On January 29, 1982, the body of Geoffrey Mayfield, a prosecution witness in a pending murder case, was found shot multiple times in an empty lot on 134th Street on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois.
Thirty-year-old Melvin Jones was arrested on February 5 while babysitting his girlfriend’s three-year-old child. Detectives Robert Flood and Dennis McGuire ransacked the residence and said they found a gun in a drawer in the child’s bedroom.
Jones was taken to the Chicago Police Area 2 homicide bureau where he was interrogated by Flood, McGuire and their commander, Lt. Jon Burge.
Jones would later testify that he was handcuffed to a wall with his hands behind his back. He said Burge stuck a sock in his mouth, then pulled down his pants and underwear and shocked him with an electrical device on his bare foot, his thigh and his penis in an attempt to get him to confess to Mayfield’s murder.
Jones said Burge “kept asking me about the homicide and he said I was going to confess. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about.” Jones also quoted Burge as telling him, “Before I leave this room, you’ll wish you never set eyes on me.”
The torture stopped, Jones said, when Burge was called away on another case.
But when Burge learned that Jones had thrown pieces of paper with “help” written on them out of a window, Jones said Burge returned. “Burge took the stapler and hit me with it in the middle of my head,” Jones said. “When I put my hand on my head, he hit me again, on top of my hand.”
Jones, however, did not confess to the murder.
The following day, two other detectives resumed questioning Jones. Burge entered the interrogation room carrying a gun and asked if Jones had “started talking yet.” Informed that Jones had not, Burge put the gun to Jones’ head and said he was going to “blow his black head off.”
After four days, Jones did not confess to the murder. He was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and remained in jail, unable to post bond.
In May 1982, at a hearing to quash the arrest, Jones described the torture. Flood and McGuire denied any abuse and denied Burge was even present during any of the interrogation. The hearing resumed in August 1982 and Burge testified that he had not been involved in the interrogation. Burge admitted that he had warned Jones that “the criminal justice system…do(es) not think highly of people that kill state’s witnesses and I also told him that if it took us a day, six months, a year, or 10 years, we would get the parties that were responsible for murdering this witness.”
The motion to quash the arrest on the torture allegations was denied. But on September 2, 1982, Jones was acquitted of the weapons charge because the gun was inoperable and he was released.
When Jones was released, his lawyer warned him that he should be careful because she believed the police “were going to get him and that they were going to put the murder case on him any way they could.”
Six weeks later, on October 19, 1982, three men were fatally shot in an apartment on Chicago’s South Side.
On December 10, 1982, detectives Flood and McGuire arrested Jones as a suspect in the triple murder. Although Jones was never charged in the triple homicide, he was then charged with the murder of Mayfield.
Jones went on trial in 1983 in Cook County Circuit Court where Judge George Marovich heard the evidence without a jury.
McGuire and Flood testified that Jones, under the mistaken belief that his acquittal on the gun charge prevented his being charged in the Mayfield murder, confessed to killing Mayfield and bragged that he had gotten away with it.
The detectives said that Jones became a suspect in the triple murder because they found a woman, Deneen Murray, who told them that she had been present when the three men were murdered and that Jones was one of three men who gunned down the victims.
The detectives said that Murray had taken and passed a polygraph examination and had led the detectives to the house where the murders occurred—proving that she had knowledge of the killings. They also said that Murray had identified Jones in a lineup.
The officers admitted, however, that they had prepared no police reports of the statements made by Murray, no reports of the polygraph examination and had no documentation of the alleged confession by Jones or Murray’s identification of him in a lineup.
The detectives said that after Jones confessed, they summoned a prosecutor to take his statement. But the prosecutor said that Jones told him he had not confessed and denied any involvement in Mayfield’s murder.
The detectives testified that after the prosecutor departed, Jones again confessed to them. They had no record of it, however.
Another police officer testified that on January 1, 1982, he had a conversation with Mayfield—27 days before Mayfield was murdered. The officer said that Mayfield told him that Jones was present during another murder—that of Charles Brooks in 1981.
Jones testified in his own defense and denied confessing to the detectives. He testified that he was being framed by the detectives. He testified that he was babysitting for his girlfriend, Jacqueline Quinn, who also testified and corroborated Jones.
In June 1983, Judge Marovich convicted Jones. After he pronounced Jones guilty, Jones’ attorney declared, “I believe there has been a grave injustice done here. I have never in my life seen police officers bastardize a system as much as they have in this matter…I believe those liars—police officers Flood and McGuire—they lied from that stand. I believe their conduct was reprehensible.”
Marovich replied, “There is no doubt about one thing…if the police officers are lying, it is their testimony that is going to take away Mr. Jones’ freedom for the rest of his natural life. There is no doubt about it.” Marovich then sentenced Jones to life in prison without parole.
After the conviction, Jones’ defense attorneys filed a motion for a new trial. They said that they had never heard of Deneen Murray until the detectives testified about her during the trial. They ultimately found Murray and she gave a sworn affidavit saying that she had been questioned about the triple murder, but had never been given a polygraph examination and had never implicated Jones in the triple slaying.
Murray said in the affidavit that she didn’t know Jones and that she did not identify him in a lineup.
The motion for a new trial was denied.
In 1987, the Illinois Court of Appeals reversed Jones’ conviction, ruling that the testimony from the officer who said that Mayfield had implicated Jones in the Charles Brooks’ murder was improper hearsay and should not have been allowed.
The appellate court was highly skeptical of the detectives, noting that they had failed to document Jones’ alleged confession, any statements from Murray, anything about the polygraph or that there had been a lineup in which Murray had allegedly identified Jones as being involved in a triple murder—yet never charged him in that case.
The court found that Murray’s affidavit was “unique newly discovered evidence” and could have tipped the balance to an acquittal for Jones.
In August 1989, Jones went on trial for a second time. Flood and McGuire again testified that Jones had confessed. The defense used the testimony of Murray and Jones to attack the credibility of the detectives. There was no physical evidence linking Jones to the murder. On August 24, after a four day trial, a jury deliberated less than an hour before acquitting Jones.
Over the years, evidence began to emerge that Jones was not the only suspect subjected to torture at the hands of Burge and his detectives. Ultimately more than 100 defendants would make such allegations.
In 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury for denying the torture allegations during questioning in federal lawsuits brought by other torture victims. He was sentenced to 4½ years in prison.
In 2011, Jones filed a federal class action wrongful convictions lawsuit on behalf of the torture victims against Burge and his detectives. In 2013, that lawsuit was still pending.
– Maurice Possley