Illinois Public Media News
A man accused of plotting to blow up a federal courthouse in Springfield has pleaded guilty.
Michael C. Finton was immediately sentenced today to serve 28 years in prison.
Finton, who is also known as "Talib Islam," was arrested in September 2009. Authorities said he repeatedly met with an undercover government operative he thought was a member of Al Qaida.
Finton parked a van loaded with fake explosives outside the federal courthouse and then made a cell phone call that he thought would trigger an explosion.
This morning defense attorneys for Rod Blagojevich are expected to cross examine the first major witness in the former governor's retrial.
John Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff and he spent three days on the stand last week testifying for prosecutors. He was caught on federal wiretaps advising Blagojevich on how to use a senate seat appointment to enrich himself.
Harris hoped Blagojevich could become a member of Obama's cabinet and in exchange Blagojevich would appoint anyone to the Senate that Obama wanted.
Harris is caught on one phone call talking to another Blagojevich adviser about their attempts to get that offer to Obama's people.
"We wanted our ask to be reasonable and rather than make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo," Harris said. "We had to lay the groundwork to show that we're going to be stuck in the mud here."
Harris was an attorney and he has pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors.
In their cross examination, Blagojevich's defense team could point out that Harris came up with many of the illegal schemes himself but that would be an admission that the schemes were indeed illegal. Instead they will probably focus on the idea that it was all just talk and no crimes were ever committed.
(Photo by Robert Wildeboer/IPR)
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
A Champaign County judge issued two warrants Thursday for a father-son landlord team who have failed to comply with court orders to empty out an apartment complex in Champaign County.
Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent bond before they can be released.
The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
Last month, Judge Kennedy found the Ramoses guilty of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).
The Champaign County Public Health Department also sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.
The pair was ordered to pay the fines within six months and vacate the complex immediately, which lies between Thomasboro and Rantoul.
A hearing on the case was scheduled for Thursday after public health inspectors noted tenants still living on the property.
Julie Pryde, director of the Champaign County Public Health Department, said a neighbor of Cherry Orchard reported that tenants were moving from one building to another building on the east side of the complex. The building they were moving into lacks electrical service, inspectors confirmed in October.
"I'm definitely happy that the state's attorney's office is moving forward," Pryde said after Thursday's hearing.
Pryde said inspectors have noted at least 10 cars on the property, indicating that the complex remains occupied. She said she is worried more tenants will move to Cherry Orchard.
"I am definitely concerned that if they are in Texas like they report to be, then they could be bringing back migrants because they have a history of doing that," Pryde said. "(Bernard Ramos) has made no bones about that, and that would be a real problem."
Pryde said health inspectors would continue to monitor the situation, but that assistance for the tenants who need help moving is being handled by social service agencies such as the Salvation Army. A summons for the Ramoses could not be served as the two were not found.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Joel Fletcher told the judge that the Ramoses said they were in Texas and would not be at Thursday's hearing.
Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.
A call to Bernard Ramos seeking comment was not immediately returned.
A measure that would allow Illinois residents to carry concealed guns in public fell short of the supermajority needed to pass Thursday in the Illinois House.
It would have allowed people to carry guns if they were properly registered and had completed eight hours of training, including target practice. Applicants would have needed to pass a background check with a review of their mental health status.
The vote was 65-32, giving the measure a solid majority. But it needed 71 votes to pass, a standard requirement for legislation that restricts local communities' regulatory power.
Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said he called the bill for a vote despite thinking it would probably fail. He could call another vote, but Phelps said Thursday was likely the best chance to pass it.
Phelps and other supporters said concealed carry wouldn't make Illinois more dangerous. It would just give people a chance to defend themselves in an emergency, he said.
"There's guns on the streets right now because of the guns the bad guys have," Phelps said.
Gov. Pat Quinn promised this week to veto any concealed carry bill. He reiterated his position Thursday at a memorial service for slain police officers, calling the timing of the vote "ironic" considering the event he was attending.
"I happen to believe that that particular bill will not in any way protect public safety," the Chicago Democrat told reporters. "It will do the opposite."
Supporters of the bill say Illinois should emulate the rest of the nation, as it and Wisconsin are the only states without some form of concealed carry. They also say concealed carry is a sensible option for people who wish to protect themselves.
Critics say those who obtained concealed carry permits in other states have later been convicted of violent crimes. They argue putting more guns on the street will increase crime rather than safety.
Governor Pat Quinn said Tuesday he would veto a bill allowing Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons, if it ever reaches his desk.
The measure now being considered in the Illinois General Assembly would allow registered gun owners with requisite training to carry hidden guns in public. Illinois is one of just two states that does not have a provision allowing residents to carry concealed weapons.
