Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 28, 2012

Robberies at Two Adjacent Champaign Businesses

Champaign Police say two robberies that occurred on West Bloomington Road last week share a lot of similarities.

The first one occurred Friday, Feb. 24, at the Security Finance office at 823 West Bloomington Rd. Police say a man entered, demanded money from a female employee, and then knocked her down and took her to the rear of the business. He fled with a undisclosed amount of cash.

Then on Saturday, Feb. 25, police say a man entered the America's Financial Choice office next door at 821 W. Bloomington Rd., and attacked a female employee, taking her to the rear of the business. In this case, the victim said she was stunned or Tasered by the man. Again, police say the man left with an undisclosed amount of money. A security camera captured images of the suspect --- one of which is shown above.

Champaign Police that in both robberies, the victims gave similar descriptions of their attackers --- but with specific differences.

The attacker in the Security Finance first robbery is described as a black male, between 40-50 years old, weighing 180 pounds, approximately 5'5" tall and waring a black Carhart-like hooded coat, dark pants and dark-colored shoes. Police say the suspect also had a thin mustache and wore gloves during the robbery.

In the America's Financial Choice robbery, the suspect is described as a black male, with a height of 5'11", weighing approximately 200 pounds, and in his 40's. He was wearing a red "hoodie", black sunglasses and lighter colored blue jeans.

Champaign Police is asking anyone with information on these robberies to contact the department at 217-351-4545, or contact Champaign Crime Stoppers anonymously at 217-373-8477 or by texting keyword "CCTIP" plus the information to 274637 (CRIMES).


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Two Teens Charged in Beating, Robbery of Man from Australia

Two Champaign men are in custody in connection with the alleged beating and robbery of a man from Australia in Urbana last October.

17-year olds Dorian Wills and Ralph Grey made their first court appearance Friday afternoon. They're also facing counts of attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and being held on $750-thousand bond following Friday's court apperance. A third arrest is expected, but 17-year old Anthony Davis is in the Department of Corrections, so it's not known when he'll be in court.

Champaign Detective Robb Morris says 33-year old Clinton Fookes had been in Washington, D.C. for a conference, and was visiting with computer science faculty at the U of I.

Morris says the man had apparently lost his way on the evening of October 20th when walking from downtown Champaign into Urbana, and five men lured him into a stolen van. He says the men sought out to find someone with money on them.

"More than one of them admitted when they left a house they'd been at earlier in the evening, their intent was to find an easy mark for a robbery," Morris said.

Morris says Fookes was left for dead in a barn on far North Mattis Avenue in Champaign, but was able to flag down a car the following morning, and was treated at Carle Hospital for a laceration to the back of his head, concussion, broken nose, cuts, and scrapes.

Morris says property stolen from Fookes linked him to those arrested. He doesn't expect further arrests, since the other two men in the van didn't play a role in the attack.

Morris says Fookes is now recovering at home.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Urbana Asst. Police Chief Chosen as Champaign Police Chief

Urbana Assistant Police Chief Anthony Cobb has been selected as the new chief of police for the city of Champaign.

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said Cobb has a solid track record based on his 20-year tenure with the Urbana Police Department.

"He's very clear from a leadership standpoint, which is really important about understanding the issues and some of the things that need to be done," Carter said.

Cobb said his top priority will be to improve morale within the Champaign police force.

The issue of police community relations in the department has come under scrutiny in the last few years following the 2009 police shooting death of teenager, Kiwane Carrington.

A number of citizens have also alleged that Champaign police have used excessive force when arresting two African American youths in the last few months.

Cobb said he plans to take a closer look at the department's use of force policy, and work to improve relations with the community.

"Situations and obstacles that we're facing at the Champaign Police Department, those didn't come about overnight and we're not going to get them corrected overnight. It's going to take time. It's going to take commitment. It's going to take effort," " Cobb said. "I would love to get to the point when I'm ready to retire from the city of Champaign, everyone who's back here says he's done a good job."

Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery said she is looking forward to working with Cobb. She said having someone who is familiar with Champaign-Urbana will go a long way.

"He has shown that he is a leader in the community," Avery said. "I think his community policing speaks for itself. So, I think that we're off to a great start with our new Chief Cobb."

Cobb has been with the Urbana Police Department since 1992, starting off as a patrol officer for about four years, later advancing to a school resource juvenile officer, to eventually becoming assistant chief of police in 2010. He was the department's first community policing officer, and he piloted a program related to the Urbana Police Department's current community policing approach.

"A lot of people feel that since I'm an African American from an African American community that's where all my interests and talents are going to lie," Cobb said. "That's not true. I am committed to the citizens of Champaign period."

The last time Champaign had an African American police chief was in the early 1980's with William Dye, who held that position from 1975 until 1982.

Cobb was selected to lead Campaign's Police Department from a field of more than 45 candidates following the retirement of R.T. Finney in Jan. 2012. He will join the Champaign Police Department on March 12, and will earn a salary of $140,000 a year.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 24, 2012

Judge Refuses Retrial for Cellini

There will be no retrial for a longtime Illinois powerbroker in what was seen as the last trial to grow out of an investigation of prison-bound ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

A federal judge Tuesday on denied a request from attorneys for a new trial for businessman William Cellini.

The ruling comes after jurors convicted the Springfield Republican in November of conspiring to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby'' for a contribution to Blagojevich's campaign.

In asking Judge James Zagel to do the trial over, defense attorneys had cited revelations that one juror lied about her criminal record during jury selection and thereby denied Cellini a fair trial.

