Illinois Public Media News
Attorney's for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich say he's a "tragic figure" who should receive a light sentence for his corruption convictions. But prosectuors want a federal judge to give Blagojevich 15 to 20 years in prison when he's sentenced next week.
Both sides outlined their arguments in court filings Wednesday. Blagojevich is set to be sentenced Dec. 6.
Prosecutors say a heavy sentence is required because former Gov. George Ryan's 6 1/2- year sentence clearly wasn't long enough to deter Blagojevich and others from engaging in public corruption. They also point out that Blagojevich won office on a pledge to clean up corruption.
Blagojevich's lawyers say his sentence should fall under the federal guidlines of 41 to 51 months in prison.
Prosecutors say Blagojevich engaged in criminal activity even after he had been interviewed by the FBI, when he knew he was under investigation, and when many of his closest advisors had already been indicted and convicted. They say Blagojevich has a law degree and knew he was committing crimes and yet, to this day, he insists he did nothing wrong.
Prosecutors also argue that Blagojevich should get a heavier sentence than Tony Rezko.
Rezko is the former Blagojevich fundraiser who was given a 10 1/2-year sentence just last week for his role in the corrupt administration. Prosecutors say, as governor, Blagojevich bears more responsibility in the conspiracy than Rezko, who was a private citizen.
And unlike Blagojevich, Rezko provided valuable cooperation after he was convicted. Prosecutors also point out that Blagojevich spent seven days on the stand telling stories that the jury ultimately found to be lies.
Furthermore, Rezko had no part in Blagojevich's attempts to sell Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat because he was already in prison by that time in 2008.
Prosecutors say Blagojevich still hasn't accepted responsibility for his actions.
But in their Wednesday court filing, the ex-governor's lawyers paint him as a "tragic figure" who has undergone a precipitous fall from being Illinois' executive, to an "impeached, unemployed criminal defendant, abaondoned by all of his advisors and friends; a figure drawing public ridicule and scorn."
His lawyers conclude by saying "despite a strong and seemingly defiant exterior, no one is more acutely aware of the tragedy that has become his life's work and aspirations as is Mr. Blagojevich himself.
More Illinois parents are opting out of some school-required vaccinations for their kids, according to a new study by the Associated Press.
The study says the rate of vaccine exemption is 5.3 percent in Illinois, making it one of eight states where more than five percent of public school kindergartners do not get all the vaccinations that are required for attendance. Alaska had the highest rate, at nine percent.
Dr. Kenneth Soyemi works in the infectious disease department at the Illinois Department of Public Health. He said parents seek exemptions for some vaccines for medical, religious and, in states that allow it, philosophical reasons. Soyemi said kids who don't get vaccinated could make diseases like measles and whooping cough harder to contain.
"Presuming children are not vaccinated in the school, if measles comes into the school, it's going to spread like wild fire," Soyemi said.
The survey also found more than half of all states have seen at least a slight rise in vaccine exemptions in last five years. Illinois is one of 10 states where the rate of vaccine exception increased more than 1.5 percentage points.
The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to consider a dispute over whether the state must begin enforcing a law requiring parents to be notified before their children can obtain an abortion.
The law dates back to 1995 but has never been enforced because of various court actions.
It would require doctors to notify the guardians of a girl 17 or younger before she has an abortion. There are exceptions for emergencies and cases of sexual abuse, and girls could bypass the notification requirement by going to a judge.
Opponents claim it violates the privacy, equal protection and gender-equality clauses of the Illinois constitution.
The Supreme Court said Wednesday that it will hear arguments on whether to start enforcing the law.
The city of Champaign has revealed the four finalists vying for the top job with its police department.
Those being considered as the next Champaign police chief are Urbana Assistant Chief of Police Anthony Cobb; Oak Forest, Illinois Chief of Police Gregory Anderson; St. Louis, Missouri Police Lieutenant Colonel Antoinette Filla; and East Lansing, Michigan Police Captain Kim Johnson.
The police force in Champaign has faced heavy criticism in the last few years over police-community relations, specifically in the African American community.
There have been new calls for a citizens police review board in the wake of the 2009 police shooting death of teenager, Kiwane Carrington. A number of citizens also allege officers used excessive force when arresting two African American youths in the last couple of months.
Two of the people being considered to head the police department - Cobb and Johnson - are African American.