But Quinn cited a variety of scenarios, from violence against police to fatal road rage incidents, in saying he will not sign the measure if it passes through the legislature.
"The concept of concealed, loaded handguns in the possession of private citizens does not enhance public safety," Quinn said. "On the contrary, it increases danger."
Quinn's announcement comes as an Illinois House committee is considering the bill, which is sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Brandon Phillips of downstate Harrisburg. With a possible vote on the measure coming the next few days, the governor urged lawmakers to rally against the bill.
"It's defeat, I think, would be a good thing for our state," Quinn said.
The governor said it would be too complicated to allow some municipalities to opt out, saying Illinois "must have a law that applies to a whole state." That's one concession that had been forwarded by the bill's sponsor.
Gun rights advocates say letting Illinoisians carry hidden weapons could help them protect themselves from criminals. But opponents maintain having more guns on the street would only increase violence.
On Monday at Chicago's Rickover Naval Academy High School, students-known here as "cadets"-stood in their platoons on the grassy ball field before school.
And along with the regular morning announcements, they listened to Commander Mike Tooker give this historic message:
"In case any of you haven't heard, last night the president came on television and notified the entire world that Osama bin Laden has been taken out by Special Forces."
Tooker made sure students knew that Navy Seals had a hand in that, but he says, overall, students at the city's only naval academy responded fairly quietly to the news.
"It was my own naval science instructors-the other retired military people who work here-they were the ones who raised their hands and started clapping a little bit, and then the students kind of rolled into that and they started clapping as well."
In fact, Tooker says, it's possible that the naval academy's big win in Friday's baseball game against the Marine Corps Academy was the bigger news.
"That actually generated more applause than the fact that Osama bin Laden had been taken out by U.S. Special Forces," Tooker says.
Memories of 9/11 for many of the city's high school students are interspersed with crayons and kindergarten songs. The U.S. has been looking for Osama bin Laden for most of their lives.
Senior Jocelyn Aguilar, 18, watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television with her mother, who'd picked her up from school. She was seven at the time. Aguilar says May 2 will remain etched in her mind, as well.
"Oh yeah, I'm definitely gonna remember this day.... You know the whole feeling you got with September 11-this is kind of something that marks as well. "
Aguilar, who plans to enlist in the military when she graduates in June, says students and teachers spent a class period reading news sites about bin Laden's death.
"It's a good thing, but at the same time it's just going to erupt a lot more bad stuff. I'm enlisting in the Marine Corps so I'm definitely going to see a part of that as well. ... It's kind of like a bittersweet feeling."
On the other side of the city, students also pondered what the news would mean.
In a fifth period Global Issues class at Kenwood Academy High School on the city's South Side, students worked to put terrorism networks and two wars into context. Their questions guided the discussion-and there were lots of them: Why wasn't bin Laden captured rather than killed? Would the killing affect President Barack Obama's chances at re-election? Are we at greater risk of a terrorist attack now? How do we know for sure that we got bin Laden?
"Does this mean anything for our troops? Like is anybody coming home? Does that fix anything?" one girl wanted to know.
A classmate responded, "I don't think it does, because he's more of a figurehead. Like this isn't really gonna change anything with the war at all."
In a class earlier in the day, students drew parallels between the violence caused by terrorism and gang violence in their neighborhoods.
(Photo by Linda Lutton/IPR)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
As expected, Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel completed his long-awaited search for a new Chicago Police Superintendent Monday by naming Garry McCarthy to the post.
Since 2006, McCarthy has led the police department in Newark, NJ, and before that he served as Deputy Commissioner of Operations for New York City's police department.
McCarthy replaces Jody Weis, who left the superintendent's job when his contract ended earlier this year. Former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard was tapped to fill out the remaining weeks of his contract.
Under Weis, the department suffered from morale problems as many rank-and-file officers considered him an outsider. Weis came to the job after working at the FBI.
At a news conference on Monday, Emanuel pointed out that despite his lack of experience in Chicago, McCarthy is a second generation law enforcement official who began as a patrol officer and understands the challenges and needs of urban police departments. "He knows how to run a large police force," Emanuel said.
But he also cited McCarthy's efforts in other cities as a key reason behind his selection. "Garry's experience and reputation will bring new ideas and energy to our police department," Emanuel said.
As Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the NYPD, McCarthy was responsible for orchestrating and determining policing strategies for the entire department. In 2006, Newark Mayor Cory Booker tapped him to take over as that city's police chief.
Emanuel praised McCarthy for his efforts to reduce both Newark's murder rate and its civilian complaints. In 2008, Newark led the nation in murder reduction and in April of last year, Newark experienced it's first murder-free month since 1966.
But budget cuts forced Newark to lay off 167 police last year, and so far in 2011, the city's murder rate is 71 percent above its year-ago levels.
