Time for Kim Foxx to do the right thing

Ronnie Carrasquillo has been locked in prison for decades, since being convicted of murdering a cop in 1976. As evidence mounts that the conviction, and sentence, were wrongly imposed by a corrupt judge, Rob Warden wonders: Where is the new state's attorney?

Headshot of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx

Prosecutors have a hard time owning up to the injustices they perpetrate—especially in murder cases, all the more so when the deceased happens to have been a police officer.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office was supposed to be different under its avowed reformist leader, Kim Foxx, but the office has proved sadly unexceptional in refusing to acknowledge a palpable miscarriage of justice dating back more than four decades.

At about 2 a.m. on Oct. 10, 1976, a Sunday, Terrence Loftus, a 36-year-old off-duty Chicago police officer wearing civilian clothes, courageously tried to stop a brawl between 30 to 40 members of rival gangs—the white Gaylords and Puerto Rican Lawndale Imperial Gangsters.

When the fight broke out near Fullerton and Central Park avenues, Ronnie Carrasquillo, an 18-year-old Imperial Gangster who had been drinking for several hours with friends in an apartment overlooking the intersection, borrowed an illegal .32-caliber pistol from a fellow gang member and rushed downstairs.

Officer Loftus was protecting one of the Imperial Gangsters in the midst of the melee when Carrasquillo, from a distance of 153 feet, fired several shots, one of which, or a fragment of one, critically wounded Loftus, who died the following Tuesday at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Although Carrasquillo claimed that he intended to fire into the air in the hope of stopping the fight—three of the bullets stuck an abandoned building several feet above the crowd and it made little sense that he would have intentionally fired into a crowd including his friends—he was indicted for murder.

The case was assigned to Cook County Criminal Court Judge Frank J. Wilson, before whom, on advice of counsel, Carrasquillo waived a jury for his December 1977 trial.

That Carrasquillo’s lawyer, Glenn Seiden, not only so advised but also failed to seek an automatic substitution of judges seems mind-boggling—given that seven months before the trial Wilson had borne the brunt of massive notoriety stemming from his bench acquittal of reputed mob hitman Harry “The Hook” Aleman for the 1972 murder of a Teamsters union official.

Bribery was widely suspected in the Aleman case, although evidence of it would not emerge until years later when a corrupt lawyer, Robert Cooley, told federal authorities that he had passed a $10,000 mob bribe to Wilson, prompting Wilson to kill himself in 1990.

Back in 1977, the Aleman story led Chicago’s 10 p.m. newscasts and drew blaring newspaper headlines and editorials. State’s Attorney Bernard Carey called an unprecedented news conference to blast the acquittal as “outrageous.” Two state legislators, one of whom deemed Wilson “craven,” demanded his removal from the bench.

Against that backdrop, Wilson found Carrasquillo guilty of murder, although in light of the evidence a more appropriate verdict would have been voluntary manslaughter, and, in a courtroom filled with uninformed police officers, imposed an indeterminate prison term of 200 to 600 years, with a projected release date of 2270.

Chicago Sun-Times; Illinois Department of Corrections

Left: a mugshot of Ronnie Carrasquillo showing his face swollen after being beaten by the police, which ran in the Oct. 12, 1976 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times. Right: an undated photo of Carrasquillo in prison.

Despite an exemplary disciplinary record, Carrasquillo, now 59, remains in the Dixon Correctional Center, having spent more than two-thirds of his life behind bars and repeatedly having been denied parole by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

Volunteer attorneys from the People’s Law Office currently are seeking a reduction in Carrasquillo’s sentence to time served—which seems well warranted in light of Wilson’s corruption and a phenomenon known as “compensatory bias”—i.e., in the hope of deflecting suspicion, judges who take bribes to fix cases tend to be unduly harsh in other cases.

An evidentiary hearing has been dragging on for months before Cook County Criminal Courts Judge Alfredo Maldonado.

The State’s Attorney’s Office has been strident in its opposition to relief.

While I respect Kim Foxx and believe she is well-intentioned, she should step up now and correct this tragic injustice.

Rob Warden is co-director of Injustice Watch. At the time of the Aleman and Carrasquillo trials, he was a reporter focusing on legal affairs at the Chicago Daily News. He recently testified as a pro bono expert witness on Carrasquillo’s behalf regarding media coverage of Aleman case.