(CN) – A prosecutor cannot get immunity from claims that he put an innocent man on death row by knowingly accepting a coerced confession, a federal judge ruled.
Ronald Kitchen, 43, spent half his life in prison, 13 of those years on death row, after confessing under duress to taking part in a quintuple murder.
He was questioned by former Chicago police detective Jon Burge, who was convicted in 2010 of lying about the torture of numerous black criminal suspects between the 1970s and 1980s to elicit forced confessions. Kitchen’s conviction rested on his confession and the testimony of a witness, Willie Williams, who later admitted that he lied under oath.
Kitchen was exonerated and released from prison in 2009. In 2010, he filed a lawsuit against Burge, former mayor Richard Daley, and various other police and law enforcement officials, including former Cook County Assistant State Attorney (ASA) Mark Lukanich.
In his complaint, Kitchen claims that Burge and former police detective Michael Kill “beat plaintiff extensively striking him in the face, back, chest and groin with fists and kicking him in the back, ribs and groin – following plaintiff’s failure to answer their question of who plaintiff had been ‘speaking to’ regarding the murders.”
Later, former officer John Smith “asked plaintiff if he had ‘ever been introduced to the telephone book and the blackjack;’ forced plaintiff up against a wall; and used a blackjack to violently assault plaintiff in the genitals and a telephone book to abuse plaintiff on his head, causing plaintiff to suffer excruciating pain and to cry out in agony.”
Kitchen claimed that he endured 16 hours of torturous beatings before signing a false confession drafted by Lukanich.
While Lukanich was “in the vicinity of the interrogation rooms, Kitchen screamed out in pain multiple times such that ASA Lukanich could hear, and that when ASA Lukanich twice entered the interrogation room he could observe Kitchen’s appearance, which showed clear signs of abuse,” according to the court’s summary of Kitchen’s first amended complaint.
U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo refused to grant Lukanich prosecutorial immunity from Kitchen’s federal claims, including wrongful conviction, false imprisonment, torture and conspiracy.
“The facts alleged in the first amended complaint, if true, plausibly show that ASA Lukanich was aware of Kitchen’s tortured interrogation and knowingly obtained a coerced and involuntary confession,” Bucklo wrote on Feb. 1.
Thus, “ASA Lukanich’s alleged role in Kitchen’s interrogation and confession was investigatory rather than prosecutorial, as was his suppression of evidence of torture,” she added.
Given her finding on Kitchen’s federal claims, “Lukanich is not entitled to prosecutorial immunity on Kitchen’s state law claims for conspiracy and intentional inflection of emotional distress.”
Bucklo did dismiss Kitchen’s claim for malicious prosecution against Lukanich because “initiating a prosecution and presenting the state’s case are prosecutorial acts and are barred from suit by absolute prosecutorial immunity.”