Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 01, 2011

Shots Fired at Market Place Mall

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)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 28, 2011

Il. Supreme Court Considers Allowing Jurors to Question Witnesses

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.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 28, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords to Appear in Court for Violating Judge’s Ruling

The Champaign County State's Attorney's Office has filed an Indirect Criminal Contempt petition against the landlords of the Cherry Orchard Village apartments.

During a bench trial earlier this month, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos were convicted of violating a local health ordinance by failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines, and are barred from housing tenants until the property is brought up to code.

But Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said Champaign County Sheriffs Deputies and Public Health District officials have confirmed people are still living there.

"The petition alleges that despite the judge's order Champaign County Sheriffs Deputies and Public Health District officials have confirmed that people are still residing in the complex," Rietz said in a statement.

The Ramoses must appear in court on Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 2:30 to answer the petition.

Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2011

Former Attorney Shows up to Wish Blagojevich Luck

The lead attorney at Rod Blagojevich's first trial walked into the courtroom where the ex-governor's retrial is under way to wish his former client luck.

Sam Adam Jr. showed up just before proceedings began Wednesday. He shook hands with Blagojevich and gave one of the ousted governor's new attorneys a hug.

During the first trial, Adam's courtroom style led to clashes with Judge James Zagel and raised the ire of prosecutors.

Current defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky turned to prosecutors sitting nearby on Wednesday and joked that Adam would be giving the opening statement for the defense.

Jury selection hasn't finished, and Zagel has said openings could take place Monday.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 25, 2011

Search on for Unbiased Jurors in Blagojevich Case

The judge and attorneys in Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial on Monday were set to resume the daunting task of selecting jurors who can put aside what they've heard about the high-profile case and give the former Illinois governor a fair trial.

Judge James Zagel was expected to individually question up to 40 more people out of a pool of more than 100 potential jurors to assess their suitability. Each filled out a 38-page jury questionnaire as the retrial started last week.

The impeached governor's first trial ended last year with jurors deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI. At the retrial, the 54-year-old still faces 20 charges, including accusations he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.

The first day of individual questioning of would-be jurors on Thursday revealed most either held unfavorable views of politicians in general or of Blagojevich in particular. All had heard at least something about last year's trial.

Zagel spoke to 22 potential jurors Thursday and, by day's end, dismissed 11 on various grounds, including that weeks of jury duty would hit their families hard financially.

But he refused defense requests to send home several people who seemed biased against Blagojevich, including a retired auto shop owner who wrote that, "Based on news accounts, my personal bias is - he is guilty." Zagel said he accepted the man's assurances in court that he could set aside his preconceptions and focus solely on the evidence.

Those kept in the jury pool won't necessarily end up in the jury box because both sides retain the right to dismiss some jurors without providing the judge a reason. The defense can do so 13 times while the prosecution has nine peremptory challenges.

Jury selection is an inexact science. Blagojevich lawyers may in some cases prefer jurors with a dim view of politicians if it means they're more likely to accept a long-held defense argument: that the twice-elected governor was merely engaged in wheeling and dealing that - while sometimes unseemly - is legal and par for the course in politics.

Blagojevich himself has seemed closely involved scrutinizing potential panelists, scribbling notes on a yellow pad as would-be jurors answered questions. His wife, Patti, also has taken detailed notes sitting on a nearby spectators' bench.

Those still in the jury pool include a former state prosecutor, a substitute teacher who said she didn't like her job and a recently retired maintenance man who told the court how he once saved up $1,500 to pay to drive a Formula One racecar 177 mph.

Another person Zagel refused to dismiss was a man convicted of assault and battery who had to attend an anger-management course as part of his sentence. The man, holding a microphone as he answered the judge's questions, hesitated when Zagel asked if those courses had helped.

"You didn't stand up and throw the mic at me, so it helped a little," Zagel said, smiling.

