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“I Plan On Starting A Revolution In The Illinois Legislature”- Former Death Row Inmate Seeks Office

StoryDecember 17, 2003
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We are joined in our studios by Aaron Patterson, who spent 17 years on death row for a crime he did not commit and is now running for Illinois State House. He is one of four men pardoned this past January as part of then-Gov. George Ryan’s clearing of death row in his final days in office. [includes transcript]

A man who spent 17 years on death row for a crime he did not commit is running for Illinois State House. Aaron Patterson was one of four men pardoned this past January as part of Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s clearing of death row in his final days in office.

Patterson was convicted of killing an elderly Chicago couple in 1986. He spent 17 years on death row mostly in a 6-by-9-foot cell despite repeated claims of innocence and accusations that police tortured him to confess to the murder. He is now 39 years old.

This past January, then-Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, dealt the sharpest blow to the death penalty in 30 years by granting clemency to 167 inmates on death row.

George Ryan, a conservative republican and formerly an enthusiastic advocate of execution. He called the state’s judicial system “broken”, “arbitrary and capricious” and “racist”. The blanket commutation followed an examination of the state’s capital punishment system that determined 13 prisoners on death row were innocent.

Aaron Patterson was one of four death row prisoners whom Ryan pardoned. He received a $161,500 settlement for his faulty conviction and has filed a $30 million federal suit against police officers and others involved in his case. He will run in the Democratic primary in March against a representative from Chicago’s southwest side, Patricia Bailey.

It’s uncertain, however, whether Patterson will remain on the ballot. He has lived in the 6th House District for only six months after being released in January and state law requires two years of residency to hold the office.

  • Aaron Patterson, spent 17 years on Death Row in Illinois after he was wrongly convicted in a 1986 murder of an elderly couple. He was released earlier this year. On Monday he announced plans to run for a seat in the Illinois State House.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Aaron Patterson was one of four death row prisoners whom Ryan pardoned. And he joins us in our studio today. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Aaron Patterson.

AARON PATTERSON: Thank you for having me here today.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, when did George Ryan pardon you? What was the date?

AARON PATTERSON: I was pardoned January 10, 2003.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you hear that George — when were you released from prison?

AARON PATTERSON: Well, I officially heard that I was going to be released at the same time everybody heard the speech that governor George Ryan gave that same day.

AMY GOODMAN: The same day.

AARON PATTERSON: The same day.

AMY GOODMAN: You were free. AARON PATERSON: Yeah. It was like five seconds after he mentioned my name about receiving a pardon, the phones rang in the security cages, and they told the captain and the warden to free me. To open my door and let me out.

AMY GOODMAN: What was it like?

AARON PATTERSON: Kind of — bittersweet to a certain extent, because they didn’t mention certain other individuals’ names who were on death row who were also innocent. Men such as Ronald Kline and Cortez Brown, Ronald Kitchen. These individuals I felt were innocent and the evidence was there, but the governor didn’t mention their names. So it was a blessing for me to get out, but I also felt that — I was disheartened by the fact that they weren’t released also.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, they were taken off of death row?

AARON PATTERSON: Well, I mean officially.

AMY GOODMAN: But they’re imprisoned.

AARON PATTERSON: Officially they were taken off of death row and given natural life without parole which we consider the death penalty in installment plans. That was something a lot of them didn’t want. It takes less pressure off the system when you give a person natural life instead of facing death. Their case loses their notoriety to it.

AMY GOODMAN: You are now running for the Illinois statehouse for a seat?


AMY GOODMAN: And are you being challenged in terms of, can you run? What are the laws for people who have been in prison and you’re an unusual circumstance, on death row for 17 years and now totally exonerated?

AARON PATTERSON: Right. Well, it might be a problem with the two-year residency requirement, which I have no control over since I was being held hostage on death row for 17 years. There’s no way that I can claim my residency in that area of the sixth district. And I would hope that my opponents would not use that against me because it would be very shameful and grimy of them to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, I just saw an article to that effect that they were saying you were not living in the district. That when you’re in prison, they count where the prison is, not where you actually live?

AARON PATTERSON: Right. Well, I mean, if that’s the case, you know if they want to be technical, maybe I should just submit my nomination or my petitions to Pontiac, Illinois, or probably Minor, Illinois, and say well this was my residency for the last two years at one of these death row locations, if they want to be technical. But I think the board of elections has enough sense and integrity to know that I should be allowed to run, and that should be — that issue should be waived as far as the two-year residency. I have been over there for at least six months and it was through no fault of my own that I was being held hostage on death row.

AMY GOODMAN: If you were to win, what do you hope to accomplish in the Illinois statehouse?

AARON PATTERSON: I plan on starting a revolution down in the Illinois legislature, point-blank revolution. I want to let liberal-minded politicians know it’s safe to vote on controversial issues. It’s safe to speak out against these issues, and to free more innocent persons that are being held hostage in prison or on death row. The issues that I will use as my main platform will be the land grab that’s going on in the city where they’re pushing blacks out of the community to take those properties and use them for, like, strip malls. Another thing I want to go after is jobs for the individuals in the community. They say it’s a major gang problem going on around the Englewood area, crime is rampant along with drug use and drug sales. I’m saying that they give these individuals jobs and vocational training then there would not be any problems with the gang violence that goes on now. I also would like police accountability as well as prosecutor accountability. If these prosecutors or police commit perjury or fabricate evidence or hide evidence or destroy evidence, then they should be fired and they also should go to jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about your own case. The man in charge of area two’s violent crime unit where you were taken was Lieutenant John Burg.


AMY GOODMAN: He was fired in 1993, or retired?

AARON PATTERSON: You could say could say he was both, fired and retired, because he still received his benefits, pension, and he currently has a contract with the city of Chicago with our current mayor, Richard M. Daly, where he has a security firm contract with the city. And it seems to be some kind of relationships still between these two individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, he left after investigators determined he had used excessive force to squeeze a confession from a suspect.

AARON PATTERSON: Right. Andrew Wilson.

AMY GOODMAN: Among his critics, they say he has wired suspects to a device called a tucker telephone, cranked electric shocks into them. They allege he and other police beat suspects, subjected them to mock Russian roulette and chained them to hot radiators. Did any of this happen to you?

AARON PATTERSON: Yes. Some or all of those things happened to me. He also put plastic bags over individual’s faces to suffocate them until they passed out. He used baseball bats to beat suspects with telephone books to hit them on top of the head. The electrical prod as well as the electrical crank system that he used—he would attach those to your genital parts, ears, feet, everything. He just was medieval about his way of torturing individuals in these police stations. Some of all of the 66 men and women that were tortured can bare witness to these facts. The Officer Professional Standard, who is a police entity and investigate police misconduct has also agreed that this man as well as his detectives committed these type of acts.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Aaron Patterson, this is part-one of our two-part interview. Aaron Patterson will be back with us tomorrow along with my co-host, Juan Gonzalez of the “New York Daily News.” We’ll talk further about your 17 years in prison, and then what you have done since you have been out. And what you tell students around the country when you are called in to talk to them about death row and the criminal justice system. Aaron Patterson, just freed from death row in Illinois.

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