Illinois parole board frees elderly Chicago gang killer who once told board it could ‘shove’ it

Namor Smith, 74, was convicted of a gang-related shooting in 1968. He was frequently in trouble in prison, once wounding an inmate with a knife. He was previously paroled, only to be sent back to prison.

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Namor Smith.

Namor Smith.

Illinois Department of Corrections

A convicted killer who told the Illinois Prisoner Review Board a decade ago that “you can take this parole thing and shove it up your a--” was granted parole Thursday.

Namor Smith, 74, who was convicted in a gang-related shooting on the South Side in 1968, was paroled on a 9-3 vote.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office had opposed Smith’s release at every one of his parole hearings until Thursday.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx stopped making recommendations about parole a year ago. Smith’s last previous hearing was in 2019.

Six other inmates, including four from the Chicago area, were denied parole Thursday.

Smith, a former member of the Blackstone Rangers gang, was convicted in the fatal shooting of Sterling Burnett, 21. Authorities say Smith and other members of the Blackstone Rangers confronted Burnett because he wasn’t in their gang. One punched Burnett, who was dragged into an alley in the 4600 block of South Langley Avenue and shot, prosecutors say.

Officials say Smith once told the board he ordered the killing Burnett, saying he was in a rival gang.

But in a 2019 interview with a parole board member, Smith changed his story, saying he showed up after the killing. He said he renounced his membership in the gang in the 1980s.

Smith was serving 50 to 100 years in prison for murder, plus eight more years for wounding an inmate with a homemade knife in 1987.

Smith had more than 200 disciplinary incidents in prison, including 15 assaults on prison staff members.

One of Smith’s co-defendants in the Burnett killing was paroled in 2001. The other served a 20-to 30-year prison term.

Smith’s projected parole date was June 20, 2023. He previously had been paroled in 2004 but then was sent back to prison to complete his sentence in 2007 for violating the conditions of his parole, including not staying at the place where he was supposed to be living.

In 2019, the board voted 3-10 against releasing him. At the time, the board said he was likely to violate the conditions of his parole and his release would “deprecate the serious nature of the offense.”

Illinois Republicans have been critical of the board’s parole decisions during the Pritzker administration.

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, a member of the Senate executive appointments committee, noted Thursday that four parole board members — Aurthur Mae Perkins, Joseph Ruggiero, Oreal James and Eleanor Wilson — have served for more than three years without confirmation from the committee. 

“How long are Gov. Pritzker and his legislative allies going to allow members of the Prisoner Review Board to make decisions to release violent criminals without going through the constitutionally required process?” Plummer said. “It’s clear that the governor is shielding these individuals from public scrutiny in an effort to hide the many recent controversial releases that have been made. If Illinoisans knew what was going on behind closed doors they would be outraged.”

A Pritzker spokeswoman called Republican objections to those appointees “political grandstanding.”

“The members’ appointments and votes are transparent, and their meetings are open to the public,” spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.

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