Zagel has said he wants to have 12 jurors and several alternates impaneled by Wednesday, meaning opening arguments could start that day or Thursday. The retrial is not expected to last as long as the first 2 1/2-month trial, in part because prosecutors have streamlined their case by dropping complex racketeering charges.

(Photo by Robert Wildeboer/IPR)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 25, 2011

Ind. Ban on Synthetic Marijuana Nears Approval

Synthetic marijuana known as spice or K2 would be banned under a bill that is close to gaining approval in the Indiana Legislature.

The state Senate is scheduled on Monday to consider final passage of the bill, which would treat possessing or dealing synthetic marijuana the same as the real drug. The House earlier unanimously approved the bill that lists 25 chemical compounds used to make the substance often sold as incense.

Several Indiana counties have local ordinances banning the substance from stores, but supporters say a state law criminalizing it is needed. Health officials and police have urged lawmakers to ban it because of adverse reactions such as increased heart rate and hallucinations.

If the Senate approves the bill, it would go to the governor for consideration.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 22, 2011

IL Gov. Quinn Grants 85 Clemency Petitions

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn granted 85 clemency petitions and denied 189 others in the latest round of action to clear a backlog of cases left by his predecessor, ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn granted pardons and expunged convictions in most of the cases Friday that included offenses from burglary and drug charges to armed robbery and reckless discharge of a firearm.

This latest action brings the number of clemency petitions Quinn has granted to 467. He has denied 728 other petitions.

Blagojevich left a backlog of 2,500 cases when he was impeached and removed from office in January 2009 after his arrest on federal corruption charges. Blagojevich is currently on trial in Chicago for a second time.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords Continue to House Tenants

Despite a court order barring Bernard and Eduardo Ramos from accepting tenants at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, they continue to do so, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

The Ramoses were found guilty Monday in Champaign County court 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 judge in the case, John Kennedy, also issued an injunction, preventing the Ramoses from housing tenants until Cherry Orchard is brought up to code.

The Ramoses submitted a notice of appeal following the ruling.

Public Health administrator Julie Pryde said her department sent a health inspector to Cherry Orchard twice after the verdict. About 20 vehicles were discovered on the property. The health inspector spoke to a tenant who said she confronted Bernard Ramos about media coverage surrounding the trial. Pryde said the tenant was told by Ramos that he is appealing the court ruling, and that there's "no reason to move."

"It's clear that he has been moving people in almost continuously since we told him to stop," Pryde said. "He's actually gone out of his way to tell people that it's ok that they continue to live there."

Pryde said her department is working with different state agencies to help find remaining Cherry Orchard tenants permanent homes.

"I can't even begin to imagine how much time has been spent on this Cherry Orchard situation, and you know none of that money comes back to these agencies," she said.

This is not the first time efforts have been made to find emergency homes for Cherry Orchard tenants. Back in January, Pryde organized a meeting with groups including the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help get tenants into safe, permanent housing.

Pryde said she would like to see increased enforcement to ensure that the court order is followed. A request for comment from the Champaign County State's Attorney was not immediately returned.

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.

Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Ind. Elections Chief Appeals Ruling

Embattled Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is appealing a judge's ruling sending a dispute over his November election back to the state recount commission.

Marion Circuit Court officials say the notice of appeal was filed today.

White lawyer Jim Bopp says the judge's ruling improperly asks the commission to decide an issue that's already being decided in a separate criminal case - whether White committed voter fraud.

Democrats are seeking to have White's candidacy disqualified and their candidate named winner in his place. Judge Louis Rosenberg ruled April 7 that the recount panel should reconsider Democrats' claims that White committed voter fraud by lying about his address on a registration form.

Bopp says such a decision is beyond the scope of the commission's powers.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

A Look at the Blagojevich Legal Saga

The retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins Wednesday, April 20 with jury selection. It's been two and a half years since the governor was arrested, then impeached, then tried. Illinois Public Radio's Robert Wildeboer has this audio postcard of highlights from this legal saga that's been marked by political theater.

(AP Photo/Verna Sadock)

Download mp3 file

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