Illinois Public Media News
Rod Blagojevich's attorneys are set to begin their first defense of the former Illinois governor in his second trial on corruption charges.
A person familiar with the defense plans says new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. will be among the opening witnesses. The person spoke on condition of anonymity, citing not being authorized to speak publicly.
In the first trial last year, Blagojevich's attorneys rested without calling a single witness. The jury later deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts against the former governor, including allegations that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign funds or a job for himself.
The defense attorneys say the two elected officials could help prove Blagojevich's actions weren't crimes.
Ethics Commission Upholds Decision to Drop Health Alliance HMO, Humana
There's disappointing news for state and university employees and retirees who had been holding out hope Illinois would continue to offer Health Alliance and Humana health insurance.
Same-sex couples in Illinois can start obtaining civil union licenses Wednesday, June 1.
The Champaign County Clerk's office says it will be fully staffed to issue the licenses, which will cost four dollars. Kevin Johnson of the Up Center of Champaign County said he is planning a large gathering at the clerk's office when the civil union law goes into effect.
"You know, a lot of people feel it's not truly equal because it is not marriage," Johnson said. "However, for many of us, it is the first step of being recognized by the government as couples."
Couples are required to get the license from the county clerk's office in the area where the ceremony takes place. Both people in a relationship have to show up to get the license. Johnson estimates anywhere between 20-to-30 people will immediately get the licenses in Champaign County on Wednesday.
Similar to getting a marriage license, couples must have a valid form of ID and be ready to answer basic questions like parent's names. Couples are encouraged to call their county clerk's office if they have questions about civil unions. They cannot take part in a ceremony until the day after the license is issued. They also have 60 days to use that license or it expires.
Kathie Spegal, 67, of Champaign has been with her partner, Lynn Sprout, since 2002, and she said she never thought she would live to see the day when civil unions would be legal in Illinois.
"It's not going to change how we live," Spegal said. "We still pay taxes. We still do everything that we've always done. It's just that we know how that it's all legal."
Spegal said her civil union ceremony will take place at McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church, where he exchanged vows with her partner as part of a "holy union" in 2004.
But churches can opt out of performing civil unions, according to Bernard Cherkasov, president of the group Equality Illinois.
"No religious institution will be required to officiate or perform civil unions," Cherkasov explained. "But every agency performing state functions - accepting public funds to perform that function - will be required to comply with all existing laws and statutes, including respecting the civil unions law."
Civil unions share many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to make medical decisions for a partner and being able to share insurance policies. In order to get insurance benefits, a couple must obtain a separate document from the county clerk proving the civil union happened.
When the law takes effect, Illinois will become the sixth state in the United States to allow for some form of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is re-deploying 500 officers to police beats around the city, but some officials say the plan doesn't satisfy Emanuel's campaign promise to put 1,000 officers on the streets.
Emanuel said at a Tuesday news conference that he is putting 500 existing Chicago police officers on beats. He said that would help build relations with communities and eventually drop crime. The officers are already on the street, but don't necessarily have specific beats. Emanuel called it a down payment on his campaign promise to add 1,000 officers to beats.
"I can wait to find the resources, or I can basically say, 'Are we most efficient in applying our officers to where crime is,'" he said.
But Alderman LaTasha Thomas said she was expecting 1,000 new officers, not the re-deployment of officers already on the force.
"They're taking a step, but this is not the thousand to me," Thomas said.
The head of the police union, Michael Shields, said in a statement, "The department has taken hundreds of highly-skilled street officers and transformed them overnight into hundreds of highly-skilled beat officers. What's the difference?"
Emanuel said some of the cops will be deployed to high crime areas.
(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)
The top Democrat in the Indiana Senate says she won't run for governor in 2012.
Sen. Vi Simpson of Bloomington says she gave it serious thought but won't be running for governor. Simpson says she hopes to remain a progressive voice in the Statehouse, which is dominated by Republicans who control the House, Senate and governor's office.
Simpson says state government should focus on "individual rights and economic equality rather than on radical social agendas.''
