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Govt-and-politics
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Illinois governor proposes death penalty for mass murder, murder of police officers

SPRINGFIELD — Eight years after Illinois abolished the death penalty, the state's Republican governor on Monday proposed reinstating the punishment for mass killers and people who gun down police officers.

Gov. Bruce Rauner tied the death penalty plan to gun restrictions favored by Democrats who control the Legislature — inserting it into legislation that lengthens the waiting period for taking possession of rifles or shotguns from 24 hours to 72 hours, and adding other limits on firearms possession.

"I don't believe that this is anything other than very good policy, widely supported by the people of Illinois," Rauner said of the death penalty proposal while at the Illinois State Police forensic laboratory in Chicago. "These individuals who commit mass murder, individuals who choose to murder a law enforcement officer, they deserve to have their life taken."

The last execution to be carried out in Illinois was in 1999, before Republican Gov. George Ryan issued a moratorium and later emptied death row, believing the system too fraught with mistakes to be tenable. Illinois had executed 12 people in the decades since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, but 13 people had been freed because of questions about their guilt. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn officially abolished the death penalty in 2011.

How Gov. Ryan ended death penalty at Tamms

TAMMS — The tiny community in deep Southern Illinois that waged a full-press fundraising campaign and courtship with the state to earn its first "supermax" prison, was to become Illinois’s Death Row capital – the final destination for inmates sentenced to die and whose appeals had run out.

Rauner, an unpopular first-term governor facing a tough road to re-election in November, used his amendatory veto authority to add capital punishment and other provisions to the gun bill, including a ban on bump stocks, the rifle-firing speed accessory used in a mass shooting in Las Vegas last year. He also proposed giving the courts the authority to take guns from people deemed dangerous.

Democrats pushed back. Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago said in a statement that "the death penalty should never be used as a political tool to advance one's agenda."

"Doing so is in large part why we had so many problems and overturned convictions," Cullerton said.

Democrats have introduced several proposals to curb gun violence — in response not only to mass shootings elsewhere in the U.S. but also because of the Feb. 13 fatal shooting in downtown Chicago of police Commander Paul Bauer.

The bill now goes back to the House. For Rauner's plan to become law, the Legislature must approve his changes. If lawmakers don't act, the whole package will expire without becoming law. The Legislature could also vote to override Rauner's changes and enact the original waiting-period language.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Democrats, said the first task will be to determine whether Rauner exceeded his authority. The Illinois Constitution says the governor may send a bill back "with specific recommendations for change," and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has repeatedly taken a narrow view of that power.

Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Northbrook Democrat and House sponsor of the original measure, would not comment Monday, saying he needed time to examine Rauner's action.

Rauner's proposal would allow a jury to impose the death penalty only in cases where someone is found guilty "beyond all doubt" — a higher standard than the constitutionally guaranteed "reasonable doubt" requirement for most criminal cases. He told reporters that would eliminate cause for concern, noting that "so many times, the person is caught in the act" or "there are multiple witnesses, and they're fleeing the act."

But Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said Illinois is rife with examples of recanted eyewitness testimony and confessions beaten out of suspects by police. Dunham, whose organization is officially neutral on the death penalty but often criticizes its application, said a "beyond all doubt" standard would still be open to interpretation.

"Illinois' death penalty history showed how arbitrary and unreliable the death sentence was and how susceptible it was to official misconduct," Dunham said. "Any suggestion that it should be brought back without a full public discussion and full public hearings is incredibly reckless."

The bill is HB1468.


Marion
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Marion couple uses solar energy to help power their farm

MARION — Southern Illinois Farming Alliance and Advanced Energy Solutions in Carterville hosted a solar energy field day Monday. The field day began with a tour of a farm owned by Randy and Gail Jones south of Marion that is using solar energy to help power the farm.

The couple married and moved to the farm in 1973. Through the years, they couple has made several improvements to the farm to help conserve energy or, as Randy puts it, “to pay the electric company as little as possible.”

They replaced a coal-fired heat system in their home, going to all-electric, then insulating the house. They transitioned to a wood-burning heating stove, then geo-thermal system.

They have made similar changes to the farming operation. They have installed solar-powered electric fences and solar panels on a barn to help heat their workshop.

“My father-in-law was in the solar energy business,” Randy Jones said.

About 10 years ago, Randy and Gail Jones began talking about a more substantial solar project to help produce electricity for the farming operation. The couple now has a beef cattle herd of about 25 head, and grows grain to grind into food.

Randy Jones said the idea is to keep from buying coal-fired electricity and to use natural electricity powered by the sun every day. Illinois offers good tax incentives to switch.

“For me is was like buying a tractor,” Randy Jones said.

The solar installation at the Jones farm is a 10 kilowatt system that has 30 solar panels and a heavy-duty, off-ground mounting system. The project cost about $40,000. The system went on in December 2017.

“It doesn’t run the farm. It runs a very small percentage of everything we use,” Randy Jones said.

Gail Jones has been monitoring their electricity bill.

“I look at the bill. Our electricity has gone down some,” Gail Jones said.

