Was James Gibson Beat into Confessing to a Double Murder?

For the past 28 years, James Gibson has maintained his own innocence. For 28 years he has remained behind bars. This is despite the fact that Gibson ostensibly confessed to the murders of an insurance agent and his friend. Gibson has always said that, over the course of two days, he was beaten by former Chicago police officer Jon Burge and the confession elicited during interrogation was coerced. Burge was accused of torturing confessions out of at least 200 suspects during his 19 years on the force. While the statute of limitations had elapsed on many of Burge’s crimes, he was eventually convicted in 2008 of obstruction of justice and perjury. He was sentenced to four and a half years, but released in 2014 after serving less than three.

As Burge’s crimes became public, Governor George Ryan pardoned four of those who had been convicted of crimes with confessions obtained by torture. Still, there are many behind bars who were convicted on phony confessions. James Gibson is among them. After 28 years, an appellate court threw out his conviction and ordered a new trial. Nonetheless, Gibson will likely remain behind bars until his friends and family raise the $20,000 necessary to release him on bail and will require electronic monitoring for the duration of the trial. 

Gibson Has Always Maintained His Innocence

Police want a confession. A confession makes their job infinitely easier. Prosecutors like confessions, too. Regardless of how strong the defense’s case is, it becomes infinitely more difficult for a defense attorney to prove the defendant’s case when the prosecution has a confession. By contrast, it now becomes the defense attorney’s job to prove (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that the confession was coerced and the rest of the case is bunk. Confessions are the holy grail of prosecutorial evidence. In this case, Gibson never signed a confession but admitted to the murders after being punched, kicked, and burned with a clothes iron.

Even on appeal, it can be difficult for defense attorneys to convince an appellate panel that the evidence against the defendant is not strong enough to allow the conviction to stand. Even in cases in which you have an officer who stands in disgrace for torturing suspects, the defense attorney must prove that the other evidence against the defendant is not strong enough to stand on its own.

In this case, defense attorneys for Gibson argued successfully that the prosecution’s case without the confession lacked substantial merit and should be vacated on that basis alone. There was no physical evidence that tied Gibson to the crime and key witnesses for the prosecution later recanted statements that fingered Gibson for the crime.

The prosecution has the right to retry the case, and it appears that is what they will do. Without Gibson’s confession and a lack of witnesses, it is hard to tell what kind of case they will have.

Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with a crime in Illinois, call David Freidberg, Attorney at Law at (312) 560-7100 or talk to us online to set up an appointment today.

(image courtesy of Robert Hickerson)