Illinois Public Media News
Students at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville may not realize there's a big-name fugitive on campus.
Aldemaro Romero is the school's dean of arts and sciences, son of a famous Venezuelan musician, and a wanted man in his homeland.
The Venezuelan government has accused him of "treason to the motherland." That happened almost 20 years ago when he was working as a scientist and denounced Venezuelan fishermen for illegally killing dolphins for shark bait.
Romero fled to the United States and says it would be "suicidal" to go back.
He's been a dean at SIU in Edwardsville since 2009.
Romero recently donated 50,000 resource materials to the university archives. These include research notes, audiotapes of whale sounds and FBI reports on his run-in with Venezuelan authorities.
(Photo courtesy of Southern Illinois University)
After criticism over his last choice to head the Illinois State Police, Governor Pat Quinn has selected a law enforcement veteran to run the agency.
Quinn has tabbed Hiram Grau for the position. Grau spent 27 years with the Chicago Police Department. His resume includes his rise from beat cop to deputy Superintendent for the Bureau of Investigative Services for the Cook County State's Attorney. Grau's name had surfaced as a temporary fill in for Chicago's Police Superintendent Jody Weis when he stepped down this month.
Grau's appointment for the state job must still be confirmed by the Illinois Senate. Quinn's previous choice to be State Police Director never got a hearing. Jonathon Monken's lack of police experience sunk his nomination and it was later pulled. Monken has since been confirmed as head of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
Quinn also announced the appointment of Joe Costigan to be Labor Department Director. He currently holds a position with the Service Employees International union.
A University of Illinois alert Thursday morning indicating that there was a shooter on campus was sent out in error, according to University officials.
The alert sent out at about 10:40 AM told the university community to "Escape area if safe to do so or shield/secure your location." Within about 15 minutes, Illini-Alert sent out a follow-up email saying that message was sent out in error. The U of I says a worker updating an emergency-message template inadvertently sent the message rather than saving it.
In a statement, the University's Chief of Police Barbara O'Connor said: "PLEASE DISREGARD THE ILLINI-ALERT MESSAGE SENT REGARDING THE ACTIVE SHOOTER ON CAMPUS! The Illini-Alert message was sent accidentally. We sincerely apologize for this accident."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says employees at the campus' information technology service were working on ways to upgrade the alert system in light of Wednesday's fire in Campustown.
"Workers were simply updating some of the emergency templates that we have on hand for such incidents," she said. "And in the process of typing, someone accidentally hit 'send' instead of 'save."
Kaler said she realizes the original message was a frightening thing, but she said she would rather receive an alert of something not happening, than for an incident to go unreported.
MESSAGE ABOUT THE MISTAKEN ALERT
To the campus community:
This morning at 10:40, an Illini-Alert message was sent to 87,000 email addresses and cellphones indicating there was an active shooter or threat of an active shooter on the Urbana campus. The message was sent accidentally while pre-scripted templates used in the Illini-Alert system were being updated. The updates were being made in response to user feedback in order to enhance information provided in the alerts.
The alert sent today was caused by a person making a mistake. Rather than pushing the SAVE button to update the pre-scripted message, the person pushed the SUBMIT button. We are working with the provider of the Illini-Alert service to implement additional security features in the program to prevent this type of error.
The alert system is designed to send all messages as quickly as possible. The messages generally leave the sending server within two minutes. This design is essential for emergency communications. However, this prevented the cancellation of the erroneous alert once it was sent.
Additionally, once we send an emergency message, we are dependent on the cellular telephone providers to deliver the text message to the owner of the cellphone. This is a recognized issue with all text-messaging systems. This is one reason we use multiple communication mechanisms, including email and our Emergency Web alert system, which is automatically activated when we send an Illini-Alert message. We cannot rely solely on text messages to inform our community of an emergency.
The Chief of Police has charged the campus emergency planning office with reviewing and documenting todays incident. We are reviewing comments we are receiving as a result of the incident and will implement all reasonable and appropriate ideas or suggestions.
We recognize the campus community relies on us to provide accurate and timely emergency information. We are working diligently to improve our processes so that this type of incident does not happen again. Finally, we apologize for the confusion and emotional distress caused by the initial alert.
Barbara R. O'Connor, J.D. Executive Director of Public Safety Chief of Police University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign http://www.publicsafety.illinois.edu
Mike Corn Chief Privacy and Security Officer Office of the Chief Information Officer This mailing approved by:The Office of the Chief of Police
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk has three words for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald: Stay in Chicago. Fitzgerald's name has surfaced among potential nominees to replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose nonrenewable term ends in September.
