2 months after being gutted over accusations of being soft on crime, parole board frees 2 men convicted of Chicago-area killings

In March, the Illinois Senate rejected the appointments of two interim board members. A third quit rather than face a vote. With two new members, the board returned Thursday.

SHARE 2 months after being gutted over accusations of being soft on crime, parole board frees 2 men convicted of Chicago-area killings
Empty prison cells at the Pontiac Correctional Center. Advocates of the Joe Coleman Medical Release Act want to amend the law to require prison review board members to visit the prison infirmaries housing these inmates and to explain their vote in opposition to a release.

Two men convicted of Chicago-area killings were granted parole Thursday by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

AP file

The Illinois Prisoner Review Board — which was crippled earlier this year when state senators rejected two of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s nominees — voted Thursday to parole two men convicted of Chicago-area killings and denied parole to six other inmates.

It was the first time the parole board has met since Senate Republicans and Democrats voted in March to reject the appointments of interim members Jeffrey Mears and Eleanor Kaye Wilson, who faced accusations of being soft on crime. A third interim member, Oreal James, resigned before the Senate could vote on his appointment.

During the Pritzker administration, the board has voted to grant parole in about one-third of the cases it has heard. The approval rate was far lower under previous governors.

After Mears, Wilson and James stepped aside, the board didn’t have enough members to hold a full meeting.

In April, Pritzker nominated two lawyers, Rodger Heaton, former U.S. attorney for central Illinois and a former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, and Robin Shoffner, a former Cook County judge. The Senate has approved their appointments.

On Thursday, Heaton, Shoffner and six other board members met in Springfield to consider parole recommendations for eight inmates.

They voted 6-2 to parole Richard West, 65, convicted in the shotgun killing of his father in Chicago in 1974.

They voted 5-3 to parole Patrick Inocencio, 40, who was convicted of killing a gang rival and wounding three others in an Aurora hotel room in 1999. Chicago attorney Jorge Montes, a former chairman of the parole board, represented Inocencio.

Patrick Inocencio.

Patrick Inocencio.

Illinois Department of Corrections

Montes told the board that Inocencio cooperated with prosecutors against a co-defendant who got a 76-year sentence for his role in the shootings. Montes also pointed out that Inocencio was 16 years old at the time of the crime.

Inocencio was serving a 32-year sentence for murder and aggravated battery. Last year, Pritzker granted a commutation that allowed him to seek parole for his murder conviction.

The Kane County state’s attorney’s office had objected to Inocencio’s parole.

In West’s case, the board repeatedly has rejected his requests for parole.

On Thursday, the board was reminded that West was among those inmates who took four guards hostage at Stateville Correctional Center in 1983. And his disciplinary record in prison included being found in possession of illegal weapons, starting fires and assaulting a correctional officer.

But the board also was told that the case against West was built primarily on witness statements and that no physical evidence tied him to his father’s killing, casting doubt on his guilt.

Another factor it considered was that West was 17 when he was arrested. 

His sister Katrina West Beard told the board his family “misses him dearly. We’re all getting older, and it’s time for him to come home.”

When the board voted to parole West, she shouted, “Thank you, God!”

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