Pure Torture, From the Chicago Reader of December 3, 1999 --continued

Most citizens would find that a shameful record, yet Patterson contends that it shows some honor. Every violent crime he was charged with, he says, was committed in response to an attack on himself, on his gang, or on the rules the Apache Rangers were supposed to live by. The people he shot and otherwise assaulted, he says, were gang members, fellow combatants, not innocent bystanders, not anyone he was trying to rob. He argues that he was not a thief, and his rap sheet shows nothing to contradict that claim; he incurred no charges of burglary, armed robbery, or home invasion. He contends that he committed no crimes with knives, and it is true that the assaults on his sheet up to his last arrest mention none.

Not being a thief is a small claim to virtue. Not being handy with a knife seems beside the point if guns are used instead. Both attributes, however, are crucial to Patterson's argument that he does not belong on death row.

The detectives from Area Two who called at Lieutenant Patterson's home wanted to question his son about more than the shooting of a rival gang member. They also wanted to ask about the murders of Vincente Sanchez, age 73, and his wife Rafaela, 62, whose decomposing bodies were found in their southeast-side home on April 19, 1986. Vincente had been stabbed 25 times, Rafaela 9. The corpses were discovered after a boy named Wayne Washington, who did odd jobs for the couple, noticed that the back door was open and told a neighbor to call the police.

Vincente Sanchez, a retired steelworker, had been working as a fence. The initial police report described the residence as "filled with clothes, household items, tools, suitcases, and such an assortment of non valuable items to the extent that it [is] difficult to maneuver through the rooms." Four guns were found at the scene. Two were registered to Sanchez, one was not registered to anyone, and one was hot, having been stolen from a woman who lived two blocks away. None had been recently fired.

In the course of their investigation, detectives found word on the street to be contradictory. Some sources said Patterson and the Apache Rangers were responsible, some pointed to a member of another gang, and one man called Sweet Tooth told detectives that he had heard that the murders were done by Willie Washington, the brother of the boy who had spotted the open back door.

It happened that when Area Two detectives called on Lieutenant Patterson he didn't know where Aaron was. Aaron knew the police were looking for him on charges unrelated to the Sanchez murders and he was avoiding his usual haunts. A few weeks before the Sanchez murders, Patterson had shot a rival gang member in the chest. And on April 18, the day before the Sanchezes' bodies were found, Patterson and other Apache Rangers had beaten one of their comrades for stealing. The beating caused severe head and chest injuries.

On April 30, police acting on an anonymous tip found Aaron Patterson hiding in the attic of a building at 8456 S. Euclid. They brought him to an interview room at Area Two, and detectives from the violent crimes unit began their interrogation. They had also arrested Eric Caine, a man who was a member of a different gang—the Vice Lords.

The detectives' field investigation report says that both men failed polygraph tests. It goes on to offer the following scenario, allegedly compiled with the cooperation of both of the accused: Caine approached the Apache Rangers because he needed guns to protect himself from the Spanish Gangster Disciples, who had attacked his house and his girlfriend. Patterson said he could have a gun at half price if he went with them on "a mission." The mission was the invasion of the Sanchez home. Patterson allegedly told detectives that once inside, he took matters into his own hands because Caine proved an ineffective interrogator, unable to get Vincente Sanchez to say where his guns and drugs were.

This is a portion of Patterson's alleged statement: "We told the guy we wanted his guns. I pointed a gun at him. My gun didn't work but the chump didn't know it. Eric had a knife. I got a knife too, from the kitchen. The Mexican [Vincente Sanchez] was too slow getting the good stuff, the guns. I went off. I'm Ninja. He was scared. He backed away. I shanked him. He tried to run. I'm the last Apache so I got him. I stabbed him. I was a straight up Ninja. His old lady was screaming. She tried to run too. I had that chick swinging everywhere. I shanked her. More than once the bitch. When I go on a mission I get it done. That old chump took too long to get it done so I did him. Eric, that shrimp, he got scared. He tried to stop me. He was so scared he ran out. He took a red bag with a shotgun in it. We couldn't find the good stuff. When I left I took the knife with me. I tossed it on the tracks."

Fair enough, one might think. Patterson confessed, end of story, book him. And yet Patterson wasn't booked. According to police documents, assistant state's attorney Kip Owen was present for the interviews and heard the confession, yet he was not willing to file charges. "At this point in the investigation," the police field investigation report reads, "ASA Owen deferred formal charging pending a continuing investigation." According to the police report, Area Two detectives proceeded to search for the murder weapon along the IC tracks, walking them from 87th street to 92nd to no avail. Then, without any more evidence than they'd had when Owen declined to file charges, Patterson was charged by assistant state's attorney Peter Troy. Troy wrote out a statement and asked the Apache Ranger to sign it. He refused.

Evidence proved to be in short supply. No witnesses claimed they'd seen Patterson come or go, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Fingerprints found at the scene did not match the Apache Ranger's. Bloody shoe prints also provided no corroboration. No hair or fiber samples put Patterson in the house, and none of his clothes turned up with the blood of the victims—and there must have been plenty of blood.

Lieutenant Patterson calls his son "a pioneer" in accusing Area Two detectives of torture, and the description is accurate. Aaron Patterson leveled his accusations on May 2, 1986, at his very first court appearance, three days after his arrest. While other men had previously claimed to have been tortured at Area Two, when Patterson told his story those claims had no currency. No one in any position of authority outside the police department (and, one might suspect, the state's attorney's office) knew that Patterson was just one of many African-Americans who had made the same claim against a small gang of south-side detectives and their commander, Jon Burge.

Patterson's claim was entered into the court record three years before attorneys from the People's Law Office began to see a pattern and started compiling a list that eventually included more than 60 alleged victims; four years before the Reader reported that Commander Burge had been accused of electric shock as far back as 1973; four years before Office of Professional Standards investigator Michael Goldston wrote a report stating that the abuse had been systematic and included "planned torture"; five years before Amnesty International called for an inquiry; seven years before Jon Burge was dismissed by the Police Board for the "physical abuse" of cop killer Andrew Wilson; ten years before the city of Chicago's own attorneys argued in federal court that Burge engaged in the "savage torture" of Wilson and a man named Melvin Jones; and 13 years before the Area Two victims—11 of whom are awaiting execution—pricked the conscience of the Tribune's editorial page, which called for a judicial inquiry for the first time on July 31, 1999. (The Sun-Times had expressed its concern seven months earlier.)

Patterson showed a certain self-confidence in that first court appearance, a self-confidence that many might label reckless. It was a bond hearing—a session in which a judge is merely supposed to set bail for the accused, not make any determination of guilt or innocence. Patterson appeared with no attorney, refusing the services of both the public defender's office and the lawyer representing codefendant Eric Caine, who did her best to protect Patterson by warning him to keep his mouth shut. Nonetheless Patterson persisted, trying to interrupt the proceedings and finally getting a nod from the judge that he could say something. Without hesitation, he claimed to have been suffocated with a plastic bag.