Another man won’t face murder charge after change to state law; Republicans say SAFE-T Act should be repealed

Prosecutors said they would have charged a man involved in a shootout with the murder of his friend, who was killed by gunfire from someone else, but won’t under the new law. Advocates defended the law change as more fair and say defendants still face stiff consequences for the crimes they actually committed.

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Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin

AP Photos

For the second time this week, Cook County prosecutors cited changes to the state’s felony murder statute as the reason for not charging a man accused of being involved in a deadly shootout that led to a murder.

On Wednesday, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said 22-year-old Tayvon Powe would have faced a first-degree murder charge prior to last summer when the statute’s changes went into effect.

Tayvon Powe

Tayvon Powe

“If this was prior to July of [2021] when the change in the law that went into effect, this defendant would be facing first degree murder charges,” Murphy told Judge Mary Marubio at Powe’s bond hearing. “ … He is not facing those first-degree murder charges at this point.”

Powe still faces aggravated discharge of a weapon and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon charges — counts that could land him in prison for more than a decade if he’s convicted.

Powe isn’t accused of actually killing anyone, but of starting a shootout at a house party early on Jan. 1 in Englewood that left his friend dead.

Antonio Rankin had gotten in a fight with several people at the party and called Powe to pick him up, Murphy said. After arriving outside the party, Powe and another person, who hasn’t been charged yet, allegedly opened fire on people standing on the home’s porch.

Someone else on the porch then fired back and shot Rankin in the back. Powe took Rankin to a hospital, but he was pronounced dead on arrival, Murphy said.

Antonio Rankin

Antonio Rankin

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Judge Marubio ordered Powe held without bail in the case, saying she believed he was a danger to the community, and cited prosecutor’s allegation that more than 30 shots were fired during in the incident, as well as that Powe was on probation at the time for a domestic battery conviction.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said the prosecutor’s office makes “decisions based on the evidence, the facts and the law and that is what we did in this case and will continue to do,” but declined to comment on whether Foxx supports the changes to the felony murder statute.

Those changes stem from the passage of the SAFE-T Act in January of last year — a far-reaching bill that sought to reform many areas of the state’s approach to criminal justice, including getting rid of cash bail and expanding the use of body-worn cameras by officers in coming years.

The change to the murder rule more narrowly defines who can be charged with first-degree murder in Illinois, requiring the person be directly responsible for the death.

In the past, prosecutors were able to use the statute to routinely charge defendants with murder if someone died during a crime — even if the person was killed by someone else, including by police officers responding to a crime.

Lawmakers debate law change

Earlier in the day, Illinois Republicans pounced on a case, first reported by the Sun-Times, in which a grand jury this week declined to approve murder charges against Travis Andrews, who was accused of causing the death of a woman in December who was struck by a stray bullet during a shootout in Austin.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called for the repeal of the SAFE-T Act and cited Andrews’ case as evidence that the “changes to the felony murder law, pushed by delusional demagogues of the defund the police movement, have created a consequence-free environment for criminals in Illinois.”

Durkin said the lack of murder charges against Andrews represented a “dismal failure.”

But advocates for the bill’s reforms accused Republicans of making intentionally misleading statements about what the changes to the felony murder rule actually does, and say it’s unfair that defendants who didn’t kill anyone face a minimum 20-year sentence with no opportunity to get time off for rehabilitation.

The SAFE-T Act “only ensures someone is culpable for first-degree murder before they face our state’s harshest possible punishment,” Restore Justice Illinois responded.

Travis Andrews

Travis Andrews

Cook County sheriff’s office

Like Powe, Andrews also isn’t accused of actually killing anyone.

Prosecutors said Andrews admitted to firing down the block at someone on Dec. 18 after his girlfriend was threatened by an associate of a drug dealer. Another person, who hasn’t been identified, shot back at Andrews, but the gunfire instead hit 54-year-old Melinda Crump, who was on her way to get a lottery ticket when she was killed.

Melinda Crump

Melinda Crump

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Andrews was indicted on several weapons charges related to the incident by the grand jury and could be sentenced to 15 years in prison on the most serious charge, but the jury declined to indict on the murder charge prosecutors originally sought.

State Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, who helped pass the SAFE-T Act, said those charges were evidence that Andrews wasn’t getting away with murder, as Republicans had claimed. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also emphasized the harsh consequences Andrews faces.

“The SAFE-T Act package makes our justice system fairer and more effective at the same time, but Republicans are continuing their scare tactics by twisting the law and the facts of this case in order to score political points in an election year,” Slaughter said.

Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout

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