Blagojevich blasts Foxx for ‘reforms’ he says let violent suspects go free

Former federal inmate Blagojevich, who was a county prosecutor before he was governor, spoke Friday at a rally with murder victims’ families.

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is confronted by wrongful conviction activist Mark Clements during a press conference Friday across from State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s downtown offices.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is confronted by wrongful conviction activist Mark Clements during a press conference Friday across from State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s downtown offices. Blagojevich had said Foxx’s “well-intentioned” efforts at criminal justice reform have allowed violent criminals to go free.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Former governor Rod Blagojevich, who has long claimed he landed in federal prison as the victim of overzealous prosecutors, on Friday called on State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to “err on the side of public safety” when deciding whether or not to bring charges against violent offenders.

Joined by the families of a half-dozen Chicago murder victims, the former governor served as a sort of keynote speaker at a news conference Friday in Daley Plaza across from Foxx’s downtown offices. The former governor had barbed comments for current Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but focused his remarks mostly on Foxx’s “well-intentioned” reform efforts that he believes allow violent criminals to remain free.

“The Cook County state’s attorney, I do believe, is well-intentioned in her desire for criminal justice reform, and frankly, is so caught up in that she’s lost all ideas of common sense,” said Blagojevich, who was a Cook County prosecutor before launching his political career. 

“I understand there’s a chance (suspects) may be innocent, the law says they are presumed innocent. But the statistics tell us that in most cases, they’re guilty. And it seems to me that when you have to make hard decisions… you ought to err on the side of public safety,” the former governor said.

In an emailed statement, Foxx was droll in her response to Blagojevich’s critique.

“We are pursuing a smart approach to crime and violence that focuses on bringing justice against the ringleaders, gang recruiters, and others who spread violence across our neighborhoods and cities,” she said. “As for Rod Blagojevich, I hope he remains focused on staying out of prison himself after his extortion schemes that victimized children in need of medical care.”

Blagojevich was convicted on federal bribery and extortion charges and spent eight years in federal prison before former President Donald Trump commuted his sentence in 2020.

The press conference, which was announced by conservative journalist and consultant Matt Vargas and community activist Andrew Holmes, ostensibly highlighted the plight of families waiting for criminal charges in the murder of a loved one.

Holmes peppered his remarks urging police to make arrests — and for prosecutors to bring charges — with repeated caveats that “this is not about bashing Kim Foxx.”

“I’m gonna support Kim Foxx,” Holmes said, noting that prosecutors needed more resources to “get the proper paperwork to charge these cases.”

“Somewhere in this office, there is a loophole.”

Such loopholes have forced police to release a suspect in the 2021 murder of Chrys Carvajal, a 19-year-old Army recruit who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Belmont Cragin just after he’d finished basic training. Chicago Police arrested a high-ranking gang member and identified cell phone data that placed him near the shooting scene, but prosecutors declined to charge him, citing insufficient evidence.

More than a year later, no one has been arrested for the killing, Carvajal’s older sister, Jennifer Ramirez, told reporters. 

“We’re here now in the same position we were a year ago,” she said. “How much longer do families have to suffer?”

The news conference was disrupted for several minutes when wrongful conviction activist Mark Clements stepped to the bank of microphones after Blagojevich made his initial remarks, shouting in defense of Foxx’s efforts to reform an office that had been known for its role in hundreds of cases that have been overturned.

“This is a political hatchet job,” said Clements, who spent 28 years in prison for an arson that killed four people, a crime Clements said he confessed to only after being tortured by detectives.

Clements noted that it is police agencies that gather the evidence prosecutors need to meet their burden of proof to bring charges.

“The bottom line is that defendants are afforded due process. Where does the buck fall at? Our police department has failed us.”

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