Larry Kurina, an Illinois inmate who has spent 29 years in prison for a double homicide and then later a parole violation, was denied another chance at freedom on Thursday.
Kurina was paroled in 1993 for two murders he committed in 1976 on the South Side of Chicago. But after Kurina was arrested in 2004 for possessing stolen tools, his parole was revoked; since then, in the last dozen years, he been denied another chance at parole six times.
On Thursday, Kurina’s latest petition was denied 10-3 by members of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, with board member Salvador Diaz abstaining.
His case was highlighted by Injustice Watch in a study of the often arbitrary way the agency decides the fate of 122 prisoners who remain locked up for crimes committed before 1978, when the state amended its sentencing laws. The board operates with little oversight, and votes on cases of individual prisoners often vary widely from year to year, even if little has changed about their cases.
When he was 17 years old, Kurina fatally stabbed John Taylor and Emil Lauridsen in an alley behind a liquor store during a drunken altercation. Taylor and Lauridsen were well-respected members of the Canaryville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side; after their deaths, a public park was named after the two men.
The hearing Thursday at the state Capitol in Springfield was filled with tension, as family members of the two victims who oppose Kurina’s release were in the small audience, sitting across an aisle from three supporters. Kurina was not present. As is board practice, the public and press were not permitted in the hearing room while board members discussed statements that family members had previously made in opposition to Kurina’s release.
Board member Diaz, a former Chicago Police officer who is a friend of the victims’ family members, has abstained from voting on Kurina’s case in recent years. As votes were called, Diaz blurted out “yes” to deny parole before correcting his vote to a recusal. Diaz’s abstention is effectively a vote against parole: To win release prisoners need a majority of votes from the full board, not just those voting.
After Kurina pleaded guilty in Indiana to the low-level felony of receiving stolen property, his parole was revoked and he was returned to Illinois to continue serving his 200- to 500-year sentence for the murders.
On Thursday, board members and Kurina’s attorney, Lillian McCartin, at times sharply disputed the facts of both the murders and the details of his parole violation with Kurina’s attorney, Lillian McCartin.
To gasps from some in the audience, McCartin challenged the account of board member Peter A. Fisher, a former Tazewell County policeman, that the murder had been “a horribly violent crime” in which Kurina “almost cut one person in half.”
And McCartin sparred with board members about when Kurina violated a restraining order and phoned the home of his ex-wife.
As is board custom, one member — Kenneth Tupy, a former prosecutor from Springfield — interviewed Kurina in prison in advance of the hearing and then presented his case to the board. Though both supporters and opponents of Kurina’s release could attend that hearing, Injustice Watch reporters were denied press access by both the Prisoner Review Board and the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Tupy told the board Thursday that he believed many of Kurina’s problems stemmed from alcohol and drug abuse. Tupy, who voted in favor of Kurina’s parole last year, said he was opposing release now, based on what he said was the inmate’s failure to attend Alcoholics Anonymous sessions inside Danville Correctional Center this year.
Board member Donald Shelton, a former sergeant with the Champaign Police Department, said that while he did not find Kurina’s case sympathetic, he wondered if someone would ever be incarcerated for as long as he had on a parole violation.
“For stealing tools off a back hoe? I don’t think so,” Shelton said.
In voting against Kurina’s parole, former Illinois state lawmaker Tom Johnson said he believed the inmate should never have been released in the first place.
“This guy quite honestly was not prepared to be paroled,” Johnson said. “And it’s why we should be more careful when we parole.”