Former House Speaker John Gregg is the only Democrat who has said he'll run for the job. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels can't seek a third consecutive term.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is considered the front-runner in the race for governor, though GOP businessman Jim Wallace of Fishers is also running.
Illinois State Police plan to boost the number of seat-belt enforcement zones and other patrols as the Memorial Day weekend approaches.
Besides being a time of heavier holiday traffic, the weekend is also the 10th anniversary of the state Department of Transportation's "Click It or Ticket" program.
IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman credits "Click It or Ticket" with boosting compliance with Illinois' mandatory seat belt usage over the past decade, and helping bring traffic fatalities down to the lowest levels since the early 1920s --- with less than 1,000 deaths in 2009 and 2010.
"The safety belt usage rate is at an all-time high," Kauffman said. "It's more than 92% throughout the state. And we're continuing to look for other ways to increase that as well. So this is obviously an approach that helps with that. We understand that law enforcements is very helpful and very successful and effective in boosting safety across the state."
Nearly $1.6 million in federal funding will support Illinois' "Click It or Ticket" program this year --- as well as patrols to check for impaired driving. This funding will help more than 400 local law enforcement agencies provide extra patrols and roadside safety checks this weekend. Half or more of these patrols will occur during late-night hours.
The federal government's star witness at a Chicago terrorism trial revealed more potentially damaging details on Tuesday alleging close cooperation between a Pakistani militant group and the country's top intelligence agency, telling jurors that he frequently exchanged emails and met with members of both groups a month before the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
David Coleman Headley returned to the witnesses stand for a second day in the terrorism trial of a Chicago businessman accused of collaborating in the three-day siege of India's largest city - giving a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and how he was recruited by a member of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, known as ISI, to take part in the Mumbai plot.
Headley told jurors Tuesday that he met with both his handlers from Lashkar and ISI in Pakistan in October 2008 - one month before the Mumbai rampage that killed more than 160 people including six Americans - and his Lashkar contact, Sajid Mir, said militants had unsuccessfully tried to do the attack in September but crashed their boat leaving Pakistan. They also talked for the first time about a separate plot to attack a Danish newspaper that in 2005 had printed cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, he said.
"I suggested we only focus on the cartoonist and the editor," Headley testified of a later meeting with Mir. "He said, `"All Danes are responsible for this.'"
As the government's first and main witness in the trial of his longtime friend Tahawwur Rana, Headley's testimony outlining links between the ISI and Lashkar could inflame tensions between Pakistan and India and place even more pressure on the already frayed U.S. and Pakistani relations.
It also could add to the questions about Pakistan's commitment to catch terrorists and the ISI's connections to Pakistan-based terror groups, especially after Osama bin Laden was found hiding out earlier this month in a military garrison town outside of Islamabad.
Headley pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks that killed more than 160 people including six Americans, and he agreed to testify against Rana to avoid the death penalty, making him one of the most valuable U.S. government counterterrorism witnesses.
"Headley's testimony is a nail in the coffin of U.S.-Pakistani strategic cooperation," said Bruce Riedel, a former White House adviser on Middle Eastern and South Asian issues. "Until now his commentary has gotten very little attention outside India, now it will finally get the attention it deserves here."
The Pakistani government has denied the ISI orchestrated the Mumbai attacks, and a senior ISI official said Tuesday that the agency has no links to the terrorists behind the rampage. When asked about the testimony being heard in Chicago, the official said "it is nothing." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because his agency doesn't allow its operatives to be named in the media.
On Tuesday, Headley testified that details of planning for the attacks were known by an ISI officer known only by the alias "Major Iqbal" and Mir. Iqbal said a list would be provided to Headley of possible targets and later he would receive it from Mir. The three men met together in Pakistan in October 2008 where Mir told Headley about the failed attempt on Mumbai. The meetings continued.
"In a few weeks if everything went well, they were going to launch a second attempt," Headley testified.
Prosecutors showed emails between the three men - some of them forwarded to Rana - detailing points on the Mumbai attacks and the aftermath. They wrote in code from ever-changing email addresses including some that came from transliterated Urdu words into English and others from seemingly innocuous phrases like the email handle "Get Me Some Books," that Mir used at one time.
