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No more parole recommendations, Foxx says, after heat for not opposing cop-killers’ bids for release

The Cook County state’s attorney’s decision comes a day after ex-Chicago police superintendent blasted her.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said her office’s practice of making parole recommendations was a “relic.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said her office’s practice of making parole recommendations was a “relic.” Her move away from offering any position on parole follows a similar move by the new district attorney in Los Angeles.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file

Cook County prosecutors traditionally have made recommendations on whether the state should parole inmates — such as infamous mass killer Richard Speck, who died in prison in 1991.

Usually, the opinion was a simple “no.”

But Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx — who’s been criticized for not opposing the bids for release of two men convicted of killing Chicago police officers — is putting a stop to the practice entirely. Her office no longer will offer opinions on parole to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

In a letter Wednesday to its chairman, Craig Findley, Foxx said prosecutors aren’t in the best position to judge inmates’ fitness for parole. Prosecutors are experts in the facts of the crimes but not in the details of the inmates’ lives after going to prison, she said.

“I did not reach this decision lightly,” she wrote.

In two cases over the past year, Foxx has been blasted by former Chicago police Supt. Phil Cline, now head of the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, for changing her stance on two convicted cop-killers behind bars. She told the parole board she no longer objected to the release of Ronnie Carrasquillo and Joseph Hurst without explaining why.

The state’s attorney’s office previously opposed parole for both men.

In September, the board, which conducts its own investigations and hears from victims before making a decision, narrowly denied parole for Carrasquillo.

Foxx’s letter went out one day before Hurst’s next parole hearing, Thursday, and on the same day the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Cline was criticizing her for not opposing bail for Hurst.

Johnny Veal, convicted of killing two Chicago cops, also has a hearing Thursday. In a November letter, Foxx asked the board to deny Veal’s bid for parole.

In an interview Wednesday, Foxx said her predecessor, former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, would submit “boilerplate objections” to the parole board. Foxx said she decided to be “more thoughtful in our analysis.”

But she said she decided that the parole board knows best whether an inmate is rehabilitated and ready to return to society.

Only four people convicted of killing Chicago police officers are eligible for parole: Carrasquillo, Hurst, Veal and his accomplice George Knights.

Each was sentenced in the 1960s or 1970s and given indeterminate sentences — like Hurst’s prison term of 100 to 300 years.

These so-called “C number” prisoners — referring to the identification numbers given to inmates at the time they entered prison — are entitled to a parole hearing at least every five years, under the law as it stood when they got sentenced.

Indeterminate sentences and C numbers were abolished in 1978. Now, people convicted of first-degree murder in Illinois must serve their full sentences without any possibility of parole. And people convicted of other crimes have set parole dates that aren’t subject to parole hearings.

When Illinois ended indeterminate sentencing, there were more than 16,000 inmates entitled to parole consideration, many of them serving time for crimes committed in Cook County. Now, there are only about 80 remaining inmates — including the four cop-killers — incarcerated under sentences imposed during the indeterminate-sentencing era.

Foxx said her office’s practice of making parole recommendations was a “relic.”

But she said her office will continue to notify victims and their survivors of parole hearings and help them prepare statements to give the parole board.

She said she also will provide the board with case summaries — but they won’t include any opinion on whether the board should grant or deny parole.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office was one of the few prosecutors’ offices in Illinois that still regularly were making recommendations on parole decisions involving people convicted in their jurisdictions, according to observers of the parole board.

Findley, chairman of the parole board, said he didn’t think the end of the practice will pose any problem. In a letter Wednesday to the chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, Findley called Foxx’s position “well-reasoned.”

“It is important for [the board] to receive factual information about these decades-old cases — and [that] will continue at our request,” Findley wrote. “But it is unnecessary for her to do more than speak to the crime itself.”

Foxx’s move follows a similar action by newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who decided in December to stop having his prosecutors attend parole hearings or argue against the release of inmates.

To counter Gascon’s decision, the Los Angeles County sheriff said he would send members of his staff to parole hearings to represent victims.