Illinois Public Media News
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.
A Rod Blagojevich spokesman says logistics problems forced his attorneys to withdraw a request that the former Illinois governor be allowed to travel to England.
A court filing Tuesday says only that the motion had been taken back.
But Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig explained later that there was too little time to organize the trip -- even had Judge James Zagel granted permission.
The defense had asked Zagel to let Blagojevich leave the country to speak at an Oxford Union event this week. The Oxford Union is a debating and speaking society in Oxford, England.
Before Blagojevich's first trial, Zagel turned down a travel request when Blagojevich wanted to go to Costa Rica to appear on a reality TV show.
Blagojevich's corruption retrial is scheduled to begin April 20.
A plan to prevent releasing the names of those authorized to have guns in Illinois has stalled despite gun owners' burgeoning concern over privacy and safety, prompted by the state attorney general's opinion that the information is public record following an Associated Press request.
Gun advocates called for Attorney General Lisa Madigan to reverse her decree or for lawmakers to move swiftly to overturn it, and Republicans launched a petition drive to bolster the movement. Anti-violence groups countered that releasing the information is important to keep government accountable.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee on civil law voted 5-5 Wednesday to halt a bill from advancing that would prohibit state police from making public the names of the 1.3 million holders of Firearm Owners identification cards. The measure's sponsor, Republican Rep. Ron Stephens of Greenville, says he will continue pushing the ban.
Madigan's office ruled Monday night, in response to AP's public records request, that the list of FOID cardholders is public record and must be disclosed. Permit holders' addresses and telephone numbers would remain private.
State police officials, who claimed Illinois law bars the disclosure as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, said they will challenge the ruling in court.
Madigan's decree refuted the police assertions about privacy and said officials had not proven that making the records public would jeopardize anyone's safety. The Illinois State Rifle Association disagreed. Director Richard Pearson said "there is no legitimate reason for anyone to have access to the information."
"The safety of real people is at stake here," Pearson said in a statement. "Once this information is released, it will be distributed to street gangs and gun-control groups who will use the data to target gun owners for crime and harassment."
Federal law prohibits felons from possessing guns and Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said there's more behind the issue than just publicizing names.
"Having those records in the public arena is also helpful in making sure that local law enforcement and the state police are following up with those people who have FOID cards who should be prohibited purchasers," Walsh said.
That's been the effect elsewhere around the country, particularly with statewide data about licenses issued to people who want to carry concealed weapons, which is allowed in most states but not Illinois. Among some examples:
- An investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published in 2007 found 1,400 people who were given concealed-carry licenses in the first half of 2006 had earlier pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies but qualified for guns because of a loophole in the law.
-In Memphis, Tenn., The Commercial Appeal found at least 70 people in the Memphis area who had concealed-carry permits despite violent histories including robbery, assault and domestic violence. A firestorm erupted after the newspaper posted an online database in 2008 of names of all concealed-carry permit holders in Tennessee. Legislatures in Florida and Tennessee have since voted to make information on permit holders private.
-The Indianapolis Star found hundreds of people convicted of felonies or other "questionable" cases in which people were subsequently granted concealed-carry permits, often over protests from local law enforcement officials and in some instances where it appeared the state police had a legal obligation to deny them.
The Illinois Republican Party launched a petition drive Wednesday to support legislation such as Stephens' to prohibit disclosure of the information. Stephens said he will have another chance before the House committee with his bill. A Senate version has yet to get a hearing.
Democratic Rep. Mike Zalewski of Chicago was among those urging Stephens to retool his legislation, with some suggesting he consider records aside from just the FOID cards. But Zalewski doesn't buy the arguments that disclosure would jeopardize gun owners if no addresses are released.
"The random thug that wants to break into homes, I don't think that person has the wherewithal to match names, go through all those processes they'd have to go through to commit a crime like that," Zalewski said. "If it's the names alone, I side with the attorney general.
The jury foreman at impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's first trial says jurors recently held a reunion to reminisce about the sometimes stressful, 2 1/2-month trial.
James Matsumoto tells the Associated Press seven jurors and five alternates met in February at a winery/restaurant in suburban Chicago.
Matsumoto says most jurors felt they did their best during 14 days of deliberations _ though some regretted they deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts. A retrial starts on April 20.
Matsumoto says one juror described shopping at Target recently when Blagojevich's wife Patti recognized her as a juror, walked over and struck up a conversation.
He says a lone holdout juror who prevented conviction on several serious charges helped organize the union but, at the last minute, wasn't able to attend.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis is leaving his job immediately and won't stay on for two more months as Mayor Richard Daley had asked him to do.
Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale confirmed the move Tuesday and says former Superintendent Terry Hillard will take over in the interim.
The embattled Weis is a former FBI agent who was hired by Daley three years ago. He's known for months that none of the major mayoral candidates, including Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, planned to extend his contract.
Daley on Monday told reporters he hoped Weis would stay until Daley's term ends in May. But Weis, whose 3-year contract ends Tuesday, decided to leave immediately after he was not given a written contract extension.
When it came to replacing Weis, Daley turned to former Superintendent Terry Hillard.
Hillard was police superintendent from 1998 to 2003. He served with the police department for 35 years before retiring in 2003. He became the department's first black chief of detectives in 1995, holding that position until he was promoted to superintendent.
Hillard is currently a partner at Hillard Heintze, a private security and investigations firm. He will take a leave of absence from his company.
Daley says Hillard will serve as interim superintendent beginning Wednesday until the end of Daley's term in May.
(Photo courtesy of Illinois Public Radio)
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