They also produce electricity for the grid.

“They pay us back less per kilowatt than we pay them,” Randy Jones said.

The couple looked at another solar installation model that is installed closer to the ground.

“I like this setup better. Being a cattle farm, there’s always a chance cows are going to get loose,” Randy Jones said, adding that their bull likes to knock things down.

Besides being high enough and heavy enough to withstand cattle, the system is wind-resistant to 90 miles per hour. The height makes it easy to mow under and around, too.

Aur Beck, founder and chief technician of AES, said the couple installed the best equipment he sells. In addition to the heavy-duty mounting system, they also wanted American-made solar panels. He explained that the solar panels have a 25 year warranty, and the converter has a 15 year warranty.

“It can be pouring rain, and it will still be producing energy,” Beck said.

“It can be a full moon and produce energy,” Randy Jones said.

Beck explained that it does not produce a lot of energy in either case, but it still does produce some. It produces a lot more on bright, sunny days.

In this particular project, the rainy fall weather slowed installation, plus it takes six to seven weeks to get the heavier rack and mounting system.

“It installs in two weeks once the rack is set,” Beck said.

In addition to the 136-acre farm south of Marion, the couple owns a 250-acre grain farm near Herrin.

After the farm tour, the group went to AES in Carterville for a potluck dinner and presentation.

Carol Iaccino, executive director of sales for AES, explained how the process works from first contact to installation. She also explained incentives available to residential and business customers who choose to install a solar system.

Southern Illinois Farming Alliance is project of Food Works. For more information visit www.fwsoil.org.

For more information about solar energy, visit www.aessolar.com.


Govt-and-politics
topical top story
Political expert: Rauner's proposal to reinstate death penalty harks back to law-and-order era

CARBONDALE — Gov. Bruce Rauner dropped a bombshell Monday morning when he announced his proposal to reinstate the death penalty in Illinois for mass murderers and people who kill police officers.

The move might have been unexpected, but it’s not unfamiliar, according to a local political expert.

Jackson

John Jackson, a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said Rauner’s death penalty provision is reminiscent of the tough-on-crime campaign strategies of the 1960s and 1970s, and has emerged as a manifestation of deep polarization on social and racial issues.

“I think in some ways it harks back to the '60s and '70s, when political leaders at both the federal and the state level were rushing to make more and more things capital crimes … and all of that was part of the whole law-and-order era,” Jackson said.

In recent years, Jackson said, lawmakers have been moving in the opposite direction — toward bipartisan prison reform.

“Many years later, we’ve come on a season when a fair number of political leaders on the left and the right are talking about (how) we’ve overdone it on law and order and filled our jails more than we’re willing to support, continuing to pay for all of the costs of that. And this (Rauner’s amendatory veto) is, in some ways, leaning against that more recent wind, it seems to me,” Jackson said.

Under the governor’s proposal, capital punishment suspects must be convicted by juries “beyond all doubt,” as opposed to the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jackson said that in a larger context, the reemergence of the death penalty issue is an indication of social, racial and economic divisions.

“I think it’s deeply tied up in the ‘Back the Blue’ movement, versus the whole national controversy over young black males getting killed by policemen, and then policemen getting killed, as in the case in Dallas, for example, by someone who clearly targeted them and killed four of the Dallas police officers a couple of years ago, and several other instances of that. It got all caught up in a lot of other things, like race and a return to law-and-order solution to deep social and economic problems,” Jackson said.

In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois after learning of the prevalence of wrongful convictions.

“He was, of course, a Republican and himself had been a law-and-order guy, and then when he got into office, much to the consternation of some of his supporters, he went through sort of a public process of debating about the efficacy and more importantly the morality of capital punishment,” Jackson said.

How Gov. Ryan ended death penalty at Tamms

TAMMS — The tiny community in deep Southern Illinois that waged a full-press fundraising campaign and courtship with the state to earn its first "supermax" prison, was to become Illinois’s Death Row capital – the final destination for inmates sentenced to die and whose appeals had run out.

In March 2011, then-Gov. Pat Quinn officially abolished the practice.

The death-penalty provision was part of the governor’s amendatory veto of HB1468, which would have mandated a 72-hour waiting period for assault-style weapons in the state.

Such amendatory vetoes represent a long-running controversy in Springfield, Jackson said.

Jackson said the amendatory veto power was originally intended “as nothing more than ‘clean up the language, clean up places where we get in a hurry at the end’ … so it’s a way to save the bill and not scuttle it. That grew into governors doing more and more aggressive amendatory vetoing.”


Crime-and-courts
breaking
Chester man pleads guilty to reckless homicide in 2016 death of Chester Police Officer

CHESTER — A Chester man has pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in connection to the October 2016 death of late Chester Police Officer James Brockmeyer, according to Randolph County State’s Attorney Jeremy Walker.

Jason Stoker, 35, pleaded guilty to reckless homicide Monday morning just before his bench trial was scheduled to begin. With the plea deal, the other charges of murder and aggravated fleeing were dropped.