Among the first steps McCarthy plans to take as head of the CPD will be to restore the position of First Deputy Superintendent, a position eliminated under Weis' term. Emanuel promised that he and McCarthy would move quickly to implement such a move.
In addition to McCarthy's appointment, Emanuel also stated that Richard Hoff will stay on as commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department. As he visited more than 40 fire stations across the city, Emanuel said firefighters everywhere asked him whether he'd keep Hoff in the role. "This was an easy choice," Emanuel remarked.
Emanuel will be taking over for retiring Mayor Richard Daley on May 16.
A Milwaukee man faces a charge of Attempted Murder in connection with the shooting outside Champaign's Marketplace Mall on Sunday.
Champaign police have obtained a warrant for 28-year old Dontrell Thompson, who remains in Carle Hospital as a result of being fired upon by officers yesterday, but bond is fixed at $2.5 million.
The victim is still hospitalized as well. Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn said a motive won't be determined as long as both men remain hospitalized, but it's believed the men know each other. Officers have also secured two vehicles from the mall parking lot that may have been used to transport both men.
Dunn said initial information indicated rounds may have been fired inside the mall as well, but she says no evidence has been found to support that claim.
"This shooting could have very easily affected more people," Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said in a statement. "Our officers rushed to the shooter after hearing shots fired and stopped the shooter from causing further injury to the victim."
Finney said two off-duty officers who were already at the mall also assisted and prevented further injury.
Champaign Police, the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, and FBI continue their investigation.
Anyone with additional information is asked to call Champaign Police or Crimestoppers at 373-TIPS.
Two people are hospitalized after a shooting at Champaign's Market Place Mall.
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says police officers were at the mall late Sunday afternoon, responding to a vehicle being recklessly driven around the mall, and a person exiting the vehicle with a gun. At around 4:45, one male fired multiple shots at another male outside the mall near the LensCrafters shop.
"When they got to that particular area, they encountered an armed subject who had shot and was continuing to shoot a subject who was laying on the ground," Finney said.
Several law enforcement agencies responded to the shooting, including officials from the University of Illinois, the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, the Urbana Police Department, and the Illinois State Police. Finney said the shooter was injured after two police officers fired their weapons.
The two injured individuals were taken to Carle Hospital for treatment, but Finney wouldn't release details about their conditions. He said several people were taken into custody as persons of interest, but no charges have been filed.
Theresa Pickett of Hoopeston was in a department store with her family when the shots rang out.
"We were toward the back of the store, and all we could see were people coming back and the employee was like you need to go to the back of the store," Pickett said. "There was a shooting. And so everyone started running and screaming. It was awful."
There are reports that shots were also fired inside the mall, but Finney couldn't confirm that information.
The shooting occurred on the same weekend during which Champaign hosted thousands of visitors attending Roger Ebert's Film Festival, the Illinois Marathon and a statewide school math tournament. Mayor-elect Don Gerard said the shooting was a tragedy that "punctuated what was an extraordinary weekend for Champaign."
In a statement, Gerard said: "My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims' families. I am thankful for the swift response of our first-responders and the units which support their efforts in such unfortunate times of crisis."
Finney said police are still exploring the motivation behind the attack, but he said there is no evidence to suggest that this was a random shooting.
People with information about the shooting should call Crime Stoppers 217-373-TIPS or Champaign Police 217-351-4545.
(Photo courtesy of Mitch Kazel)
The Illinois Supreme Court is looking at a proposal to give jurors the right to ask witnesses questions during civil trials.
The questions could be modified or excluded after being reviewed by the attorneys and the judge in a case.
"The judge would read or provide a copy of the juror questions to all the lawyers in the case," Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor said. "It would give those attorneys an opportunity to object to any question."
Tybor said if a juror's question is presented to a witness, the judge would then allow attorneys to ask follow-up questions.
Supporters of the plan say this measure would provide lawyers with signals of a juror's focus, and encourage jurors to be more observant during a court case.
But some critics say allowing jurors to publicly talk about a case before closing arguments could jeopardize a final verdict.
"It might skew the results of the process that we have refined over the last several hundred years," said Urbana Attorney Tom Bruno, who chairs the Illinois State Bar Association. "Often just by the nature of questions that the questioner is asking, you can see where their mind is going with it or what their thoughts are on it."
Bruno added he is also concerned this proposal could delegitimize the role of prosecutors and defense attorneys.
"Part of this notion that the jury may think up better questions than my opponent could think up assumes the opposing council isn't smart enough or sharp enough or clever enough to think of asking these questions themselves," Bruno said.
The Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee will hold a public hearing for community input about the proposal on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 10 a.m. at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago.
The measure would have to be approved by the Rules Committee, and then the full Supreme Court.
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