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As Arizona woman exits prison pending retrial, questions about confessions (+video)

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News that Milke would be allowed to leave prison pending retrial coincided with reports that the city of Chicago is paying out another $12 million stemming from the ongoing police torture saga involving Jon Burge, a former Chicago police commander who allegedly led a secret unit that is said to have coerced confessions from almost 200 suspects from 1972 to 1991.

Physical torture is “a major factor in giving a false confession,” says Leonard Cavise, a law professor at DePaul University in Chicago and a member of the state commission against torture that reviews cases related to police misconduct.

“What we saw in Chicago with the Burge case is an egregious example of what goes on around the country,” he says. “Usually you don’t see that concentration of torturers on a city’s police force, but individualized torturers exist in other places.”

The city of Chicago has to date paid $85 million in settlements and legal fees stemming from 17 torture cases involving Burge. On Friday, the city paid $6.15 million each to two men who were released from prison four years ago, after spending 21 years in prison before being exonerated. Cook County has spent about $10.7 million.

Some 493 people convicted of homicide were exonerated between 1989 and 2012 – and "false confessions" were cited as a factor in 22 percent of those exonerations, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. (Perjury and false accusations, followed by official police misconduct, are the factors most often cited in such exonerations.) 

No physical torture of Milke is alleged to have occurred when she allegedly confessed to ordering the killing of her 4-year-old son in a scheme for an insurance pay-out. Rather, the credibility of her interrogator has come under scrutiny during the appeal of her capital case.

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