But it is easy to understand the family's outrage when they learned from a reporter in July that the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission started looking into a possible retrial of the case of convicted murderer Jerry Mahaffey.
"For nearly 30 years, my family has been living and reliving this nightmare, and now we are forced to do it again," Heinrich wrote in a letter to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Heinrich's letter, along with those of Alvarez and Dawn Pueschel, Heinrich's sister-in-law, inspired Gov. Pat Quinn's Wednesday call for the resignation of Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission Director David Thomas.
Quinn's announcement made national headlines, but it was the thorough, forceful protests of the Heinrich and Pueschel families that revealed some of the failures of the TIRC and have the potential to lead to numerous, additional reforms.
Background of the Case
On Aug. 29, 1983, JoEllen and Dean Pueschel were murdered in their Chicago home in the presence of their 11-year-old son, Rick. The Pueschels were savagely beaten, JoEllen was sexually assaulted, and Rick "was forced to witness this horrific crime while also being stabbed and beaten with baseball bats," Alvarez wrote in a letter to Quinn.
Reginald and Jerry Mahaffey were convicted of the crimes in 1985 and sent to death row, until Gov. George Ryan commuted the death sentences of all death row inmates in 2003.
In July of this year, the TIRC determined there was "credible evidence" to suggest that Jerry Mahaffey was tortured during the investigation, and the TIRC began proceedings that might have resulted in a retrial.
Those proceedings were conducted without informing the family members of the victims — in spite of law that requires the commission to do so.
"This news came as a total surprise to us," Heinrich wrote. "We were unaware that a hearing was being held and were never notified. We were shocked that we learned of this through the media ... The (TRIC) failed the victims in this case. This oversight never should have happened."
Still, the commission is moving forward with a hearing on Sept. 25.
On Sept. 11, Quinn responded to Alvarez' letter.
"I directed my staff to review the issue and work with the TIRC's chair and staff to ensure that it never happens again," Quinn wrote.
Quinn also said the victims' family "would be given its statutory opportunity to testify before the commission, whether it is on September 25th or at a later meeting."
Quinn said he does not appoint the executive director but "due to this gross failure of the law, I believe new leadership is needed."
"Both my office and the chair of the commission has asked the current commission to step down. If he does not do so, the commission should remove him," Quinn wrote.
As of early Friday morning, Thomas has not resigned.
Requests for Reform
In an open letter to Quinn dated Sept. 13, the Family of Dean, JoEllen and Richard Pueschel asked Quinn to consider 11 additional reforms:
1. A call for the TIRC to cease and desist from any further proceedings until the multitude of alleged violations of the law, Open Meetings Act violations, Freedom of Information Act violations and Ethics Law violations can be thoroughly investigated and corrected.
2. A call for Attorney General Lisa Madigan to conduct a full investigation into the activities of the TIRC, including the Executive Director, regarding the numerous violations of various state laws, and to bring appropriate sanctions and/or criminal prosecution of any violation that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
3. A complete and thorough review by your office of all current commissioners to ensure a each one is able to take on a fair and impartial approach to their mission. This review should include the removal of commissioners that bring obvious bias to the TIRC or are, by virtue of the work they do, ethically or professionally conflicted.
"Several commissioners, for example, have profited financially in the wrongful conviction/police brutality business and bring an extreme prejudice and bias the TIRC as well as a conflict of interest," the family wrote.
4. A complete and thorough review by your office of all current commissioners to ensure each meets the qualifications specified in the statute.
5. The new executive director must show through clear and convincing evidence that he or she is not involved in the wrongful conviction/police brutality business and holds no bias towards police, prosecutors or the victims of violent crime.
6. The three vacancies you plan on filling MUST be voting members (not alternates) and MUST bring the perspective of the victim and victim’s family into the Commission’s deliberations.
7. A call for the General Assembly to modify the existing code to mandate that the TIRC take into consideration any evidence of guilt or innocence beyond confessions in any case they agree to hear.
8. A call for the TIRC to modify its existing rules and remove the current practice of allowing “informal inquiries” and “summary referrals” that are designed to bypass victim notification and are contrary to state law governing the TIRC proceedings.
9. A call for the TIRC to modify its existing rules to include a TIRC victim notification protocol. It is clear one does not exist currently.
10. A call for the TIRC to conduct complete and thorough investigations of all claims brought forward for consideration.
11. A call for the TIRC to be more transparent and forthright in complying with FOIA requests.
"To be clear, we do not condone police misconduct or torture. We are not opposed to the mission of the TIRC. However, we do expect the process to be fair and objective, per the statute. Further, the voices of victims need to be given equal weight to the voice given to convicted criminals like the one who murdered Dean and JoEllen," the family wrote.
- Chicago Tribune: Quinn asks torture commission director to step down