Cook County Officials Approve $17M Settlement With Jackie Wilson, Who Said He Was Tortured Into False Murder Confession

Jackie Wilson responds to a question from the media at a news conference announcing a lawsuit filed on his behalf on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (WTTW News)Jackie Wilson responds to a question from the media at a news conference announcing a lawsuit filed on his behalf on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. (WTTW News)

Cook County commissioners have approved a $17 million settlement with Jackie Wilson, who spent more than three decades behind bars following his wrongful conviction for the murder of two Chicago police officers.

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The county’s Board of Commissioners on Thursday voted in favor of the deal, which comes years after Wilson was released and granted a certificate of innocence in the 1982 killings of Chicago police Officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien.

“During his 36 years of wrongful imprisonment, Jackie suffered unimaginable pain and trauma that few people could ever truly understand,” Wilson’s attorneys said in a joint statement following Thursday’s meeting. “With this settlement, Cook County acknowledges and limits the substantial risk that this litigation poses to taxpayers while also allowing Jackie to move forward with what remains of his life.”

Wilson was convicted after he said he was tortured into confessing by Chicago police officers operating under infamous Area 2 Commander Jon Burge. In a 2021 lawsuit, Wilson wrote that he was repeatedly beaten and electroshocked by Burge and others.

He eventually relented and falsely confessed to the murders, he said in the lawsuit, because he believed “the only way he would leave Area 2 alive was if he gave a statement.”

That confession was taken by an assistant Cook County state’s attorney and a court reporter, who allegedly knew that Wilson had been tortured into confessing.

Wilson was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murders in 1983. That conviction was tossed out in 1987, but Wilson was tried again two years later.

According to his lawsuit, during that second trial, prosecutors and police continued “fabricating additional false evidence and withholding exculpatory evidence.” That included former Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko, who allegedly conspired with a jailhouse informant, William David Coleman, to “fabricate a false story that falsely implicated” Wilson.

Wilson was acquitted of Fahey’s death, but was convicted a second time of O’Brien’s murder, and was again sentenced to life in prison.

He remained in prison for the next 29 years until 2018, when Cook County Judge William Hooks ruled that Wilson’s confession had been coerced. Hooks tossed out Wilson’s conviction and granted him yet another trial, but this time, his false confession could not be used against him.

Special prosecutors brought in to handle Wilson’s third trial again relied on Coleman’s story, but after two weeks, they abruptly dropped all charges after it was revealed that Trutenko had allegedly lied on the witness stand by suppressing the fact that he had an ongoing “illicit relationship” with Coleman.

Special prosecutor Lawrence Oliver claimed Trutenko has maintained a continuous 30-year friendship with Coleman — which included representing Coleman in a hearing before the Chicago Police Board about Burge’s torture allegations and acting as godfather to one of Coleman’s children.

Trutenko and fellow former assistant state’s attorney Andrew Horvat have since been charged in connection to the botched prosecution. Trutenko faces charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, violations of the Local Records Act and official misconduct, while Horvat faces multiple counts of official misconduct.

The pair pleaded not guilty and went to trial late last year, but the proceedings have been paused for months due to an ongoing appeal.

Wilson’s lawsuit — which named Burge’s estate and other police officials — remains pending in federal court.

"Now it is time,” Wilson’s attorneys said, “for the City of Chicago to likewise appreciate the serious exposure it faces in this case and act consistently with the promises of Mayor (Brandon) Johnson and his predecessors who have long acknowledged the serious harm that Jon Burge and other Chicago police torturers have inflicted upon Jackie, other torture survivors, and Chicago’s communities of color.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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