Reckless homicide is a Class 2 felony, which carries a potential penalty of three to 14 years in prison, Walker said.

Stoker also was sentenced this past Friday to 15 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine.

On the night of Brockmeyer’s death in October 2016, he attempted to perform a traffic stop on Stoker. However, because Stoker had “ice” — a pure form of meth — in the car, he refused to pull over, and drove at high speeds away from Brockmeyer.

Brockmeyer gave pursuit, but lost control of his vehicle and was killed as a result of the crash. He was 22 years old.

www.odmp.org 

Brockmeyer

Walker said the plea in Randolph County is something that has been in the works for about a year with the families involved and was agreed to in principal. However, he said when the federal case came along, everything needed to wait until that case was resolved.

“We needed that case to work its way thought the system and are more than satisfied with the sentence Mr. Stoker received last week in the federal court,” Walker said. “The family of Mr. Brockmeyer were involved in this resolution, were fully aware, and in agreement with what we did. I only hope this gives the family additional closure and will allow them to move forward with their grieving and healing.”

At the sentencing hearing of the federal case, Bockmeyer’s mother, Dixie, and Chester Police Chief Ryan Coffey gave victim impact statements. Stoker was given an enhanced sentence for recklessly creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury in the course of fleeing from a law enforcement officer.

A sentencing hearing for Stoker in Randolph County is set for Aug. 16.


International
AP
58 dead in Gaza protests as Israel fetes US Embassy move

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In a jarring contrast, Israeli forces shot and killed at least 58 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,200 during mass protests Monday along the Gaza border, while just a few miles away Israel and the U.S. held a festive inauguration ceremony for the new American Embassy in contested Jerusalem.

It was by far the deadliest day of cross-border violence since a devastating 2014 war between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers and further dimmed the already bleak prospects for President Donald Trump's hoped-for peace plan.

Throughout the day, Gaza protesters set tires ablaze, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops across the border. The Israeli military, which has come under international criticism for using excessive force against unarmed protesters, said Hamas tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the protests and released video of protesters ripping away parts of the barbed-wire border fence.

Monday's protests culminated more than a month of weekly demonstrations aimed at breaking a crippling Israeli-Egyptian border blockade. But the U.S. Embassy move, bitterly opposed by the Palestinians, added further fuel.

There was barely any mention of the Gaza violence at Monday's lavish inauguration ceremony for the new embassy, an upgraded consular building located just 50 miles away. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials joined an American delegation of Trump administration officials and Republican and evangelical Christian supporters.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and chief Mideast adviser, headlined the U.S. delegation with his wife and fellow White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and four Republican senators. Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson was also present, and evangelical pastors Robert Jeffress and John Hagee delivered blessings.

"A great day for Israel!" Trump tweeted earlier Monday.

In a videotaped address, Trump said the embassy move, a key campaign promise, recognizes the "plain reality" that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. Yet he added the United States "remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement."

But Monday's steadily climbing death toll and wall-to-wall condemnation of the embassy move in the Arab world raised new doubts about Trump's ambitions to broker what he called the "deal of the century." More than a year after taking office, Trump's Mideast team has yet to produce a long-promised peace plan.

Trump says recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital acknowledges the reality that Israel's government is located there as well as the ancient Jewish connection to the city. He insists the decision has no impact on future negotiations on the city's final borders.

But to both Israel and the Palestinians, the American gesture is widely seen as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in their longstanding conflict.

"What a glorious day. Remember this moment. This is history," Netanyahu told the inauguration ceremony.

"You can only build peace on truth, and the truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state," he added.

The Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as their capital, have cut off ties with the Trump administration and say the U.S. is unfit to serve as a mediator. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, furious over the embassy ceremony, said he "will not accept" any peace deal proposed by the Trump administration.

The Palestinian president also urged the international community to condemn what he said were "massacres" carried out by Israeli troops in Gaza, and officials said the Palestinians would file a war crimes complaint against Israel in the International Criminal Court over settlement construction.

At least 58 Palestinians, including a young girl and four other minors, were killed, the Gaza Health Ministry said. It said 1,204 Palestinians were wounded by gunfire, including 116 who were in serious or critical condition.

Egypt, an important Israeli ally, condemned the killings of Palestinian protesters, while the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, decried the "shocking killing of dozens."

Turkey said it was recalling its ambassador to the United States over the U.S. Embassy move, saying it "disregarded the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people" and would "not serve peace, security and stability in the region." It also recalled its ambassador to Israel following what it called a "massacre" of Palestinians on the Gaza border.

South Africa, a fervent supporter of the Palestinians, also recalled its ambassador for consultations, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on Israel to respect the "principle of proportionality in the use of force" and show restraint, while also urging Hamas to ensure any protests remain peaceful. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a similar appeal.

At the U.S. Embassy ceremony in Jerusalem, Kushner placed the blame on the Gaza protesters.

"As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution," he said.


Jackson


Provided by Randolph County State's Attorney 

Stoker


www.odmp.org 

Brockmeyer