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County clerk says Mendoza’s death penalty record shows ‘she’s no reformer’

Nathson Fields

Nathson Edgar Fields speaks on his experience on death row during a press conference on Monday, January 28, 2019. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Mayoral contender Susana Mendoza’s own words were used against her Monday as two political allies of Toni Preckwinkle and a man exonerated from death row questioned her record on the death penalty.

In two videos shown at a press conference, Mendoza is shown calling gang members who gunned down a mother of three “street thugs, animals” and saying there’s no issue she cares about more than the death penalty.

susana mendoza mayoral candidate 2019 election rich hein

Susana Mendoza | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

“I want to leave no doubt that I feel no compassion or see any value whatsoever in the lives of the truly guilty on death row,” Mendoza says. “I could administer the death penalty myself to a cop killer or a serial murderer and sleep like a baby at night if I knew without a doubt of their guilt.”

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, and Nathson Fields, who was cleared of double murder, sought to “set the record straight” about Mendoza’s role in abolishing the death penalty. The three specifically pointed to Mendoza’s claim in November that she was the deciding vote in overturning capital punishment — a claim that was found to be “mostly false.”

“This is especially concerning for me that she would use this because she had already made herself very clear where she stood on criminal justice issues,” Yarbrough said at the West Loop law offices of Loevy and Loevy.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough addresses mayoral candidate Susan Mendoza’s support of the death penalty during a press conference on Monday, January 28, 2019. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

“She’s no reformer and I really take issue with this whole business of being the 60th vote, like she carried the day.”

Fields was represented by attorneys from Loevy and Loevy.

The former El-Rukn gang member said he cringed when he heard Mendoza’s comments. He said it was prejudice against gang members that led to him being wrongfully convicted.

“At the time that Ms. Mendoza made these comments, in 2010, there were 20 death row exonerees already where it was proven that these men were sent to death row for something they didn’t do,” Fields said. “Despite that, she was charging right forward with ‘let’s do ‘em all in.'”

Yarbrough and Peters’ both have ties to Preckwinkle, who is also running for mayor. Yarbrough is a committeeman for the Cook County Democratic Party where Preckwinkle serves as chair.

Peters’ appointment to finish out Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s term in the State Senate was seen by some residents in the district as a backroom deal put together by Preckwinkle and Ald. Leslie Hairston.

A spokeswoman for Mendoza said the press conference was “rehashing” an old issue and “that makes it clear its all political nonsense” orchestrated by the Cook County Board President.

She also said that while Mendoza was a deciding vote, the deciding vote came from former state Rep. Pat Verschoore who initially voted against abolishing the death penalty then flipped his vote.

In a statement from Mendoza’s campaign, Verschoore says “anyone who says Susana did not play a decisive role in ending the death penalty in Illinois either doesn’t know the history or isn’t telling the truth.”

“This is just another politically motivated attack by Toni Preckwinkle who continues to try and deflect attention from her campaign’s chaos and her refusal to return $116,000 in contributions to Ed Burke despite her claims to have already done so,” Mendoza’s spokeswoman said in a statement. “Susana is proud to have been a deciding vote for ending the death penalty in Illinois and played a pivotal role in recruiting other members to join her in that critical vote.”

Peters said Monday he supports Preckwinkle, but the issue of the death penalty goes beyond who he supports to be the next mayor.

Yarbrough said her actions weren’t politically motivated. “Toni couldn’t get me to do this … We’re comrades on the Central Committee, but that has nothing to do with this,” she said.