Two More Members Out at IL Prison Review Board on Monday, Pritzker Defends Nominations

By Benjamin Cox on March 31, 2022 at 11:54am

State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, speaks against the appointment of Eleanor Wilson on the Illinois Senate floor on Monday. (Courtesy of Blue Room Stream)

Two more members are out at the Illinois Prison Review Board on Monday.

Nominee Oreal James resigned from his nomination on Monday just hours before his confirmation hearing in front of the Illinois Senate. James announced the resignation in a letter to Governor J.B. Pritzker and leaders of the Illinois Executive Nominations committee.

Nominee Eleanor Wilson failed to receive enough confirmation votes from the Senate. Wilson’s appointment was denied in a 15-31 vote — with 14 of the no votes coming from Democrats. Twelve other Democrats opted not to vote at all.

During floor debate, 50th District Republican Senator Steve McClure criticized Wilson for her votes in releasing a number of violent criminals who re-offended upon their release on parole: “These are serious cases. When a judge looks at the evidence and decides that you need to go serve 100 to 300 years in prison because your crime was so horrific – that needs to be taken very seriously. When the victim’s family is against their release – that needs to be taken into affect and taken very seriously. And, when you have got someone who is obviously, obviously not able to be rehabilitated – that needs to be taken seriously. Any time you’ve got [Cook County] State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and the Senate Republicans on the same page about the Prison Review Board, there’s a real problem. We need to protect the public and we need to stick up for victims and their families. No matter who the victim is and no matter where they are in this state. We need to stick up to violence right now. We all do. I think we all agree on that.”

McClure would later release the following statement in a press release after the failed confirmation vote: “Each member of the Prisoner Review Board has a vote to determine whether or not to release violent convicted felons from prison. This is an incredibly important job with potentially deadly consequences. These appointments cannot, and should not, be taken lightly. I’m glad that some appointees have finally been heard and vetted by the Senate. I hope that the Governor will now change his approach and nominate individuals who will serve with the safety of the people of Illinois in mind, while honoring the wishes and concern of victims.”

Pritzker Administration spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh later released the following statement following the failed confirmation: “The governor is disappointed that a highly qualified nominee will no longer be able to serve on the Prisoner Review Board, and he thanks Eleanor Wilson for her service and dedication to justice. The Pritzker administration remains committed to ensuring that highly qualified nominees fill these critical roles on the Prisoner Review Board especially because we must fulfill our constitutional and statutory obligations for clemency and parole as well as key public safety functions of the board.”

According to the State Journal Register, there are just six members seated to the 15-member board. Of those, three – LeAnn Miller, Jared Bohland and Ken Tupy – still need Senate approval. Tupy and Bohland were recommended by the Senate Executive Appointments Committee unanimously. Miller was also recommended.

Governor Pritzker reacted with a heavy rebuke of State Republicans Tuesday at an unrelated event. Pritzker accused the GOP of attempting to tear apart the agency and cherry picking crimes and criminals as talking points: “I will say that [being on the Prison Review Board] is an incredibly thankless job. Very, very difficult. We have Republicans on that board. We have Democrats on that board. They work together across the aisle. They don’t even think, I think, of their party affiliation when they are doing the job. Now, to have Republicans attack them, and their character, and their biographies; to have Republicans essentially trying to tear apart this agency of government…I mean this is what the GQP has been all about – tearing government apart. I think we aught to stand up for the integrity of the people that get appointed and the very tough decisions that they have to make. Obviously, we are going to move forward and keep the PRB operating as best we can.”

Prtizker continued the mudslinging at Republicans when pressed further about whether he stood by his nominations: “It’s easy to do what Republican do. They take the original crime that took place often decades and decades ago and they just talk about the headline of that crime and don’t talk about everything else that’s occurred, including what the victims’ statements have been, including the victims’ families statements, including other information that may have come forward in the subsequent decades in order [for the PRB] to make their decisions. So, it’s hard to second-guess the work that they do. It’s very easy just to say ‘this person committed an awful crime some many years ago’ and it’s easy to say we are going to throw away the key and leave them all in prison. That’s what you’re going to end up with. If that’s what people want, then let’s hear it, but I don’t think that’s what people wanted when we created the Prison Review Board.”

During his floor debate speech, Senator McClure outlined the parole of Ray Larsen. Larsen was originally convicted and sentenced for rape and murder in the early 1970s in Chicago. McClure says that Eleanor Wilson voted to release Larsen despite evidence he should remain incarcerated: “[Larsen] was brought before the Prison Review Board in 2018. He was voted down 12-0. Not a single person voted to release this man. In fact, one board member in the meeting’s minutes said ‘There was something about inmate Larsen that makes him a spree offender and he may be a high risk to re-offend.’ Fast forward to this Prison Review Board and Mrs. Wilson. She voted to release him. He was released. He was a fugitive for a week. He was eventually found in a hospital. The Prison Review Board still did not revoke his parole. After that, he left the state without telling anybody to go to Cincinnati. He was going to visit a female who was his prison pen pal. Thank God he never saw her. He went back afterwards. That second strike was enough for them to finally revoke his parole. Of course, the family was totally opposed to this man being released and they were heartbroken. I can’t even image the horrible position those people were in.”

Democrat State Senator Bill Cunningham of Chicago told the Chicago Sun-Times after the vote Monday that he voted against Wilson due to her voting in favor of releasing 68 year old Johnny Veal and 77 year old Joseph Hurst last month. Veal and another man shot and killed Sgt. James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato in 1970 as they walked across a field in the Cabrini-Green public housing complex. Veal was ultimately sentenced to 100 years in prison. Hurst was convicted of killing Officer Herman Stallworth and wounding his partner after being pulled over for speeding in 1967. Hurst was sentenced to death. He was re-sentenced to 100 to 300 years in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1972. Cunningham told the Sun-Times that the killing of a police officer in the line of duty should never be eligible for parole.

Republican Senator Jason Plummer in a press release for the Senate GOP Caucus also had a swift reaction to the governor calling state Republicans members of the QAnon conspiracy theory group: “In the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, when one’s opponents resort to low grade personal attacks, it shows that they have no legitimate political arguments left. I am embarrassed for the Governor. While I understand he is frustrated, this entire mess falls on his lap and these comments are beneath the dignity of the Office he holds. The Governor has never been accustomed to being told “no” and now that he has been told “no” by senators of both parties, I think he should take a deep breath and reevaluate the direction his Administration is taking when it comes to public safety.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, with the ousting of three members in the last few weeks, the Prison Review Board has posted on its website that clemency hearings scheduled by the board between April 12-15 have been postponed, citing “unforeseen circumstances.”