Illinois Public Media News
When Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in the state earlier this year, it spared the lives of 15 men on death row.
But one of them may not be off the hook.
Andrew Urdiales, 47, a former U.S. Marine, could be put to death if he is found guilty in the deaths of five women in Southern California.
The Orange County District Attorney's office announced this week that it will seek the death penalty against Urdiales if he's convicted in the murders.
"We will be seeking the death penalty for the crimes that he committed in California," according to Howard Gundy, senior deputy district attorney for the Orange County D.A.'s office. "The factors of aggravation, which would call for the stiffest penalty, far outweigh any of the factors in mitigation."
Urdiales is now awaiting trial in Orange County for the deaths.
He was extradited from the Pontiac Correctional Facility in Pontiac, Illinois in late September.
At Pontiac, Urdiales had been on death row for the murders of Laura Uylaki, 25, of Hammond, Ind., and Lynn Huber, 22, of Chicago.
Their bodies were dumped near Wolf Lake which straddles the Illinois-Indiana state line near Hammond.
In 2004, Urdiales was sentenced to death again for the 1996 murder of Cassandra "Cassie" Corum, 21, of Hammond.
Prosecutors say Urdiales dumped her body in the Vermilion River in Pontiac.
But the change in Illinois law in March abolishing the death penalty commuted Urdiales' sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
Urdiales will be arraigned in Orange County on Dec. 1for the additional five homicides. Of the five homicides, three took place in Riverside County, one in San Diego County, and one in Orange County.
Gundy said it was decided to consolidate the five cases with the trial happening in Orange County.
Prosecutors say the killing started back in 1984 when Urdiales was a 19-year-old Marine stationed in Southern California until his discharge in 1991. That's when he returned to the South Chicago neighborhood where he grew up.
Four of the five California victims are described as prostitutes ranging in age from 21 to 32.
His first California victim was 23-year-old Robbin Brandley who had been volunteering as an usher at a concert. Prosecutors say Urdiales wanted to kill a random person so he sought Brandley out following the concert and as she walked to her car. He's alleged to have stabbed her 41 times with a six-inch hunting blade.
The case was cracked open in November 1996 when Urdiales was arrested by police in Hammond, Ind., for loitering in his truck near an area known for prostitutes. Police confiscated a handgun which he was not licensed to carry.
Ballistic testing in April 1997 by Illinois police found the gun confiscated by Urdiales was the same firearm used to shoot and murder three of the victims.
Urdialeswas soon after arrested for the three murders.
(AP Photo/Illinois Department of Corrections, File)
Critics of the Champaign Police Department are expressing outrage, and a differing account of the arrest of an African-American teen last weekend, that they say involved excessive use of force.
Police say Calvin Miller ran a red light and swerved into traffic to avoid police on Monday at around 1:30 am, and then at one point, jumped from a moving van, which hit the front of the house. Police say Miller then reached for the officer's duty belt, and the officer struck him with his hand.
"It's a situation that could have been resolved very, very minimal with the officer stopping, the potential for a ticket, and the offender going on," Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney told WDWS radio. "We don't make the decision for people to run....if you run from the police, not only is it illegal, but it's going to have some dire consequences."
Responding to the police department's account of what happened, Calvin's father, Martel Miller claims police rammed into his son's car, and then maced him with pepper spray, struck him repeatedly on the face, head and ankle, and hit him with a baton.
"This is part of racial profiling," Miller told a crowd Thursday outside of the Champaign Police Department. "What I want you all to understand is abuse with black young men has been going on for too long, and it's by this department."
The incident comes two years after the police shooting death of teenager Kiwane Carrington.
Miller said he hasn't yet filed a formal complaint against the police department. In the last few days, there has been flurry of outrage over the alleged police beating of his son, and there are calls for major changes in the police department. Aaron Ammons, the co-founder of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, said there is no reason Miller should have been struck in the first place.
"We're asking for and demanding that these officers be removed, those who have been problems throughout the community ongoing that they can be removed and that new officers are brought in," Ammons said. "And bring more African American and people of color officers into this department who live here, who know the community, and who have a stake in the community."