Current Police Chief R.T. Finney announced last summer that he was retiring, and Deputy Chief Holly Nearing will take over him on an interim basis starting next week.
The four finalists will be interviewed Dec. 7 - 9. They will also take part in a public forum Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7pm at the city building. Champaign Human Resources Director Chris Bezruki said the new police chief is expected to begin work in February or March.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
A budget deal reached among Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers will keep seven state facilities open and preserve nearly 2,000 jobs at those locations, at least for now.
The agreement saves the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, the Jacksonville Developmental Center and other facilities.
The plan won General Assembly approval Tuesday. Gov. Quinn had targeted a handful of developmental centers, prisons and psychiatric hospitals for shutdown after the legislature failed to provide enough money to keep them operating. Quinn's budget director, David Vaught said layoffs were only considered as a last resort.
"It's very important in a time of recession," Vaught said. "We've lost 20 percent of our state employees over the last eight or nine years. We have the lowest state employee ratio to population of virtually any state. I think one may be tied with us. We are right down at the bottom. We are not overstaffed in state employees."
The plan involves shifting money, although no additional spending was added to the overall budget. The deal will prevent shutdowns and layoffs through the end of the fiscal year in June. Vaught noted that some positions could be lost through attrition.
Vaught said the agreement also calls for reducing state payments to a variety of special-purpose funds. The state's $55 million contribution to the workers' compensation fund, for instance, would be cut by $10 million. About $95 million that ordinarily would go to pension systems would instead be diverted to preventing the closures.
There would be enough reductions that some services in the Department of Human Services could get some additional money, Vaught said. The biggest beneficiaries would be community mental health services, which would get $30 million, and substance abuse programs, which would get $28 million.
The Archer Daniels Midland Company is asking all non-essential employees who work in the company's Decatur office to work from home on Wednesday, Nov. 30.
The company's trading floor will be open, and all trading floor employees should report to work in the office.
Other ADM employees are being asked to report to the corporate office building only on an as-needed basis.
The Illinois House overwhelmingly rejected a $250 million package of tax breaks meant to help businesses and keep several major companies from leaving the state.
Only eight people voted for the package, while 99 opposed it Tuesday. It's still possible another version of the tax breaks could be considered.
The financial exchange company CME Group Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. have threatened to leave if they don't get some tax relief.
Other companies across the state could benefit from an array of smaller tax credits in the bill. It also includes relief for individual taxpayers and low-income workers.
The measure passed the Senate earlier.
After her older brother disappeared in 1976, Laura O'Leary suspected that the 19-year-old construction worker had probably died at the hands of John Wayne Gacy. But the family was never able to prove it.
They got little help from authorities. And they couldn't locate any dental records to compare with the skeletal remains found beneath the serial killer's house.
So O'Leary waited, clinging for more than 30 years to a few items that once belonged to William George Bundy - a bracelet she'd given him for his 18th birthday, a high school photo ID and an autographed school book.
O'Leary's worst suspicions were confirmed Tuesday, when authorities announced that Bundy was one of the eight unidentified young men found under Gacy's home.
"Today's terribly sad, but it is also a day that provides closure," O'Leary said. "We have been waiting for a long time for closure."
The identification of Bundy came weeks after the sheriff's office issued a public plea for families of young men who disappeared in the 1970s to submit DNA samples for comparison with the victims' remains.
Investigators exhumed the remains earlier this year, hoping that the passage of time and advancement of technology would work in their favor. They established a hotline and a website for people to file reports.
O'Leary, who was 15 when her brother vanished, said she immediately went to the site after hearing the news. She and her brother, Robert, provided DNA samples. The sheriff's office also received a call from a friend of Bundy's who said he believed his friend may have worked for Gacy.
"For so many years, we've had unanswered questions," O'Leary said. "There were no leads. Time went by."
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the office received calls from 29 states and developed a total of 125 leads, 80 of which required follow up.
Eleven DNA samples were submitted in connection with some of the seven other victims. Four samples did not match, and investigators are waiting on the others, working with a lab at the University of North Texas.
"People are really desperate to find their missing loved ones, and there are not a lot of outlets," Detective Jason Moran said.
He said investigators were learning more about Gacy, his victims and gaps in police work in the 1970s and 1980s, including missing-persons reports that were never followed up or pursued.
