Illinois Public Media News
Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich filed a pretrial motion Tuesday seeking what they claimed was missing evidence in the impeached Illinois governor's corruption trial, including records of a phone call between a Blagojevich aide and then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
The motion claims the telephone conversation took place just a day before Blagojevich's December 2008 arrest on charges that include allegations he sought to sell or trade the appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat for personal gain. The motion says details of that conversation could bolster a defense contention that Emanuel, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, was willing to help with a political deal in which Blagojevich would have named Illinois' attorney general to the seat.
But the call between Emanuel and then Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris is not among hundreds of transcripts of secret FBI wiretaps recorded before Blagojevich's arrest. The defense motion points only to circumstantial evidence that it even happened, including a reference in a White House transition-team report from after the arrest that said Emanuel had "about four" conversations with Harris. The defense was given records of only three conversations, according to the motion.
"The fourth and final phone call is the call that is mysteriously missing," it adds. "Piecing together multiple documents after the first trial, Blagojevich uncovered the fact that the December 8th phone call ... took place."
A message seeking comment left on a voice mail overnight at the U.S. attorney's office wasn't immediately returned.
Blagojevich faces 23 charges at his April retrial, after jurors at his first trial last year agreed only on one of 24 counts and convicted him of lying to the FBI. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have been ordered to file all pretrial motions by next week.
The defense's latest filing comes just two weeks before Chicago's mayoral election. Emanuel has a considerable fundraising advantage and leads in polls in the race to replace retiring Mayor Richard Daley.
Emanuel has said little about the Blagojevich case publicly, often citing the ongoing legal proceedings for not commenting in detail. The White House report released in 2008 by the then president-elect's office concluded neither Emanuel not anyone else on Obama's staff had had any "inappropriate discussions" with Blagojevich or his aides.
It found that Emanuel had had "one or two telephone calls" with Blagojevich and "about four" with Harris, who testified for the government at Blagojevich's first trial. Tuesday's motion also goes out of its way to say the defense isn't accusing Emanuel of doing anything untoward.
"Blagojevich makes absolutely no assertion that Rahm Emanuel was ever involved in, or aware of, any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise," it says.
Still, the motion's focus suggests the ousted governor's attorneys could make Emanuel a part of their defense strategy, which could cause him some political discomfort. He did not testify at the first trial, though both prosecutors and the defense have left open the possibility he could be called at the second trial.
A voice message left overnight for Emanuel campaign spokesman Ben Labolt was not immediately returned.
In their motion, defense attorneys contend details of final conversation they say took place between Emanuel and Harris would support Blagojevich's claim that he merely hoped to forge a deal in which he would name Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat in exchange for her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, pushing a legislative package favored by the governor.
Prosecutors have portrayed the supposed Madigan deal as a red herring designed to obscure multiple bids by Blagojevich to effectively sell the seat not for the benefit of his Illinois constituents, but for his own personal gain. About half of the pages in Tuesday's defense motion are blacked out, including names and excerpts from wiretap recording transcripts that federal Judge James Zagel has ruled aren't pertinent to the case and should remain under seal.
(Photo courtesy of feastoffun.com/flickr)
The Illinois attorney general is suing to stop a former Chicago police commander convicted of lying about the torture of suspects from getting his $3,000 a month pension.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said Monday it has filed a lawsuit against Jon Burge and the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago seeking to end Mr. Burge's pension benefits.
Mr. Burge was sentenced last month to 41/2 years in prison for lying in a civil lawsuit when he said he'd never participated in or witnessed the physical abuse of suspects. A pension board vote on terminating Mr. Burge's pension failed last month.
Ms. Madigan's lawsuit claims that the pension board unlawfully allowed Mr. Burge to keep the benefits.
Mr. Burge's attorney Thomas Pleines said his office intends to "vigorously defend" Mr. Burge's right to keep his benefits.
"These [pension board] trustees are elected to their office, and they took a long, hard look at the facts in the case, and they rightfully concluded that events that occurred 10 years after Jon Burge was no longer a police officer were not related to his service, and therefore he was entitled to keep his pension," Mr. Pleines said.
Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge will get to keep his public pension benefits, despite a federal conviction for lying about the torture of criminal suspects, a police pension board voted Thursday.
The 4-4 vote by the Policeman's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago means that Burge, 63, will be able to collect rouhgly $3,000 in benefits each month for the rest of his life. Five votes were needed to terminate Burge's pension.
Thursday's vote comes less than a week after Federal Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced Burge to 4 1/2 years in prison for lying about the torture of scores of criminal suspects during the 1970s and 1980s. In 2006, a special prosecutor found Burge likely oversaw the beating, suffocation and electro-shocking of suspects in police custody, but he was never charged for the abuse because the statue of limitations had run out.
Burge's perjury conviction stems from false statements he made in 2003 connected to a civil trial. He was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 for mistreating a suspect. Pension board trustee Michael Shields, who voted against cancelling Burge's benefits, said Thursday's vote had nothing to do with the torture allegations. He said Burge was no longer on the force when he perjured himself.
