Mathias W. Delort
Mathias W. Delort

Update: A comment was added to the 3rd to last paragraph from Cook County Assistant Public Defender Lindsay C. Huge.

A man serving life in prison will have another chance to show he was tortured by Chicago police officers into giving a false confession, a state appeals panel ruled Wednesday.

The 1st District Appellate Court’s ruling comes eight months after it rebuffed the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission’s granting of a post-conviction hearing to Harvey Allen Jr., who was convicted of murder and arson in 1985.

Since that time, the state legislature expanded the reach of the state’s torture inquiry body to investigate police torture claims that go beyond ones allegedly committed by former Chicago commander Jon Burge and his officers.

Now, the same 1st District panel is ordering Cook County Circuit Judge Charles P. Burns to re-examine Allen’s case.

“The circuit court dismissed the referral on the sole basis that it did not allege any facts showing that confession was coerced by Burge or his subordinates,” Justice Mathias W. Delort wrote in the four-page order. “Because the legislature expanded the commission’s purview to include claims such as Allen’s, the commission’s referral in Allen’s case now stands on a different basis than before.”

The commission was originally created to investigate claims of torture by Burge and his associates, but for years, the commission was unsure as to whether non-Burge torture claims were covered by its authorizing statute.

The commission eventually halted its consideration of non-Burge police torture claims in June 2014, more than a year after it ruled on Allen’s claim.

The uncertainty surrounding the scope of the law ended in March with the 1st District panel’s decision in Allen’s case. The panel found that the commission’s underlying statute defined a torture claim as one solely connected to Burge and his men.

Although Allen raised a credible claim of being tortured by police, there was no evidence Burge or his officers were involved. As a result, it was improper for the commission to make a ruling on his claims, the panel found.

But now, the commission is able to investigate any claims of police torture that occurred in Cook County. Alleged victims can submit their police torture claims to the commission for the next 10 years, until July 29, 2026.

After the panel rejected Allen’s appeal, he filed a petition for leave to appeal with the state Supreme Court.

In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the expanded commission act into law, which led to the state Supreme Court on Sept. 28 ordering the appellate court to vacate its opinion in People v. Harvey Allen, Jr., 2016 IL App (1st) 142125, also known as Allen V. The appellate court did so on Nov. 18.

Allen is currently in Pontiac Correctional Center, according to state corrections records, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for four counts of murder. He was also sentenced to a concurrent term of seven years in prison for the arson conviction.

Allen was convicted for setting a Chicago apartment building on Dec. 7, 1985. That fire killed four people.

Under state law, if the commission finds a credible claim of police torture, the commission issues a recommendation to the chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court. If the chief judge also finds the claim is credible, a new trial can be convened for the alleged victim.

The state was represented by Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Alan J. Spellberg. Spellberg said the office is reviewing the decision to see if further action was warranted.

Allen was represented by Cook County Assistant Public Defender Lindsay C. Huge. “The Illinois Supreme Court’s supervisory order and the 1st District’s remand is good news for Harvey Allen because it is essentially what I was arguing for in my opening brief and in my PLA that non-Burge claims be considered,” Huge said.

Justices Thomas E. Hoffman and Mary K. Rochford concurred with the order.

The case is People v. Harvey Allen, Jr., 2016 IL App (1st) 142125-UB.