be the law."

Police torture in Chicago has drawn condemnation from the United Nations, led to increased scrutiny of the death penalty for confessed murderers, cast a cloud over the police department and cost the city of Chicago tens of millions of dollars in settlements.

Burge argued that the suspects concocted the torture allegations while in jail together to help their cases and to win compensation awards from the city.

Also testifying at the sentencing hearing was Howard Saffold, a former Chicago police officer, who said that police torture made the community more dangerous, because people stopped trusting the police.

"Decent police officers are wearing jackets they don't have to wear," said Saffold.

"This is a cancer," said Saffold. "You can't put cancer on probation... You have to restore confidence here."

U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow also received numerous letters of support from friends and former colleagues of Burge.

Men allegedly tortured into confessions under Burge were among those people freed from prison after being sentenced to death in recent years. The false convictions helped convince the Illinois state legislature to ban the death penalty earlier this month. Gov. Pat Quinn has not yet decided whether to sign the ban into law.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski, Editing by Greg McCune)