"I don't want Chicago police officers to, you know, live in fear that 15 years after their retirement - such as Mr. Burge's case - they will be stripped of their pension fund," Shields said. "Jon Burge was no longer serving the police department. He was no longer acting in any official capacity as a Chicago Police Officer."
Illinois pension law says employees should lose their pensions if they're convicted of a felony "relating to or arising out of or in connection with" their job.
Chicago City Treasurer Stephanie Neely, the board member who moved to ax Burge's pension, acknowledged that the perjury took place a decade after he'd left the police department. But she said there's no doubt his actions were connected to his job.
If the trustees had voted to terminate Burge's retirement benefits, he would have been in for a one-time $66,000 payout, and could have appealed the decision to a Cook County court. But Thursday's vote leaves no room for appeal, said a lawyer for the board.
"To me, there was enough gray in the law that I would like to see the appellate court's decision," Neely said.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
A decorated former Chicago police officer whose name has become synonymous with police brutality in the city was sentenced Friday to 4 1/2 years in federal prison for lying about the torture of suspects.
Dozens of suspects - almost all of them black men - have claimed for decades that Jon Burge and his officers electrically shocked, suffocated and beat them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the allegations and, in making her decision, she wondered why a respected officer so admired by his department would resort to such violence.
"My best guess is ambition," Lefkow said. "Perhaps the praise, the publicity and the commendations . . . were seductive and led you down this path."
Burge was charged with lying when he testified in a civil lawsuit brought by Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death for a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son. Hobley was later pardoned.
Hobley claimed detectives put a plastic typewriter cover over his head to make it impossible for him to breathe. Burge denied knowing anything about the "bagging" or taking part in it. The indictment against Burge never said Hobley was tortured but accused Burge of lying about participating in or knowing about torture that took place under his watch. Burge has never faced criminal charges for abuse.
While the former police commander denied during his five-week trial that torture took place, Lefkow noted the jury hadn't believed him - and neither had she. In considering a sentence, Lefkow told Burge she took into account his "unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in the face of all the evidence."
Burge stood facing Lefkow as she read a statement and the sentence. Her offer to let him sit given his poor heath drew groans of protest from the victims and courtroom observers, who otherwise sat rapt as the judge spoke. As Lefkow talked about victims' testimony that she'd found particularly moving, Burge's sister-in-law left the courtroom.
Earlier Friday, Burge told the judge he knew his case brought the police department into disrepute and "for that, I am deeply sorry." He insisted he wasn't the person who's been "vilified" by the media but didn't specifically address the allegations of torture and abuse.
Burge was fired from the department in 1993 for mistreating a suspect, and he choked back tears as he talked about how the case cost him his job and his reputation.
"I'm 63 years old, and while I try to keep a proud face, in reality, I am a broken man," he said.
Burge's attorneys and supporters had pleaded for leniency, noting he has prostate cancer, congestive heart failure and other health problems. His brother asked Lefkow to be "humane," saying, "almost any sentence will be a death sentence, and I don't want to see him die in prison."
More than 30 Burge supporters, many of them police officers, sent Lefkow letters to praising Burge's dedication to his job, selflessness and effectiveness as a police officer and investigator. Two jurors from Burge's trial also wrote letters on his behalf, with one suggesting a prison term of three years would be appropriate.
But the judge said she also received letters from Burge's victims, members of the black community and others who argued for a lengthy sentence. One letter she said she'd be haunted by was from an inmate who'd been incarcerated for 30 years for a crime he said he didn't commit but was tortured into confessing to by the police.
"I had the body of a man, but I was a child inside," Lefkow said he wrote in his letter.
Hobley's sister broke down in tears Friday morning as she talked about the effect her brother's case had on their family. Robin Hobley looked directly at Burge and, with her voice breaking, said: "You put us through 16 years of torment . . . of people believing my brother was a murderer, and he wasn't. You have no idea what you did to our family.
"We believed in the system, we believed in the police.
Illinois' senior Senator, Dick Durbin, says concrete action can come out of the recent shootings at a congressional event in Tucson Arizona. The attack that killed six people and critically injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) has led to a flurry of proposals in reaction, from gun control measures to a clampdown on incivility in politics. In an interview with Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers, Durbin said he thinks some of those ideas can progress beyond the talking stage.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
In a new security measure, the University of Illinois said it will limit admission to its Urbana campus libraries after midnight to those with university I-D cards, also known as I-Cards. The restriction begins when the spring semester starts on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Libraries on the U of I Urbana campus are open to the general public during the day, and early evening. But U of I Associate Librarian for Services Scott Walter said security concerns have led them to restrict library admission after midnight to those with I-Cards, which are provided to university students, faculty and employees. Student fees pay to keep the Undergraduate, Grainger Engineering and Funk ACES libraries open late. Walter said students have made it clear their priority for those hours is having a safe place to study.
