PONTIAC, Ill. (CBS) — Stanley Wrice walked out of a central Illinois prison on Wednesday, freed after 30 years behind bars, after his rape conviction was tossed out because he had been tortured into confessing.
Wrice, 59, was released from Pontiac Correctional Center late Wednesday morning, a day after a Cook County judge overturned his conviction, saying two former detectives lied about how they treated Wrice while interrogating him in 1982.
“It’s just an overwhelming feeling of joy, happiness that finally it’s over with,” Wrice said after walking into the arms of his two daughters, attorneys, and others who greeted him as he left prison.
Wrice said he planned to eat a cheeseburger, and get some sleep after getting none the night before.
On Tuesday, Judge Richard Walsh stopped short of finding Wrice innocent, but ordered him released from prison, awaiting a decision from a special prosecutor on whether to retry him.
Wrice has long maintained police officers under the command of disgraced Cmdr. Jon Burge beat him in the groin and face, until he confessed to a 1982 gang rape. A witness against him also has recanted, testifying he implicated Wrice after he also was tortured.
Wrice was sentenced to 100 years in prison after he was convicted, and had been in prison for 30 years.
His attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said it’s a case of justice long delayed, but not denied. After years of the case making its way through the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Courts, it took only eight ours over two days in a Cook County courtroom to convince Judge Richard Walsh that Wrice was telling the truth about being tortured.
The two former detectives he’d accused of torturing him – John Byrne and Peter Dignan – had asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when called to testify. Walsh said there’s no doubt police were torturing suspects at Area 2 in the 1980s, noted medical evidence showed Wrice was injured, and said his torture claims were “unrebutted.”
Bonjean said it was like “a load of bricks had been from his shoulders” when Wrice learned he was going free.
“He had the most physical reaction I’ve ever seen in a client. He just sunk down in his chair,” she said. “It was so powerful. He let out a sigh that was audible.”
Bonjean traveled to Pontiac on Wednesday to be there for Wrice’s release, along with his daughter, Gail Lewis, who was only 1-year-old when her father went to prison.
Bonjean said she still intends to prove that prosecutors – including then Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley – knew about police torture under Burge.
At a hearing on Thursday, his attorneys hope the State’s Attorney will drop all charges and officially set him free.
No Chicago police officers ever have been convicted of torturing suspects, but Burge was convicted of perjury for lying in a civil suit when he said he’d never seen or participated in the torture of criminal suspects at Area 2.
Burge is serving a 4 1/2-year sentence in federal prison, and the city has paid out more than $83 million in settlements to people who have claimed they were tortured by Burge and his detectives.