Judge: Cook County judicial corruption did not affect 1977 murder trial

A Cook County Circuit Court judge Wednesday declined to grant a new trial to a man who contends his conviction on charges he murdered a plainclothes Chicago police officer in 1976 was wrongly decided by a judge who sought to divert attention from his own corruption.

Inmate Ronnie Carrasquillo was 18 at the time he fired shots that hit officer Terrence Loftus as he stood in a crowd trying to break up a fight between rival gang members. Carrasquillo has long maintained that he intended to fire over the crowd to halt the disturbance and that the killing was accidental.

But after a nonjury trial, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Frank Wilson found Carrasquillo, who had no prior convictions, guilty of first degree murder and imposed a 200-to-600 year sentence.

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Carrasquillo argued that Wilson had issued an unduly harsh sentence in an effort to quell the uproar over his decision, months earlier, to acquit mob hitman Harry Aleman on murder charges. Years later, federal authorities determined that Wilson had taken a bribe in the case. Wilson committed suicide, while Aleman was retried and convicted.

Associate Judge Alfredo Maldonado, who issued a 47-page ruling Wednesday denying Carrasquillo’s request for a new trial, wrote that “The fact that a judge was bribed in one case does not, in itself, establish that he was not impartial in others.”

He added in court,“The defense did not establish that [Wilson’s] actions in the Carrasquillo trial were affected by malfeasance in the Aleman trial.”

Carrasquillo’s attorney Michael Deutsch told a group of about 30 supporters of Carrasquillo outside the courtroom that he disagreed: “It seems to me that once you’re corrupt, you’re always corrupt.”

But Maldonado sided with Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala, who said there was no connection between Carrasquillo’s case and the mob case.

The request for a new trial was one of two ways Carrasquillo, finding no hope of release through parole after four decades, has turned to the court to seek release from prison.

Carrasquillo’s case was highlighted in an Injustice Watch series “The Long Wait,” which examined the arbitrary way that the Illinois Prisoner Review Board decides the fate of about 120 aging inmates who have been locked away since committing crimes before 1978, when Illinois changed its sentencing laws.

Deutsch said after the hearing that Carrasquillo would continue to challenge what he considers an unjust conviction and sentence. He said that he intends to bring a new petition, contending that the Illinois Prisoner Review Board’s reluctance to parole offenders who murdered police officers amounts to an improper life sentence.

“He can’t get parole,” Deutsch said to the group of Carrasquillo’s supporters after the ruling. “The parole board is not fair and impartial.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited automatic life sentences for juveniles. That decision applies to anyone 17 and younger, and courts have gradually extended that protection. Carrasquillo was just over 18 when the crime was committed.

Maldonado will decide next month if he will permit Carrasquillo to argue that issue.

For now, members of Carrasquillo’s family said they are not finished fighting.

“We’re hopeful for the next one,” said Deyra Mercado, Carrasquillo’s half-sister. “I’m disappointed…we were just hoping for a different outcome.”