But prosecutors argued there was no proof the woman harbored bias towards Cellini or performed her juror duties poorly.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 24, 2012

Judge Set to Rule on Cellini Re-Trial

A federal judge is set to rule late Tuesday afternoon on whether convicted power broker William Cellini will get a new trial. Cellini's case was supposed to be the last trial directly related to the decade-long investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Late last year Cellini was convicted of corruption. But Cellini's lawyers requested a new trial on the grounds one juror lied about her criminal record during the jury selection process. The Chicago juror, Candy Chiles, didn't disclose past convictions for drug possession and a DUI.

Cellini's lawyers say that created a built-in bias.

But prosecutors say even if she lied intentionally, there's no proof she had any bias against Cellini or did a poor job as a juror.

Judge James Zagel is asking for evidence that the juror's behavior directly affected the outcome of the trial.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 20, 2012

Daley May Not Have to Answer Burge Questions

It is likely that former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley will not have to testify about the Burge torture scandal because the city is seeking a settlement with torture victims.

A federal judge has ordered Daley to sit for a deposition in the case of Michael Tillman, who was tortured by police under former commander Jon Burge. That means Daley would have to answer questions on what he knew about the Burge torture scandal and when.

Many of the Burge victims were prosecuted and sent to prison when Daley was the Cook County state's attorney, but it's very possible that Daley will never have to answer those questions because the city is engaged in settlement negotiations on the Tillman case.

The revelation came in a hearing in federal court last week when Judge Elaine Bucklo asked about the status of those negotiations.

City attorneys said they would get a response to the torture victims by the end of this week. Neither the city nor the attorneys for the torture victims will comment on the negotiations.

(dbking/Flickr)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2012

Supreme Court Case Tied to Former Urbana Teacher Convicted of Sex Abuse

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday that could determine a school district's responsibility to share information about teachers they have suspended or fired.

Jon White was teaching a grade school in Normal when parents complained he was abusing their daughters. He wasn't charged with a crime at the time, but the school did suspend him.

The next school year he was hired to teach second grade at Urbana's Thomas Paine Elementary. White was eventually found out, and is serving a 60-year sentence for sexually abusing 10 girls. The parents of two Urbana victims claim school officials in Normal should have alerted Urbana about the previous complaints.

Governments usually have wide immunity from lawsuits. But Sean Britton, an attorney for one of the victims, says this is not an ordinary case of government neglect.

"This is not the circumstance where a bomb squad fails to adequately cordon off a bomb and protect members of the public," Britton said. "This is a circumstance where the bomb squad takes that bomb, puts it in a package and mails it to another municipality, and says, 'We don't know what's in that package.'"

Attorney James Kearns represents McLean County District 5, where White taught when the original complaints were made. He told the Urbana school that they are at fault.

"You hired this guy without doing any kind of a check on him at all." said Kearns, who also said the Supreme Court has generally ruled employers have no responsibility in making it public why they terminated a contract with a past employee.

"This court has noted multiple times there's no duty from one employer to another to warn anything about an employee," he said.

Justices could take months to issue a ruling.

In response to this case (SCOIL Case No. 112479), Illinois has made a law that addresses the situation in the future. It requires schools that suspect an employee of abuse to report it to the state.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Champaign Police Lobby to Stay Open 24/7

Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels

Plans for reducing the front desk staff and cutting lobby hours at Champaign Police Headquarters became one of the most controversial parts of budget cuts approved by the City Council last year. Now, despite the staff cuts, police officials say they've found a way to keep the front desk open to the public on evenings and overnights. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows talked with Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels about the new arrangement.

(Photo courtesy of the city of Champaign)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 12, 2012

US Sen. Durbin Pushes for Capture of International Fugitives

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) wants to know why so many suspects charged with murder and other serious crimes are simply being allowed to live their lives after they flee the country.

The Illinois Democrat is scheduled to meet Thursday with federal, state and local law enforcement officials in hopes of coming up with a plan to capture international fugitives who've committed crimes in the state.

Durbin has urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to do something after a newspaper reported that scores of fugitives remain free even though, in many cases, authorities know exactly where they are.

The Chicago Tribune found a lack of coordination between local, federal and international agencies to capture suspects, some of whom the paper's reporters found living openly in their hometowns in Mexico.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 06, 2012

Cellini Juror Storms Out of Courtroom

There was drama in a federal court in Chicago Friday over whether to throw out the recent conviction of political heavyweight William Cellini.

That jury that convicted Cellini included Candy Chiles, a Chicago woman who didn't tell to the court about past convictions for drug possession and DUI. Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, said Chiles lied in an effort to get on the jury, and he wants the conviction reversed.

In Friday's hearing, Chiles gave varying explanations for her mis-statements, including "I don't know" and "I was confused. Nervous. Confused and nervous."

Asked specifically why she didn't disclose the drug conviction, from 1999, during jury selection, Chiles said, "It's in my past. I never mention it at all."

Chiles was instantly unsettled by questions from Cellini's attorney, repeatedly accusing him of treating her like a criminal.

"What's this all about?" she loudly asked Webb. "So you can get [Cellini] off? Leave me alone. I'm tired of you."

"I sat here for 5 weeks [during the trial] and watched the way you work," Chiles said to Webb a bit later. "You keep asking me the same questions to try to trip me up."

Webb was scolded several times by Judge James Zagel for asking adversarial questions of Chiles, "sticking a needle in her." The judge said the information he was getting from the combative testimony was not helpful as he decides whether to throw out Cellini's guilty verdicts.

Zagel told attorneys his ruling will not only weigh on whether Chiles was qualified to be a juror, but whether she had any bias or prejudice after she was on the jury.


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