Kirk said Monday he doesn't wish Fitzgerald any ill will in his career but "gosh, we need him here.'' Kirk said he would miss Fitzgerald "greatly'' if he was promoted to the FBI. Under Fitzgerald, the office has prosecuted two former Illinois governors, including the upcoming retrial of ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.
But Fitzgerald is a potential nominee who could have trouble with congressional confirmation. Some Republicans think he overreached in his prosecution of I. Lewis "Scooter'' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, in the Valerie Plame affair.
A new report finds conditions at a south suburban cemetery are worse than expected.
Archaeologists examined Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip. That's where Cook County Sheriff's officials in 2009 uncovered an alleged scheme in which workers dug up graves and resold the plots.
In a letter to the sheriff's office, archaeologists report bodies were buried in a Burr Oak corner thought to be unused. Officials had thought the corner could be used for new burials, but Sheriff Tom Dart said Monday the archaeologists found bones and pieces of burnt coffins in an area of the graveyard thought to be available for new graves.
Dart said he thinks up to 600 bodies could be improperly buried in that section - double what he had estimated.
"That area, as we had said, frankly, a year and a half ago, needs to be treated as a memorial," Dart told reporters. "That's exactly what needs to be done here. No one in good conscious can go out there and attempt to bury people there."
Dart said he doesn't know why some of the coffin pieces were burnt.
He said Burr Oak is at capacity.
"It's our hope that this report, once and for all, makes clear that if you dig at any level in these areas, you're going to find human bones, pieces of coffins and God knows what else," Dart said in a written statement.
The cemetery is going through bankruptcy and trying to find a new owner. A lawyer for the company overseeing Burr Oak said Dart's claims were inaccurate, but he wouldn't comment further.
Meanwhile, four Burr Oak workers face charges of criminal wrongdoing. All four remain free on bond while awaiting trial.
Despite a tongue-lashing from a federal judge in Chicago on Monday, lawyers for Rod Blagojevich say they'll forge ahead with a request to cancel the ex-Illinois governor's retrial and sentence him immediately on the sole conviction against him.
The motion to sentence Blagojevich on his sole perjury conviction and toss out the other 20 counts against him was a long-shot. Federal Judge James Zagel refused to dignify it with a ruling Monday, saying Blagojevich's defense lawyers didn't file their paperwork properly.
When lead Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky pressed Zagel to "indulge" him and issue a ruling anyway, the judge suggested it was more a publicity stunt than a legal request, and adding that if he ignored it, the request would "vanish into thin air."
But Sorosky, undeterred, pressed further, at which point the Judge reorted by lecturing him on the role of the three branches of government, saying that it was the executive branch Department of Justice that enjoys the power to drop criminal charges - not a judicial branch federal judge.
"To borrow something from legislative procedure," Zagel said, "this particular motion is going to die for want of a second. So we're done with it."
But afterward, Sorosky still seemed optimistic.
"Oh, one never knows," Sorosky said when asked about Zagel's comments. "Look at the March Madness tournaments - the No. 1 team lost! Pittsburgh!"
The five-page filing says Blagojevich isn't conceding any guilt, including on the conviction of lying to the FBI. That's the only count jurors agreed on at his 2010 trial. Blagojevich's lawyers argue that a second trial would be an "imprudent" use of taxpayer dollars. The government's supposed to foot the legal bills for the broke ex-governor.
Blagojevich faces a maximum five-year prison term for the lying conviction. Several of the 20 charges he'd be retried on carry a 20-year sentence.
Blagojevich's retrial is due to start in a month.
(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)
A Northwestern University journalism professor whose students are credited with helping to free more than 10 innocent men from prison has been pulled from the class that made him famous.
David Protess says he was notified by email Monday that he wouldn't be teaching the investigative journalism course for the upcoming quarter.
Protess will continue as director of the Medill Innocence Project, but he says he doesn't know whether the project will continue to be affiliated with the class.
Investigative journalism students usually conduct the project's investigations.
Cook County prosecutors have subpoenaed the notes and grades of Protess' students in connection with their investigation into an alleged wrongful conviction. And the university has been investigating Protess and the Innocence Project over allegations of ethics violations.
Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge is scheduled to report to prison Wednesday. He was found guilty of lying about the torture of suspects in police custody.
The 63-year-old Burge is set to report to a prison in North Carolina; the same prison that holds Bernard Madoff, infamous for organizing a Ponzi scheme.
A federal judge sentenced Burge to 4 1/2 years behind bars earlier this year. A jury found him guilty of lying to federal officials about whether he knew police officers in his district were torturing suspects.
Burge ran District Two of the police department in the 1970s and 80s. Since then, the City of Chicago has been sued by several suspects who were allegedly tortured and spent years - even decades - behind bars. Some of them have been exonerated.
