WATCH: Jackie Wilson, in Prison For 36 Years in Cop Slaying, Freed Days After Confession Tossed

Jackie Wilson, one of two brothers convicted in one of Chicago’s most infamous cop killings, walked out of Cook County Jail on Friday, a free man for the first time in more than 36 years.

The sudden freedom for Wilson, 57, came after Cook County Circuit Judge William Hooks ordered his release a few hours earlier. The judge had tossed out his murder conviction last week after finding that notorious ex-Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge and detectives under his command had physically coerced his confession.

Saying nearly four decades in prison had aged Wilson “far beyond his chronological age,” Hooks held Friday that he did not pose a danger to the community or a risk to flee — factors in whether he could be released.

The judge also said special prosecutors “utterly failed” in their arguments to keep Wilson in jail, adding that they appeared to want him to view the case “through the lens of a court sitting in 1982 or 1988 without considering the revelations that have come to light over the last three decades.”

Scores of African-American men have accused Burge, who is white, and his colleagues of torturing or abusing them during the 1970s and 1980s at a South Side police station. The scandal has stained the city’s reputation and cost taxpayers at least $115 million so far in lawsuit settlements, judgments and other compensation to victims.

Relatives of slain Officers Richard O’Brien and William Fahey left the Leighton Criminal Court Building without comment after Hooks’ ruling. Special prosecutor Michael O’Rourke said they were understandably upset by the decision.

Kevin Graham, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, who attended the hearing, called Hooks’ ruling “disgraceful.”

“I’m very disappointed that a man that is responsible, who was at the scene, that has admitted to being there when two honored police officers of the Chicago Police Department were murdered, gunned down, and he walks out,” Graham said.

As reporters and cameramen crowded around him during his exit from the jail, Wilson said he was “happy to be a member of society again.”

“Being a victim of one of a number of Jon Burge’s brutalities … ” he said as his voice trailed off and he sighed heavily. “Oh Lord, it’s just, it’s been a rocky ride.”

As Wilson walked toward a waiting car, a nearby woman cried out, “Thank God you’re free.” Wilson stepped toward her, grasped her hand and kissed it before departing.

The woman, Ilicea Barnes, 51, said she just happened to be nearby and was moved when she heard an inmate would be walking free after being locked up so long.

“Just imagine all he has missed and lost,” she told reporters.

Wilson’s attorneys said they have arranged for a social worker and a psychologist to help ease his transition from prison. Citing fears for his safety, they declined to say where he planned to live.

G. Flint Taylor, a Wilson lawyer who has represented numerous alleged victims of Burge over the years, called on the special prosecutors to drop the murder charges, saying they had no viable case now that the confession had been thrown out

“Any self-respecting prosecutor would dismiss this case,” Taylor told reporters.

But O’Rourke, who leads the special prosecution team, vowed to vigorously pursue the prosecution as he maintained there was ample evidence besides the tainted confession to prove Wilson’s guilt.

“Jon Burge has no effect on the evidence to prove the actual criminal conduct, which is separate and apart from anything Burge-related,” he said. “We have witnesses and we have testimony that’s completely non-Burge-related that will set out this case and set it out in convincing fashion.”

The ruling to free Wilson comes as special prosecutors filed paperwork earlier this week indicating they will ask an appeals court to reverse Hooks’ decision to throw out the conviction and order a retrial.

Neither side in this decades-old court battle disputes that Wilson’s now-dead brother, Andrew, fatally shot the two officers during a traffic stop or that Jackie Wilson was present. What will be at issue in a retrial is whether Jackie Wilson played an active role in the killing.

His lawyers assert that at least one witness says Wilson appeared to be in a “state of shock” during the shooting. But prosecutors contend that Wilson was hardly an innocent figure, arguing that both brothers were on the way to try to break out another accused cop killer from custody when they were pulled over by O’Brien and Fahey.

Wilson’s first conviction was tossed out after an appeals court ruled that he should not have been tried simultaneously with his brother. At a retrial in 1989, a jury acquitted him of Fahey’s murder but convicted him of O’Brien’s. He was sentenced to life in prison.

At a hearing Thursday, the team of special prosecutors laid out their case for keeping Wilson in custody pending a third trial. Prosecutors summarized the expected testimony of several witnesses, including eyewitnesses who implicated Wilson as well as correctional officers who allegedly heard him take credit for the slayings while in custody.

But on questioning by the judge, prosecutors acknowledged they didn’t know whether any of the witnesses were still alive to testify.

That left Hooks, who has sparred in court with the special prosecutors for months, incredulous.

“You can’t tell me what witnesses will be able to come into the courtroom, raise their right hand and testify?” the judge asked.

In response, Wilson’s attorneys revealed that one of those witnesses has recanted in the past month, claiming he was threatened decades ago into making false statements from the witness stand.

Prosecutors cast doubt on the reliability of the witness’s affidavit, expressing skepticism because it took him so long to come forward.

But Hooks, raising his voice, was insistent that he could not consider the credibility of decades-old testimony outside the context of what has been revealed about Burge in the years since.

Disciplinary authorities fired Burge in 1993 after determining he had tortured Andrew Wilson.

Burge was convicted in federal court of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2010 after jurors found he lied when he denied witnessing torture or abusing suspects in connection with a lawsuit. While he was not charged with torture, prosecutors had to prove allegations of abuse to support the other counts. Burge spent 4½ years in prison and on home confinement.

The Burge scandal has long fueled resentment among African-Americans who have accused the Police Department of widespread abuse and racism.

Those feelings were exacerbated in late 2015 after the court-ordered release of a video showing white Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times as he walked away from police with a knife in his hand. The furor over the shooting sparked a political crisis for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and led to a push for reform of the Police Department after a scathing report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that officers were poorly trained and quick to use excessive and even deadly force without facing consequences.


If you haven't already, be sure to like our Filming Cops Page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Please visit our sister site Smokers ONLY

Sign Up To Receive Your Free E-Book
‘Advanced Strategies On Filming Police’

About author

Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

You might also like