Thursday, December 6, 2012

Court Advocates Report

Two verdicts yesterday in Uptown cases, from a 19th District court advocate:
  • "Steven Riggs.  Oh, juries.  If I ever commit a crime, I'm asking for a jury trial.  They're sooooo unpredictable!

    For your readers who may remember the incident in March 2010:  It was a warm day, and two guys who lived at 4626 Magnolia were outside drinking for most of the day.  They argued.  Then Steven Riggs stabbed Joshua Spencer right there on the sidewalk!  Joshua Spencer died a week later from his wounds.  Steven Riggs was charged with First Degree Murder and the Intention to Cause Death or Great Bodily Harm.  Steven Riggs was taken into custody.

    A lot of pre-trial time was spent determining the mental fitness of Steven Riggs.  The trial happened this month.  It seemed to go very well.  Several Magnolia neighbors and several Mercy Housing staff testified.  ASA Joy Repella presented a great case.  The jury met and convened and came back with a determination of (wait for it) Involuntary Manslaughter.  I don't know about you, but I think it's pretty hard to stab someone involuntarily!

    Judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan gave the maximum sentence she was allowed under that verdict:  Five Years and a year of supervision.  Joshua Spencer's family was there, and I can't even imagine how it felt for them to hear such a verdict and such a necessarily short sentence.  It must have been like losing him twice.

    I didn't have a chance to find this out for sure, but because of Cook County's policy of giving one day off the sentence for every day of good behavior, Steven Riggs, who's been in custody for more than 2-1/2 years, well, he may be done serving his time already.  At most, he will be in until March 2015.  I wasn't in the jury room, I don't know what the discussion was about, but I really disagree with the jury in this case.  Not a sentence I am personally very happy about.
  • Willie Mason.  He was arrested for carrying a loaded gun near Clarendon Park 22 months ago, so was charged as an Armed Habitual Criminal, based on his past record.  He was found guilty, and sentencing was today [Wednesday].  Uptown Baptist Church's pastors have been attending in support of his mother, who was there every time there was a hearing.

    Today both the pastor and associate pastor read statements asking for a lenient sentence, based on Willie Mason's family support and because he has no history of violence.  Richard Thale read a statement on behalf of the community and 19th District Court Advocacy Subcommittee, asking for a strong sentence, citing the gun violence that the community is fighting so hard to stop.

    Judge Jorge Luis Alonso sentenced Willie Mason to eight years, which he must serve at 85%.  The total time incarcerated will be 6-1/2 years at minimum.  ASA Joy Nelson had asked for a longer sentence, but I think we were all satisfied with the judge's decision.

So, one man stabs a friend to death and gets five years.  Another man with no history of violence carries a gun and gets eight years.  I'm definitely going to ask for a jury trial if I ever go rogue and start committing crimes!"


  1. Thanks for the update on these cases. I had a feeling the first case could end up with a manslaughter conviction which is often the result in cases where arguments and physical fights between friends/associates suddenly turn deadly violent. And I'm glad to see a fairly stiff sentence given in the second case. Mr. Mason may not have a documented history of violence, but a career criminal, possible gangbanger, with a gun seems like more of a threat to me than the first guy who I might only need to worry about if I decide to get drunk with him and get into an argument and fight.

  2. Real talk, so you disagree on the relative severity of the sentences given these two, fine. But why do you have to make it personal and be insulting towards me? I just happen to think the second guy presents more of a danger to the community. You are welcome to disagree. Can you do it without being insulting? And by the way, officially it was not murder, it was manslaughter. That is not an opinion, that is a fact.

  3. I agree with Sean about the Mason case. I think it's a little scary that we would want to judge someone's threat to society based on past violence....the danger in that is that it suggests that you first have to commit a violent crime to be considered dangerous or threatening...I don't know about you, but I'd want someone off the street who could be considered dangerous BEFORE s/he hurts/kills someone. Dangerous people don't become dangerous after they kill someone, if they have a record, those people were most likely a danger prior to that. The ruling in this case against Mr. Mason is a good thing - locking someone up with a record and dangerous past before he commits a crime. Besides, is there more than 1 reason/intention behind carrying a loaded weapon? Seriously....

  4. @Sean really I didn't mean to be insulting. You know how the Updaters are "Go Hard or Go Home". I respectfully Disagree. It was manslaughter because that is the way the jury understood the law and then you have to pay attention to the story. The guy was thought to unfit for trial for some time. So there were alot of factors in that case. I think we can both agree on one thing morally. A human being took the life of another. Regardless of how the "law" intepreted it. It wasn't by accident. When this guy wielded a knife to stab the victim that was enough to establish his intent to kill or do "Great Bodily Harm". A jury is a far cry from a Judge when it comes to the law. Even with the alcohol (intoxication) considered. It is still nothing short of MURDER. He took a life by his own will.
    @Miss A. I am know lawyer but I have enough sense to know that the law cannot be enforced on assumption. The argument is not about "pre-meditation" or will a"Gun-totting" non-violent offender become violent at some point. The disagreement I have here is the punishment given in these two cases. You have a man who committed murder. You have a man who was caught totting a gun. The gon-totter gets a stiffer penalty then the guy who committed the ultimate taboo!! Rather or not Mr. Mason would have become a violent person?? I dont know?? but what I can tell you is the "DRUNK GUY" has already established his history of violence. So it wont be hard for himto do it again in 2 1/2 short years. #REALTALK

  5. Real Talk, If you read my first post carefully, you'd see the only real judgment I made was about who I perceived as a greater threat to ME. I made no judgments about the appropriateness or justice of the sentences on their own or as they compared to each other except for saying I was glad Mason got a stiff sentence. And when I judged Mason to be more of a real threat to me in the community I was considering how often people get shot who were the unintended target(s) of the shooter. Happens all the time, agree? I have been on the streets of Uptown when shots have rung out and whizzed by. Criminals with guns worry me. And I was also thinking that I can't ever recall anyone being stabbed as an unintended target of the stabbing, you know, you never hear of that happening. So while I don't feel its great that the first guy might be back on the streets in a short time and while I have NO arguments to make one way or the other about justice or injustices of the sentences, I just feel like Mason represents more of a threat to ME. I'm a pretty big guy with a good reach who doesn't hang out and get drunk with Steven Rigss so I'm not too worried about him being able to stab me. But I walk around Uptown all the time, and while I don't think Mr. Mason would ever have reason to target me, I could be walking close to someone he would target and these guys miss their targets all the time. Those are my thoughts on why I felt Mason to be more of a threat to me, understand? And again, I'm making no statement about the fairness or justice or lack thereof of either sentence.