Judge Guerin and the 3rd Degree

In late fall 1918, Judge Henry Guerin, recently elected to the bench, wrote to the Marcus Kavanagh, chief judge of the Cook County criminal courts. Guerin asked Kavanagh to order an investigation into the use of the third degree.

In his letter, Guerin complained that several defendants who had appeared in his court had testified that they were subject to “brutal treatment” by Chicago police officers and people at the state’s attorney’s office. He noted that jurors believed these claims and acquitted the suspects as a result. Guerin warned that soon it would be impossible to convict anyone in Cook County. A spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office denied that anyone there used the third degree, but welcomed an investigation into the practice. (Chicago Tribune, November 28, 1918, p. 17).

Five months later, Judge Guerin once again spoke out on the third degree after hearing testimony by Joseph Radakowitz, on trial for the murder of Fred Papke.  Radakowitz testified that after he was arrested police officers threatened to knock his brains out, to whip him, to hit him with clubs to try to get him to confess. Radakowitz also claimed that when he was questioned at the state’s attorney’s office, he was told he would be beaten up if he did not answer questions (Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1919, p.17).

Guerin refused to admit the confession into evidence. After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, Guerin made a speech deploring Radakowitz’s claims that he had been threatened by the police and employees of the state’s attorney’s office. Such a proceeding, Guerin said,

is absolutely in violation of the law. It is a violation permitted by the police department and the state’s attorney’s office; by the men to whom we look to protect the law and to protect the citizens of this country. It is a matter that requires investigation by the grand jury (Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1919, p. 17)

The state’s attorney’s office was quick to denounce Judge Guerin, complaining that the

practice of censuring the state’s attorney and the police department before juries not only weakens the morale and intimidates these officials but tends to bring the law which the state’s attorney and the police are trying to enforce in disrepute and contempt, not only in the minds of the criminals, but in the hearts of the juries (Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1919, p. 17).

The grand jury did hear evidence about use of the third degree in a session in April 1919 (Chicago Tribune, April 16, 1919, p. 10; Chicago Tribune, April 27, 1919, 13). In May 1919, the jury issued a report on that investigation. It found “no evidence that third degree methods were used by Assistant State’s Attorney John Owen in the confession of Joseph Radakawitz (sic); rather that Mr. Owen deserves commendation for his manner of handling that case”(Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1919, p. 1).

Judge Guerin did not pursue the issue of the third degree any further. He died in a boating accident in September 1919 (Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1919, p. 1).

War on Crime

In July 1928, the Chicago Tribune told its readers that the Chicago Crime Commission felt that justice was slowly “regaining lost ground” in Chicago’s criminal courts. The Commission’s report on Chicago’s “war on crime” noted that judges were spending more time on the bench and there were more jury trials in the criminal courts. As a result, sentences for major crimes were increasing. To provide context for the Commission’s report, the Tribune offered a quick glimpse at pending cases at the criminal courts. In one, the trial of Azar Holick (or Holic) for murder, jury selection was moving promptly before Judge Joseph David. The paper expressed hope that this meant the case would quickly go to trial (Chicago Tribune, July 18, 1928).

There was reason to want a quick resolution of the case. Holick was on trial for the murder of Anthony Banas, a butcher who had been shot during the robbery of his store on a particularly violent weekend in November 1926. Banas was the only murder victim that weekend, but the extraordinary number of other crimes that weekend–30 armed robberies, 83 car thefts, and a series of bombings–did much to explain why the Crime Commission felt a war on crime was necessary (Chicago Tribune, November 29, 1926).

That July, Judge David confirmed the Tribune‘s faith that Chicago’s criminal justice system could work: Holick’s jury was empaneled in two days, heard the evidence, and promptly sentenced Holick to life in prison (Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1928; Chicago Tribune, July 21, 1928).

Then it all came apart. In December 1929, just over a year after his conviction, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the verdict against Holick (Illinois v. Holick, 333 Ill. 337 (1929)).

What went wrong? According to the Illinois Supreme Court, quite a few things, starting with Holick’s arrest. Holick, who had no criminal record and, at age 27, lived with his mother and worked as a laborer, was taken into custody on November 21, 1927, almost a year after Banas was killed. At the time of his arrest, Holick was on the mend from serious injuries, a broken jaw and broken ribs, that had kept him in bed for three months. After his arrest, he was taken to the detective bureau and held there for a week, until he was taken to the jail on November 28 (333 Ill. 337).

At trial, Holick testified that while he was in police custody he was questioned for ten hours, and threatened by the officers who interrogated him when he denied that he was involved in the crime. He said that one officer tried to hit him with a blackjack, but missed when he was able to duck, and that other officers pulled at his hair to jerk his neck back and twisted his arms during the interrogation. Holick also testified that at the end of his extensive interrogation the officers gave him a “confession” that they had written, and told him to sign it. He said he did so because he was scared of what would happen if he refused (333 Ill. 337).

In addition to Holick’s testimony about his interrogation, his lawyers offered evidence from several witnesses who testified that the weekend Anthony Banas was being killed, Holick, his mother, and sister were visiting a family in Indiana (333 Ill. 337).

The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that Holick’s confession had not been made voluntarily, and criticized Judge David for failing to take the time to fully investigate Holick’s claim that his confession was involuntary (333 Ill. 337).