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Two cop-killers freed by Illinois parole board after decades in prison

Johnny Veal, 68, was convicted of killing Sgt. James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato in 1970; Joseph Hurst, 77, of killing Officer Herman Stallworth in 1967.

Johnny Veal.
Johnny Veal got parole despite the recommendation of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx that he remain in prison.
Illinois Department of Corrections

Two men convicted of killing Chicago police officers decades ago were granted parole Thursday over objections from a former police superintendent and, in one case, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

The Illinois Prisoner Review Board voted 8-4 to parole Johnny Veal, 68, and, separately, Joseph Hurst, 77.

The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, run by former Chicago police Supt. Phil Cline, objected to both parole requests.

“Clearly, the intent of the court was for these murderers to pay for the lives they stole with life in prison,” Cline said Thursday. “The decision to let these killers off the hook is a direct conflict with the judges’ intent. More importantly, allowing these men to be free sends a troubling message to the families of these officers that their sacrifice and the lives of their loved ones are somehow insignificant.”

Foxx strenuously opposed Veal’s parole. But she sent a letter to the board last year saying she no longer objected to parole for Hurst, a move that drew criticism from Cline and his foundation.

Veal was 17 in 1970 when he and another man, armed with .30-caliber rifles, killed Sgt. James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato as the two cops walked across a baseball diamond in the Cabrini-Green housing complex.

The officers — part of a “walk-and-talk” community relations team — were investigating a complaint that someone was firing a rifle from one of the apartment buildings when they were shot.

Officer Anthony Rizzato.
Officer Anthony Rizzato.
Chicago Police Memorial Foundation
Sgt. James Severin.
Sgt. James Severin.
Chicago Police Memorial; Foundation

Veal, now 68, and George Knights, 74, were convicted of the murders and sentenced to prison terms of 100 to 199 years. Knights remains in prison.

In a letter to the board last year, Foxx said she “strongly opposed” parole for Veal, calling the killings a “cold-blooded execution” and noting that he bragged about it.

Veal has told the parole board he was innocent despite what Foxx described as solid evidence against him. She also said there’s no evidence that he and Knights were beaten by the police when they were questioned, as Veal suggested to the board.

While in prison, Veal was caught with a homemade knife and pleaded guilty to a weapons charge in 1987, Foxx said.

In 2017, Veal’s attorney Sara Garber told the parole board that a detective said the shots could not have come from apartment number 603, as prosecutors said, and that Veal had four alibi witnesses who weren’t allowed to testify, according to minutes of a board hearing.

Veal has been held at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg.

Joseph Hurst.
Joseph Hurst.
Illinois Department of Corrections

Hurst was convicted of killing Officer Herman Stallworth and wounding his partner after being pulled over for speeding in 1967.

Hurst shot Stallworth as the officer was searching him on the street, prosecutors said. Hurst ran away, wounding Stallworth’s partner with a bullet to the face and later firing at other officers after barricading himself in a nearby building on the South Side. Hurst didn’t deny the allegations, according to his past statements to the parole board.

Officer Herman Stallworth.
Officer Herman Stallworth.
Chicago Police Memorial Foundation

Hurst originally was sentenced to death. But, after the U.S. Supreme Court placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1972, he was re-sentenced to 100 to 300 years in prison. He has told the board he’s no longer a threat to society and done enough time in prison for his crimes. Hurst has been held at the Dixon Correctional Center.

On Wednesday, Foxx told the Chicago Sun-Times she’ll no longer make recommendations to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board on parole.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file

That came after criticism from Cline for not objecting to parole for Hurst and separately for another cop-killer last year.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office was one of the few prosecutors’ offices in Illinois that still regularly made parole recommendations.

Foxx called the practice a “relic” of the past and said prosecutors are experts on the facts of the crimes but not on inmates’ conduct in prison — ending a decades-long practice by her office of offering opinions on parole requests.