Updated 03/17/11 – 3:18 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A man who claimed he was tortured into a false confession by police detectives under Cmdr. Jon Burge has been released from prison after 25 years.
Eric Caine walked out of Menard Correctional Center in southwestern Illinois Thursday afternoon, one day after Cook County Judge William Hooks dismissed the murder charges that resulted in Caine’s life sentence.
“Let me breathe the air — I just want to enjoy this moment right now,” Caine, 45, said after walking out of Menard, the maximum-security lockup near the Mississippi River, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis..
Caine, had been behind bars since 1986, when he was charged with the murders of a Chicago couple. He was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison, but has long maintained that he was tortured into confessing.
Newsradio 780’s John Cody reports, Caine felt as if he was in a dream.
“When I learned of my impending release, it was surreal, it was unbelievable,” Caine said.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s John Cody Reports
Hooks’ ruling dismissing the case against Caine came the same day that Burge reported to a federal prison in North Carolina to begin serving a 4 1/2-year sentence for lying about the torture of suspects. Caine had claimed that Burge threatened him with a gun to obtain a confession to the two murders.
Caine said he isn’t bitter about his incarceration, but does plan to seek recourse. He said he hopes to marry his girlfriend and channel his efforts into a possible ministry.
Caine wore clothing and shoes provided by his attorney, Russell Ainsworth, and carried a Bible and family pictures. He said what he’s really been craving is oxtail stew.
“This is the first day of the rest of my life,” Caine said, before letting out a loud, “Woo-hoo!”
Caine’s co-defendant, Aaron Patterson, was also convicted in the case and sentenced to death. But in 2003, then-Gov. George Ryan pardoned Patterson.
When Patterson was beaten by police, he said Caine was also involved in the murders.
Both Caine and Patterson have always said they were tortured into signing confessions given to them by Burge and detectives under his command. Caine said he was beaten so badly, his eardrum ruptured.
Ryan pardoned Patterson and three other death row inmates shortly before leaving office in 2003, after the Republican said he had concluded their confessions were coerced. All four inmates made similar torture claims and, years after being pardoned, reached a $20 million settlement with the city.
In the meantime, Caine’s case fell through the cracks. While incarcerated, his mother, father and grandmother all died.
Hooks ruled in January that Caine was entitled to a post-conviction hearing based on his allegations of torture, and prosecutors decided to drop the case rather than proceed, said Stuart Nudelman, a former judge acting as the special prosecutor in Caine’s case.
“We were left with, at this point, a questionable confession and really no other evidence,” Nudelman said, adding that during any retrial it was unlikely prosecutors would not have been able to meet their burden of proving Caine’s guilt.
Caine’s 1989 conviction largely was on the basis of his confession and statements made during police questioning by Patterson. Both men have claimed Burge’s “Midnight Crew” of detectives tortured them into confessing, with Caine insisting that Burge walked into the police station room where he was being held, put a gun on the table and told him he’d be worse off if he didn’t confess.
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