Meantime, Burge is still collecting his police pension. The Illinois Attorney General's office has sued to cut off his $3,000 monthly retirement payments.
A former death row inmate is applauding Governor Pat Quinn's decision to abolish the death penalty for a couple of reasons.
Randy Steidl spent 12 years on death row, and 17 total years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of a double-murder in Paris, Illinois. Since his release, Steidl has been an active opponent of capital punishment, citing irreversible errors made in the justice system, but he said life without parole is ultimate punishment.
"Five minutes on that gurney, and your suffering is over with," Steidl said. "I believe if you really want to punish somebody, you put them in cage for the rest of their life where they can think about the crimes they committed. And when they die, they can burn in hell. And you don't risk the possibility of executing an innocent person."
Steidl said even if prosecutors do everything by the book, there's still the possibility of them making a mistake. And as for his own case, Steidl said there are people who are more interested in winning than justice.
Illinois abolished the death penalty Wednesday, more than a decade after the state imposed a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men.
Gov. Pat Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on death row. They will now serve life in prison with no hope of parole.
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Quinn spent two months reflecting on the issue, speaking with prosecutors, crime victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders. He called it the "most difficult decision" he has made as governor.
"We have found over and over again: Mistakes have been made. Innocent people have been freed. It's not possible to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system," Quinn said after signing the legislation.
Illinois will join 15 other states that have done away with executions.
The executive director of a national group that studies capital punishment said Illinois' move sets it apart from other states that have eliminated the death penalty because many of those places rarely used it.
"Illinois stands out because it was a state that used it, reconsidered it and now rejected it," said Richard Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, in Washington.
Prosecutors and some victims' families had urged Quinn to veto the measure.
The governor offered words of consolation to those who had lost loved ones to violence, saying that the "family of Illinois" was with them. He said he understands victims will never be healed.
Illinois' moratorium goes back to 2000, when then-Republican Gov. George Ryan made international headlines by suspending executions. Ryan acted after years of growing doubts about the state's capital-punishment system, which was famously called into question in the 1990s, after courts concluded that 13 men had been wrongly condemned.
Shortly before leaving office in 2003, Ryan also cleared death row, commuting the sentences of 167 inmates to life in prison.
Illinois' last execution was in 1999.
Quinn promised to commute the sentence of anyone else who might be condemned before the law takes effect on July 1.
New York and New Jersey did so in 2007. New Mexico followed in 2009, although new Republican Gov. Susana Martinez wants to reinstate the death penalty.
Anti-death penalty activists said other states have looked to Illinois as a leader on the issue ever since the moratorium began.
"This is a very significant action on the governor's part," said Mike Farrell, an actor best known for his role on the hit television show "M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H" and a longtime activist who is now the president of the board of directors of Death Penalty Focus in California.
"This is a domino in one sense, but it's a significant one."
Kristin Houle, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, agreed, saying Illinois' action "shows the national momentum towards repealing the death penalty."
As Illinois governor in the late 1970s, Republican James Thompson signed a law reinstating the death penalty and was an ardent supporter of capital punishment for decades.
"But for the last several years, I began to have my doubts," he said Wednesday.
Thompson said he came to believe the death penalty did not deter would-be murderers and that the risk of executing a single innocent person outweighed any potential benefits.
Quinn consulted with retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and met with Sister Helen Prejean, the inspiration for the movie "Dead Man Walking."
A Chicago woman whose teenage son was gunned down in 2006 said she was disappointed in Quinn's decision - a move, she said, that victims' relatives tried to talk him out of a few weeks ago.
Pam Bosley said nobody is in custody in her son's death, but whoever killed him does not deserve to live.
"I don't want them to breathe the air that I breathe," said Bosley, whose 18-year-old son, Terrell Bosley, was killed in front of a church on Chicago's South Side.
Bill Sloop, a truck driver from Carthage, said he was saddened to think that taxpayers would have to continue feeding, clothing and care for Daniel Ramsey, the death row prisoner who killed his 12-year-old daughter and wounded her older sister in a 1996 shooting spree.
Quinn "shouldn't have done what he did," Sloop said.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed directly to Quinn to veto the bill, as did several county prosecutors and victims' families. They said safeguards, including videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence, were in place to prevent innocent people from being wrongly executed.
Madigan declined to comment on Quinn's decision.
But death penalty opponents argued that there was still no guarantee that an innocent person couldn't be put to death. Quinn's lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, herself a former prosecutor, urged him to sign the bill.
Illinois has executed 12 men since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated. The last execution was Andrew Kokoraleis on March 17, 1999. At the time, the average length of stay on death row was 13 years.
Kokoraleis, convicted of mutilating and murdering a 21-year-old woman, was put to death by lethal injection.
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