On Wednesday, November 23rd, Darrel Cannon was granted a new parole hearing before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board by order of a Cook County Judge. This hearing will determine if Cannon will be released from the Illinois Department of Corrections. Cannon finds himself incarcerated for violating the terms of his parole from a 1973 murder conviction. How exactly he violated his terms of parole is where the controversy lies. In 1983, shortly after being release on parole for the 1971 murder, Cannon was arrested for murder. Detectives Peter Dignan and Sgt. John Byrne, who both worked under former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge, arrested cannon. After hours of interrogation Cannon confessed to the murder; however, almost immediately Cannon claimed the police used extra-legal tactics to extract his confession; in other words, he was tortured.
Among Cannon’s claims are that Dignan and Byrne put a shotgun in his mouth and used a cattle prod on his genitals to induce a confession. At the time of Cannon’s arrest and trial his words were falling on deaf ears. With the luxury of the hindsight we now have, we know the entire criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County was ignoring the pleas of tortured suspects. A recently released report by a Cook County Special Prosecutor detailed the allegations of over a hundred black men who claimed they were tortured at the hands of Burge and his men. Cannon was just one of the many.
In 1997, Cannon won an Illinois Appellate Court decision that ordered a evidentiary hearing into Cannon’s claim of torture. This hearing was to be the first real chance for any of the over 100 black men tortured by Burge and his men would have to challenge their coerced confessions. Halfway through the hearing Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine pulled what can only be considered the height of disingenuous actions of the entire Jon Burge torture years. He offered Cannon a deal that would require Cannon to drop his allegations of torture for a deal that would release Cannon in two years. Despite his momentum in Cook County Circuit Court, Cannon was pressured to take the deal.
When Cannon accepted the deal the officers that tortured him did not have to take the stand and face cross-examination. Once Cannon took the deal the Illinois Prisoner Review Board that has jurisdiction over an individual’s parole revoked Cannon’s parole from the 1971 murder. The revocation of Cannon’s parole meant that he would have to serve the remainder of his sentence. This extended Cannon’s prison term to 2063. Devine cut Cannon a deal because his lawyers were too close to exposing two decades of torture at the hands of Chicago Police Officers. If Cannon’s lawyers would have uncovered the conspiracy that lay at the heart of the racist actions of Burge and his men it would have resulted in hearings for dozens if not hundreds of potential victims of torture. However, Devine as the elected Cook County State’s Attorney, is legally and ethically, and I would argue morally, obligated to investigate any crime or violation of law that he is made aware of. Devine did not ever really give an adequate rational for why he offered a convicted murder such a strange deal.
Devine claims he was forced to make the deal because the judge in the case made rulings that handicapped his office. What that did not explain was why Devine went to other death row inmates like Aaron Paterson to make the same deal. Devine is obligated to investigate, not cover up. His actions in the Cannon case stopped a process of revealing what exactly happened in the interrogation rooms at the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 and Area 3 Headquarters from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. Since Cannon accepted the agreement with Devine he has remained in prison.
The Illinois Prisoner Review Board even admitted that they believe that torture occurred in the Cannon case but they still refuse to release him. One of his lawyers, Locke Bowman from the Macarthur Justice legal clinic at Northwestern University School of Law, was in the process of making a deal with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the legal office that represents the Board, but at the last minute Illinois Attorney General’s Office backed out of the deal. This latest victory in Cook County Circuit Court should allow for an arrangement to be constructed, such as releasing Cannon from the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. One question remains. One that is never asked by our media, elected officials, criminal justice authorities, or the public. If Cannon did not commit the murder in 1983, who did and why isn’t anyone looking for that individual?