Finney said the case will be reviewed to determine if there was excessive force used. Finney noted that officials with his department will likely address the city council on Tuesday night. Critics of the police department are expected to do the same. The Champaign City Council plans to discuss a proposal for a citizens police review board later this fall. That proposal was brought up last week, before the Calvin Miller arrest.
"Certainly the officers had every reason to get him into custody, and protect themselves in that backyard, and I think that's what they did," Finney said, adding that there wasn't anything he believed the police officers could have done in the situation.
At Thursday's demonstration outside of the Champaign Police Department, 30-year-old Gary McFarland of Champaign came forward. He said at the start of October, a Champaign police officer hit him as he was trying to enter his home.
McFarland said that incident resulted in his jaw having to be wired shut: "He never asked my name. He never asked for my ID. He never searched me. I could have been anybody."
A review of court records show McFarland was charged with resisting a police officer and criminal trespassing on Oct. 3, 2011.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's brother wants to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Ethics investigating whether an Illinois congressman sought to raise money for Blagojevich for an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.
Robert Blagojevich told Thursday''s Chicago Sun-Times he's written to committee members offering testimony about Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr.
Rod Blagojevich was convicted of trying to sell Obama's seat. Related charges Robert once faced were dropped. Trial witnesses alleged Jackson supporters offered fundraising for the governor if Jackson became senator.
Jackson's denied wrongdoing and hasn't been charged. He testified at Blagojevich's retrial that he's "never directed anyone to raise money for another politician.'' His spokesman declined comment yesterday.
But Robert Blagojevich says "there are a lot of unanswered questions (Jackson) should be required to answer.
A bipartisan legislative commission is rejecting Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close three social-service facilities and a youth prison.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability cast advisory votes Thursday against closing a juvenile detention center in Murphysboro, a developmental center in Dixon and mental health hospitals in Rockford and Chester.
Quinn announced last month he needs to close seven facilities and lay off nearly 2,000 employees because of budget shortfalls.
A spokeswoman says Quinn has no choice but to shut the facilities unless the Legislature appropriates more money.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees opposes the closures. Executive Director Henry Bayer says the votes indicate lawmakers believe the facilities are necessary. The commission has yet to vote on closing facilities in Lincoln, Jacksonville and Tinley Park.
A man thought to have been a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy has been discovered living in Florida.
After the Cook County Sheriff exhumed remains of eight Gacy victims, the family of Harold Wayne Lovell came forward in an effort to find a match. Instead, they discovered that Lovell had been living in Florida all along. He'd vanished from Aurora in 1977 and had some trouble with the police along the way. Sheriff Tom Dart said the family was convinced Lovell was a victim based on a piece of jewelry found at Gacy's house. But they had no dental records to make a comparison at the time.
Lovell, now 53, has been reunited with his family.
Sheriff Dart said investigations have become more accurate over the past couple of decades.
"Back in the late 70s and prior to that, the way that missing persons were handled as a whole was not very scientific at all. And so people that had concerns back then, now would be the time whether or not they thought they were involved in the Gacy case or not. Come forward and have your DNA submitted," Dart said.
Dart said more than 120 families have come forward to see if their loved one is possibly among the victims. Results could be revealed in two to three weeks.
Gacy was convicted of murdering 33 men and boys in the 1970s. He was executed in 1994.
The Champaign Police Department has released its account of what occurred early Monday morning when 18-year old Calvin Miller was arrested.
The arrest and alleged police beating of the teen sparked a protest from around 100 people at Tuesday's Champaign City Council meeting, including his father, activist Martel Miller. The press release described what occurred before Miller's arrest on counts of Resisting a Police Officer, Fleeing or Attempting to Elude, and a traffic signal violation.
In the release issued Wednesday night, police say an officer saw a van speeding as it left the University Village apartments about 1:30 a.m. Monday. Police say the officer had trouble catching up with the eastbound driver, who ran a red light at Moreland Boulevard and Marketview Drive, and the officer wasn't able to catch up until he reached Neil Street.
Police say the officer turned on his overhead lights, but the driver continued on until jumping from the moving van, which had slowed down just before hitting the front of a home on Arcadia Drive. Police say damage wasn't serious, and that the squad car made no contact with the van.