When the attacks happened, Headley, who was born Daood Gilani, testified that he got a text message from Mir asking him to turn on the television.
"I was pleased," he told jurors, but later he started to worry. "I was concerned if our plan had been leaked out."
At this time, Headley said, he was also in more frequent contact with Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, whom prosecutors identified as retired Pakistani military with links to Major Iqbal. Syed was referred to as "Pasha."
Rana, who attended medical school in Pakistan, was only brought up periodically throughout testimony, with Headley saying that he debriefed all his plans with Rana. He said they discussed the Mumbai attacks afterward and what they considered a successful mission against Indians.
"Dr. Rana said, `They deserved it,'" Headley said.
Rana, a Canadian citizen who has lived in Chicago for years, is accused of giving Headley cover during his time in Mumbai by allowing him to set up a branch of his Chicago-based immigration services business. His name is the seventh one on the federal indictment, and the only defendant in custody. Among the six others charged in absentia are Mir, Iqbal and Pasha.
Rana, who has pleaded not guilty, is also accused of helping arrange travel and other help for Headley, who planned the separate attack that never happened on the Danish newspaper. Defense attorneys have told jurors their client was taken advantage of by his friend and did not know what was in store. But prosecutors have said Rana was not duped and knew of the plans, both in Mumbai and Denmark.
Defense attorneys were expected scrutinize Headley's credibility as a witness, saying he has been motivated to change his story and that he was working for the U.S. government even as he said he was working for Lashkar and ISI.
(AP Photo/Tom Gianni)
Police in Champaign County are calling a death overnight at the county's correctional facility a suicide.
The sheriff's office says 24 year old Jesse Masengale had been sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison for predatory criminal sexual assault on a child.
They say during a routine check, corrections officers at the county's satellite jail found Masengale inside a shower room inside an open dorm for non-problem jail inmates, hanging from a strip of fabric torn from a jail bedsheet. He was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Carle Hospital after officers tried to revive him.
Sheriff's officials say they're investigating Masengale's death but haven't found reason to believe anyone else was involved. They say a mental health interview conducted after his sentencing Monday found no concern of self-harm.
Dick Van Dyke won't be able to make it back to Danville High School to see the auditorium dedicated to him this weekend. But the 85-year-old comedian will make an appearance of sorts.
Danville High choral director Martha Lindvahl told The (Champaign) News-Gazette that Van Dyke will watch dedication ceremonies and performances Friday and Saturday via Skype. She says Van Dyke was invited and wanted to attend but is having back problems.
Van Dyke has recently been promoting his book, "My Lucky Life, In and Out of Show Business.''
Danville has only about 32,000 residents but Van Dyke is among a handful of famous entertainers from the town on the Indiana border. Others include Gene Hackman, Donald O'Connor and jazz pianist and singer Bobby Short.
Richard Daley is going back to school.
The recently retired Chicago mayor has taken a position at the University of Chicago.
Daley will not be a professor, and he won't be grading papers. But he will have an office, and - for the next five years - an academic title: "distinguished senior scholar."
The former mayor will be responsible for organizing ten guest lectures a year about big issues facing cities, using his heft to land some big visitors.
"Today's important for me, of course, because it marks yet another step in this the next phase of my life," Daley said in a press conference in Hyde Park. "I can tell you that it's already been quite exciting."
School officials say they started to talk about asking Daley to join the university in some capacity a short time after he announced last fall that he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
"The tradition of the university is to have vehement and sometimes destructive argument about every topic raised," said Colm O'Muircheartaigh, dean of the university's Harris School of Public Policy Studies. "We feel that the mayor's training as mayor for the last 22 years has equipped him well to participate in our discussions."
O'Muircheartaigh wouldn't reveal contract specifics.
"At the University of Chicago, we don't discuss pay for anybody," O'Muircheartaigh said. "And we're not going to break this rule in the case of the mayor."
In an email later on Tuesday, university spokesman Jeremy Manier said the salary is "within the normal bounds for visiting fellows of [Daley's] level of distinction."
Dale's job will be part-time, though O'Muircheartaigh declined to say how many hours the former mayor will be expected to work.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
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