A 45-year-old Chicago man who was wrongly convicted of killing a cab driver 25 years ago after an alleged forced confession was released from prison Wednesday afternoon, officials confirm to PEOPLE.
Two months after an Illinois appeals court overturned his conviction and a day after criminal charges against him were expunged, Shawn Whirl walked out of the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Illinois, and into the arms of his waiting mother.
He was convicted in 1990 after his fingerprints were found in the back of murdered driver Billy Williams’s cab. Whirl, a computer operator with no criminal record, was grilled by detectives for hours while he maintained his innocence.
But after officers allegedly tortured him while keeping him handcuffed to a wall, Whirl eventually signed a prepared statement confessing to the crime, court officials claim. At trial, his attorney advised that a guilty plea would spare him a possible death sentence.
Whirl is the first former prisoner to benefit from the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, formed under legislation passed in 2009 to investigate claims from inmates who say they were tortured by police.
During the 1980s and 1990s, officials say allegations began to surface about ex-Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Burge was suspended from the force in 1991 and fired two years later. In court, he denied that the detectives under his command used torture to coerce confessions, but an independent board determined that they had in fact used torture, which led to Burge’s conviction in 2010 for perjury and obstruction of justice, for which he served three years in prison. Illinois officials confirm to PEOPLE that he now lives in Florida, collecting a pension.
Whirl s attorney, Tara Thompson of the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Attempts to contact Whirl were unsuccessful.
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