Gacy is remembered as one of history's most bizarre killers, largely because of his work as an amateur clown. He was convicted of murdering 33 young men, sometimes luring them to his Chicago-area home for sex by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work.
The building contractor stabbed one and strangled the others between 1972 and 1978. Most were buried in a crawl space under his home. Four others were dumped in a river.
Gacy was executed in 1994.
Bundy, who grew up in Chicago, was last seen in October 1976 heading out to a party, authorities said. He had forgotten his wallet at home.
A day after he vanished, his family filed a missing-persons report. But, O'Leary said, "it wasn't pursued aggressively."
Bundy's family contacted authorities again when news of Gacy and his victims became public, but they had no way to identify any remains. Their dentist had retired and destroyed all dental records.
Two years later, Bundy's remains were found under Gacy's house, identified only as "Victim No. 19" because his was the 19th body removed from a crawl space beneath Gacy's home.
Investigators said there is no way to know for sure the circumstances of Bundy's death or how he came into contact with Gacy. But Dart said it appeared the motive was luring Bundy with the promise of construction work.
Bundy's disappearance and the unanswered questions weighed heavily on O'Leary's family. Her parents died years ago.
"My mother, she was never really the same," O'Leary said, declining to discuss matters in detail. She said she and her brother want time to heal.
O'Leary and her brother recalled Bundy as a teenager who had a lot of friends, was an excellent diver and excelled at gymnastics. Many of her girlfriends wanted to date him, she joked.
She said learning the truth about his fate allowed the family to close a door. Bundy's amended death certificate was submitted to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
The family plans to put up a grave marker for Bundy in the spring and have a ceremony at the cemetery where other relatives are buried.
"The sorrow will eventually go away," she said. "And I'll have a place to visit him."
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
The NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement to sell the small-market franchise to Urbana businessman Shahid Khan.
Majority owner Wayne Weaver made the announcement Tuesday, hours after he fired coach Jack Del Rio and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension. He said Khan will have 100 percent control of the team. Weaver called Khan "a great American success story'' and said the Pakistan-born entrepreneur plans to keep the team in Jacksonville.
Khan, a University of Illinois alumnus, is the owner and CEO of the Flex-N-Gate Group based in Urbana, Ill. Khan had been a candidate to buy controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams last year. In September, the U of I named an addition to its College of Applied Sciences after Khan and his wife Ann, who donated $10 million to help fund construction of the facility.
The sale of the franchise and the firing of Del Rio are the city's most significant news since the team's inception in 1993.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Starting in January, Illinois will allow couples who obtained civil-union licenses this year to file joint state income tax returns, a symbolic change that likely won't save couples money but that one gay-rights group called an important step.
Monday's announcement comes after Illinois became the seventh state, along with the District of Columbia, to give same-sex couples significant legal protections. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's civil union law in January.
That bill included the right to decide medical care for an ailing partner and the right to inherit property, but it didn't include the ability for same-sex couples to file a joint tax return.
While federal law does not allow same-sex couples to submit taxes together, Quinn pushed for the state to make the change after signing the civil union bill, Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman Susan Hofer said Monday.
"This was basically the governor saying, 'Find a way to make this work,'" she said.
New tax paperwork and other details haven't been finalized. Officials plan to have same-sex couples who will file individual federal returns also fill out a joint federal return for the state's use only, Hofer said.
The state income tax forms are based on a couple's adjusted gross income on the federal return.
Illinois has a flat income tax of 5 percent, so the benefits couples receive from filing together for federal taxes won't apply at the state level, Hofer said. Still, she added that couples wil still have some additional benefits, like property tax exemptions or education assistance tax credits.
"It's a fairness issue," she said. "And that's the way the governor presented it."
The policy would have no bearing on filing federal taxes jointly because of federal restrictions on gay marriage.
"But this is still a major step because it allows civil union couples to be treated in the same way as married couples are treated, and that's exactly what the lawmakers intended," said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov.
Cherkasov said he hopes Illinois' recent efforts to extend rights to same-sex couples carry over to the federal level. He also said the change would benefit same-sex couples in the future if lawmakers change the state tax code.
"We wanted to make sure that we don't give up on that fight now only to create a real disadvantage for civil-union couples later down the road," he said.
According to the group, Illinois will become the 10th state, along with Washington, D.C., to allow joint state tax returns.
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