A foot chase then ensued, in which police say the officer gave out clear and loud commands for the subject to stop. Police say he jumped a fence in the 200 block of Arcadia, and fell to the ground. When ordered to put his arms behind his back, the man resisted. Police say when he reached for the officer's duty belt, the officer struck the subject with his hand to subdue him. When a second officer arrived, he used pepper spray before making the arrest.
Officers say the 18-year old Miller was taken to Carle Hospital for a medical evaluation before being transferred to the Champaign County Satellite Jail. He later posted bond and was released.
Champaign police say to date, there has not been a formal complaint filed regarding Miller's arrest, although Martel Miller said Tuesday he is talking to lawyers about his son's case.
Champaign Police says staff will assess the officers' responses to ensure that all actions were in accordance with departmental policies and procedures.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The Illinois Supreme Court has suspended convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's license to practice law.
The court acted Wednesday in response to a request from the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The Commission noted he was found "guilty of crimes that involve moral terpitude and reflect adversely upon his fitness to practice law."
Blagojevich's legal career got off to a rough start. The ex-governor has described his first year at Pepperdine Law School as "almost catastrophic" because he was more interested with history books than law ones. It also took him a couple tries to pass the bar exam.
Blagojevich is currently awaiting sentencing on federal corruption convictions that he tried to personally profit from his appointment of a U.S. senator for the seat vacated by President Barack Obama and other wrongdoing.
The ruling won't have much impact on Blagojevich.
The Chicago Democrat has been a lawyer since 1984, but he hasn't practiced law since joining Congress in 1997. He was governor from 2003 to 2009, when he was impeached and removed from office.
For now, the Illinois Supreme Court's order is a temporary suspension. Suspension could lead to disbarment. Two other former Illinois governors - Otto Kerner and Dan Walker - were both disbarred following criminal convictions.
Blagojevich's lawyers could not be reached for comment, and the former governor's spokesman had no immediate response.
Jurors in Chicago have started deliberating at the last trial related to a nearly decade-long investigation of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The panelists withdrew to a 25th-floor jury room Tuesday afternoon. They'll have to decide if a businessman once known as the King of Clout, William Cellini, conspired to shakedown the producer of "Million Dollar Baby.''
It could take them days to go through evidence presented over three weeks. The 76-year-old Republican from Springfield denies plotting with three others to squeeze the Hollywood executive for a $1.5 million donation to Democrat Blagojevich's campaign.
Prosecutors say Cellini's role was to gently broach the issue of a contribution, with another conspirator responsible for tightening the screws later. Jurors must determine if prosecutors proved Cellini delivered part of the extortion message.
The topic of police abuse brought out a large crowd to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council study session. It wasn't an item on the agenda, but it grew out of the alleged police beating of a teenager who was stopped by Champaign police over the weekend for a traffic violation.
At least a hundred people showed up in support of 18-year-old Calvin Miller. They wore yellow "I stand with Calvin Miller" signs.
Multiple news reports say Miller was pulled over by police at around 1:30 Monday morning, and he fled the scene after his car damaged the front porch of a home.
Miller is free on bond after he was picked up for resisting arrest.
During a discussion about the city's finances, council member Will Kyles asked to break from procedure by allowing the audience to have public comment about issues unrelated to the agenda. Calvin Miller's father, Martel Miller, stood up and spoke. Martel claims his son was beaten by a police officer.
"This is my son! He got beat. How can you make something for five years from now if you haven't counted the lawsuits that are going to come down from police abuse?" Miller said. "Have you counted that in your budget for five years?"
Miller said the Champaign Police Department needs to deal with several of its officers who have abused their authority.
"The African American community should not be scared of the police," Miller said.
It has been a couple of years since the 2009 police-shooting death of Champaign teenager, Kiwane Carrington. Critics say that incident was a symptom of long-standing problems in Champaign police-community relations, particularly involving African-American youth. Now with the alleged beating of Calvin Miller, there is renewed anger and frustration.
Patricia Avery, a member of the city's community and police partnership, spoke at the meeting. Avery said the culture of the Champaign Police Department must change.
