Tougher Gun Laws Would Have Kept Murder Victims in Jail, Top Cop Says
CHICAGO — If the city had stiffer gun laws, Anthony Robinson wouldn’t have been able to fire the shots that killed a man on New Year's day, Chicago's top cop says.
Robinson's alleged victim that day, Kevin Jemison, wouldn't have been on the streets — he would have also been behind bars.
Robinson and Jemison were two of the men involved in more than 108 shootings this year that could have been prevented because either the shooter or victim would have been behind bars if Chicago had tougher sentences for gun crimes, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy says, citing police data.
McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel again pointed to those shootings this week to push for a change in state law that would require mandatory minimum sentences of three years in jail for those convicted of one of the most common gun charges, aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, also known as an aggravated UUW.
A more detailed look at the data — obtained by DNAinfo Chicago — shows that of those 108 shootings, 19 were murders.
That number is less than the more than 30 murders police previously estimated would have been prevented under stiffer gun laws, but the current figure is what McCarthy estimates would be prevented under the bill City Hall is now supporting, House Bill 2265. The bill would enact a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated UUW offenses.
"There's a very clear systems failure here when we can point to 100 shootings that could have been prevented," McCarthy said in an interview. "There are too many guns and not enough people going to jail once we take those guns out of people's hands."
Offenders Become Victims
The data also shows if there had been mandatory three-year sentences for gun crimes in effect before this year, far more of the victims in the 108 shootings would have been behind bars than the actual shooters. In fact, 89 of the cases involved victims who were released from jail after a felony weapons charge — the vast majority of whom spent less than a year in jail — and then were gunned down this year.
Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, said that's because many guilty of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon charges are more likely to be victims of gun violence.
"A huge percentage of homicide victims are also offenders, or at least known to have some involvement in the criminal justice system," Ander said. "The population of homicide and gun offenders is hugely overlapping with the population of victims."
A U. of C. Crime Lab analysis looking at people between 2008 and 2011 who were convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon charges showed that within the next two years, they were four times more likely to commit a homicide than those convicted of other felonies and nine times more likely to commit a shooting.
Those offenders can become "victims today and ... offenders tomorrow" in what McCarthy calls an endless loop of revenge.
"Where criminals become the victims of gunfire, you can be sure they're going to retaliate," he said.
The law change would result in "interrupting that vicious cycle. You lock them up and you prevent them from shooting someone and becoming a victim."
Jemison, the man Robinson is charged with shooting to death, would have been locked up after he was charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon in May 2011. He was sentenced to three years in jail, but got out early and went to a New Year's Eve party in December. There, the 28-year-old told friends that after already being shot 12 times, he knew he "was going to die. He didn’t think he could take another one,” his friends said.
According to McCarthy, Jemison's death was a case in which the city "had two opportunities to stop a murder and we didn't." His murder on New Year's Day in the Grand Crossing neighborhood was the second homicide of 2013.
Another victim who might still be alive is Jerrell Brooks, 28, who was shot and killed along with his brother in a drive-by shooting in August, about 1½ years after he was released from prison for his second offense as a felon in possession of a firearm.
Brooks served seven months of a three-year prison sentence before he was released.
At her Washington Park home, where Brooks was raised, his grandmother Lenora Wilson, 70, was hesitant, but said she'd rather he was still in jail — instead of out on the street the night he was killed a few blocks from her home.
"Because we miss him — I miss him," she said Sunday, holding a picture of Brooks. "And at least he would be alive. He's a missing link to the family."
Brooks, a welding student at Dawson Technical Institute, was known for his sarcastic humor, his love for reptiles and his BBQ ribs. He didn't have any gang ties, police said, but, according to Wilson, his prior felony charges kept him from employment.
"I had to grieve every day," she said, recalling his funeral. "Every day I see something familiar of his. I'm still looking for him by the gate where he used to come in."
But she wondered aloud if the people who killed her grandson, a father of four young children, might still be looking for him even after three years in prison.
Akeem Manago, 19, who was shot and killed in March, less than two months after he was released from prison on weapons and battery charges is another victim who might still be alive. He served less than a year of a 4½-year sentence.
In that case, family members said they thought Manago's shooter was waiting for him to return to his old stomping grounds after getting out of jail. They said he couldn't get away from the conflicts that defined life in his old Near West Side neighborhood.
"He wanted to live, but there's no escape," said Manago's uncle, Eric Prichett, at the Armour Square home of Manago's mother. "He just wanted to come home and just live."
Shooters Who Would Have Been in Jail
Of the cases where police say the shooter would have been in jail, the one that has received the most attention is that of Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed in January after going to President Barack Obama's inauguration. McCarthy says she might be alive if her alleged killer, Michael Ward, 18, hadn't been sentenced to just probation for a gun offense in January 2012.
"Every one of these gangbangers who gets shot, they're not getting shot by the Hadiya Pendletons of the world, they're getting shot by other gangbangers," McCarthy said.
According to police, that includes Byron Champ, 21, who was sentenced to boot camp for a gun offense in July 2012 but allegedly shot 3-year-old Deonta’ Howard and 12 others in a revenge gang ambush in September in a Back of the Yards park.
Several days after Deonta' was shot, mom Shamarah Leggett said she hoped his attacker and other would-be shooters “can feel some sort of sympathy” for the unintended victims and their relatives torn apart by violence. Deonta' is recovering but will require surgeries for years to come, in addition to treatment for the bullet wound that struck near the back of the boy's ear before emerging from his jaw, she said.
Edna Knowles, grandmother of slain 16-year-old Maurice Knowles, said she hopes her grandson's alleged killer learns his lesson in jail. Michael Johnson, 23, was sentenced to a year in prison for aggravated use of a firearm in August 2012, then charged with fatally shooting Knowles in the chest Sept. 2, 2013, after he spent four months in jail.
Edna Knowles acknowledged she had received an apology from Johnson's mother. But she said an apology wouldn't help. She wanted to see a long prison sentence instead.
"There's no apologizing he can do that will bring Maurice back," she said a day after the shooting. "I hope he does every day in jail that the judge gives him, every day."