"The primary concern is the provision of study space for students and for faculty users, during those late-night hours, when other safe and secure academic spaces are not necessarily available," he said.
Walter said no particular incident led to the new policy, but he said faculty, students --- and students' parents --- have all expressed concerns about library security, amid recent incidents of crimes in and near the Urbana campus. He said the policy is similar to those at other university libraries with late-night hours.
In addition to the late-night I-Card requirement, the lower level of the Undergraduate Library will now be closed after midnight, although materials from that floor can still be requested.
A federal appeals court on Monday denied a request by imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan to free him on bail so he can spend more time with his terminally ill wife, though the ex-governor's attorneys said they would continue working to win his release.
In a one-page ruling, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected an emergency motion filed by Ryan's attorneys last week after Lura Lynn Ryan was taken to intensive care suffering complications from chemotherapy.
Ryan, the ruling said, hasn't met the legal requirements that would allow for his release while the 76-year-old's defense team tries to overturn his 2006 conviction for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.
The three-judge panel notes that Ryan asked in the emergency motion about the possibility of release from his Indiana prison during daylight hours so he could be at his wife's side. The court said it didn't have the jurisdiction to grant that wish.
"This possibility might be a humane way to address the personal aspect of his motion," it says. But "a request for such an arrangement must be presented by the appellant to the Bureau of Prisons."
Prosecutors made public for the first time Friday the news that prison authorities did, in fact, escort Ryan to see his wife for two hours the same day she was admitted to a Kankakee hospital. They cited that clandestine visit as one reason judges shouldn't grant Ryan's release.
"Obviously, I am disappointed and I know the family is exceedingly disappointed," said Ryan attorney and a long-time family friend, former Gov. James Thompson.
But Thompson also assured the family that attorneys would take several steps in response, including asking Democratic President Barack Obama to grant clemency to the former Republican governor. They will ask Obama to commute Ryan's sentence from 6 1/2 years to his three years already served.
Other steps would include asking the Bureau of Prisons to grant Ryan a long-term furlough, possibly under conditions where he would have to stay at a county jail overnight. Thompson added he would ask prosecutors to support that request.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer -- who presided over Ryan's trial -- upheld his conviction and denied his request for bond. She acknowledged his wife's plight, but said Ryan's conduct "exacted a stiff penalty, not only for himself but also for his family."
Ryan's attorneys had argued parts of his conviction should be tossed based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision curtailing anti-fraud laws -- known as "honest services" laws. Pallmeyer said Ryan's circumstances were different enough that his conviction should stand.
Defense attorneys have appealed Pallmeyer's ruling upholding the convictions.
Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush says he's "very concerned" about his own safety and the safety of other congressmen following the shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
The Chicago Democrat tells The Associated Press the climate for political leaders is bad, particularly for those who've supported President Barack Obama.
Giffords has described herself as a former Republican and current moderate centrist Democrat.
Rush says he's told those around him to be more vigilant. But he doesn't plan to scale back on any public appearances.
Giffords is recovering after undergoing surgery.
Capitol police have asked members of Congress to step up security in the wake of the shooting which left at least five dead and wounded several others.
Illinois congressmen are offering sympathy and prayers after the shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr., Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky say the attack is horrific and they're offering condolences.
At least two people were killed and several others wounded Saturday, as Giffords met with constituents in Tucson. Hospital officials say Giffords' outlook was 'optimistic.'
A Jackson spokesman says the congressman's events are frequently staffed by security personnel, but it's too early to tell if changes need to be made.
A Quigley spokeswoman says security for the congressman hasn't been addressed yet in light of the attack.
Police say the shooter was in custody.
(Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)
State Senator Mike Frerichs said he expects to vote to repeal the Illinois death penalty --- if the measure comes up when the Illinois Senate meets on Monday.
The repeal bill narrowly passed the Illinois House on Thursday, and Frerichs said he thinks other lawmakers will join him in supporting it. The Champaign Democrat says the important point to him is that the death penalty has been handed out to too many people who were found to have been wrongly convicted.
"I think the penalty has (been) shown to have grave errors over the last few decades here in our state," Frerichs said. "I think that's why a lot of people are probably supportive of the appeal."
But Onarga Republican Shane Cultra said he still believes the death penalty is a necessary deterrent to violent crime --- and that the introduction of DNA evidence has done a lot to prevent wrongful convictions.
"I think there's enough safeguards in place," Cultra said. "Certainly there's more that we can do --- they haven't fully implemented all the things that were supposed to be done, but they've done enough of them. And plus some of these crimes are so heinous, that I just feel that life imprisonment just isn't enough."
Cultra voted against repealing the death penalty in the Illinois House, and he may get a chance to vote on it again, if the Senate takes up the bill in the final days of the veto session next week. Cultra will be sworn in as a State Senator on Sunday, taking the place of Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford.
There have been no executions in Illinois since former governor George Ryan declared a moratorium ten years ago. While maintaining the moratorium, Governor Pat Quinn has said he supports the death penalty for the most serious crimes.
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