"We've been working at this problem for a very long time, and every time I think we're starting to make some progress, something like this happens where we have to step back," Avery said. "And then it's almost like, 'What do you do now? What do you say?' I'm really very disturbed by this."
The city is exploring a proposal to create a Citizens Police Review Board. Mayor Don Gerard said he is open to such a group.
"I ran for mayor for a reason, and a big part of that was the Kiwanne Carrington incident," Gerard said. "I was frustrated with how I perceived the leadership to respond. Now I'm in this position, and I have to stand up and be representative of the community."
Martel Miller said he hasn't filed a lawsuit, but he said he is talking to lawyers about his son's case.
A few years ago, eavesdropping charges were filed against Miller, who helped make a documentary attempting to show differences in how police officers in Champaign County treat minority residents compared to white University of Illinois students. Those charges were later dropped.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Greed and a desire to maintain his influence in Illinois politics motivated a millionaire businessman to join a plot to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby," prosecutors told jurors Tuesday during closing arguments at the last trial from the federal investigation of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But William Cellini's attorney insisted prosecutors failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because their star witness admitted on the stand that he was a liar and cheat whose memory was impaired by decades of drug abuse.
Cellini, 76, has denied allegations he conspired to force Hollywood executive Thomas Rosenberg into making a $1.5 million donation to the Democratic governor's campaign by threatening to withhold $220 million in teachers' pension funds from Rosenberg's investment company, Capri Capital. He could face more than 50 years in prison if convicted on charges that include conspiracy to commit fraud, extortion conspiracy and attempted extortion.
Prosecutor Julie Porter told jurors repeatedly to listen to FBI wiretaps of Cellini because they support witnesses' testimony and the tone of Cellini's voice underscores his guilt.
"That is what corruption sounds like," Porter said as she played one tape in which Cellini seems to chuckle during a discussion of the alleged shakedown.
Porter also scoffed at defense claims that Cellini may have been hoodwinked and sucked unknowingly into a plot hatched by others.
"He was not on the sidelines of an extortion," she said. "Cellini had his eyes wide open and knew exactly what was going on."
Porter alluded several times to Cellini's enormous behind-the-scenes influence in Illinois politics, saying at one point that when he left a message for top-tier officials and political leaders to call him, "They called him back."
But Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, told the jury the government hadn't made its case. He called star witness Stuart Levine "a whack job."
Prosecutors said Cellini conspired with Levine, who sat on the board of the $30 billion Teachers' Retirement System that controlled the pensions, and two Blagojevich insiders, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.
Levine was the only one to testify. He admitted on the stand to cheating a close friend's estate out of $2 million. He also talked about gorging on cocaine, crystal meth and other drugs - sometimes in binges at marathon parties.
"This man ... has lied, cheated and stole throughout his life," Webb told jurors. "And this is the man the government says you should believe?"
Webb reminded jurors that Levine conceded during cross-examination that his memory may have been damaged by his drug use, which continued through the May 2004 attempted shakedown.
Prosecutors say Cellini and the others backed off after Rosenberg unexpectedly threatened to go to authorities. Rosenberg testified he didn't initially suspect Cellini of trying to shake him down but thought Rezko and Kelly were.
Prosecutors say the plan called for Cellini to broach the subject of a donation with Rosenberg, and then the others would turn up the pressure later by asking for a donation and threatening the loss of the pension funds.
Rosenberg described screaming and cursing into the receiver during a 2004 phone conversation with Cellini, who had been Rosenberg's friend for more than 20 years.
"I told Bill I would not be shaken down," Rosenberg recalled telling Cellini. "I would not give a dime to Blagojevich under any circumstances."
No one, however, testified that Cellini ever asked Rosenberg for a contribution or threatened him - a point Webb made repeatedly Tuesday.
Porter conceded Cellini, a life-long Republican, would not have pocketed any of the money. But she said he hoped to ingratiate himself to Rezko and Kelly - two of the closest and most powerful confidants in the new Democratic governor's administration.
His motive for taking part in the scheme, she said, was "continued access, continued clout, continued status.
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