In 1990, Conroy published “House of Screams,” the first of more than 20 articles that exposed the Chicago Police torture scandal — the use of electric shock, suffocation, hanging by handcuffs, mock executions and other means to extract confessions from more than 100 African American men on the city’s South Side. That first article, published not long after the first DNA exoneration in the United States, was met with public indifference, though a dozen innocent men stood in line to be executed. In 2003, four men who had been given death sentences were pardoned by Governor George Ryan, who concluded that they had been tortured and were innocent. In 2010, the commander of the torture gang was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, 20 years after Conroy’s ground-breaking Chicago Reader article House of Screams.
In 2008, Conroy was knocked unconscious in a mugging on Chicago’s West Side. No words had been exchanged. Nothing was taken. Conroy was rushed to the emergency room. Ultimately he met with the teenager arrested for the beating. The veteran investigative reporter found himself confronting harsh and lingering questions of race. Chicago Magazine, September 2009.
On March 8, 2003, Chicago Police Officer Alvin Weems shot an unarmed man point-blank in the city’s 95th Street Red Line station, a killing captured by Chicago Transit Authority security cameras. Investigators recommended that Weems be fired. He was promoted instead. Conroy exposed the police cover-up in “Killed on Camera,” an article in the Chicago Reader.
The CTA’s video of the shooting, with Conroy’s narration, has had more than 2.25 million views on YouTube.
Tony Lagouranis doesn’t fit the profile of a person likely to go wrong by following orders. He’s lived a footloose life unconstrained by a desire for professional advancement, for the approval of superiors, even for a comfortable home. A freethinker, he read the great works of Western civilization in college and mastered classical languages. But in Iraq, he ended up torturing detainees for information they rarely had. “Confessions of a Torturer, published in the Chicago Reader in 2007, is Conroy’s story of Lagouranis’s transformation.
On December 1, 1958, a fire at Chicago’s Our Lady of Angels grammar school claimed the lives of 92 children and 3 nuns. Joe Murray, a graduate of the school, was one of the first firemen on the scene. Though Murray was 80 years old when Conroy interviewed him, he recalled the horror as if it had happened the week before. Broadcast on WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station, on December 1, 2008.
In 2010, 37 years after first using electric shock to interrogate a suspect, Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge stood trial on charges that he’d lied about the torture in the course of a civil suit. Because the statute of limitations precluded his indictment for any acts of violence during interrogations, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald could only charge the retired commander with perjury and obstruction of justice. John Conroy covered the trial in a blog for Chicago Public Radio. Copy available soon.