A bill was introduced in the Illinois House on Thursday, Jan. 27 revamping the Prisoner Review Board, the board that decides whether those convicted of felonies will be freed and the conditions they will face if they are released from prison.
The goal of the new legislation, HB 5126, is to increase transparency, require a certain number of board members to have a law enforcement background and imprint victim rights on the board’s mission statement, according to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who sponsored the bill.
Durkin said the recent release of a cop killer, a murder-rapist and a child killer underscored the need for this legislation.
“These are just three specific cases, horrible cases, but they tell you everything you need to know,” Durkin said during a virtual news conference. “In each one of these cases a victim or their family publicly stated their strenuous opposition to the parole of each one of these.”
“Doesn’t that victim or the family member have any say? Shouldn’t they be afforded greater weight in a parole decision,” he asked. “Each one of these former inmates have one thing in common: They are cold-blooded killers who should have never lived a free day after their conviction and sentence. These monsters are the true faces of evil.”
Durkin served as assistant state’s attorney for Cook County for five years, working in the narcotics bureau and felony trial division concentrating on murder and violent crime.
Some major points of the HB 5126 include:
- Requires five members of the 12-member Prisoner Review Board to have experience as police officers or a prosecutor.
- Broadcasts via live stream Prisoner Review Board hearings.
- Makes clemency recommendations to the governor’s office public.
- Requires a two-thirds vote for parole for those convicted of first-degree murder. Currently, the vote must be a simple majority voting for parole.
- • Authorizes testimony from one representative of the person under parole consideration, one member of law enforcement from the county where the person was convicted, and one member of the victim’s family at the parole hearings.
- Makes the decision of the governor in parole cases subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
- Requires the Prisoner Review Board to notify victims in writing when an application for clemency has been made within a week of the filing of the application. If the victims fail to file a statement 30 days before the clemency hearing date, a second notice should be sent to the victim. A victim will receive a 45-day extension to provide a statement if they request it, and that time must elapse before the board can hold the hearing.
During the news conference Thursday, Jan. 27, Durkin highlighted the release of three convicted murders: Paul Bryant, Ray Larsen and Johnny Veal.
Bryant was convicted of murder, rape, home invasion and burglary. Bryant was convicted of killing a 59-year-old woman whose throat he slashed during a robbery in 1976 and the murder of a 19-year-old woman whom he raped, beat, strangled and set on fire in 1977. Another woman was held at knifepoint, robbed, and raped in her home. He was sentenced to 500 to 1,500 years. He was released in 2021. He is now 72.
Larson was sentenced to 100 to 300 years in prison after confessing to killing 16-year-old Frank Casolari in a forest preserve near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 1972. At the time of the killing, Larson was serving time for robbery, but was on a “family furlough” from prison to visit his grandmother. After his release in May 2021, Larson fled the state, but was arrested and returned to prison on a parole violation. He is now 77.
Veal was 17 when he was charged with the sniper style murders of Chicago Police Sgt. James Severin and Officer Anthony Rizzato in 1970 as they walked across a field in the Cabrini-Green public housing complex. Veal was sentenced to 100 to 199 years in prison. The Prisoner Review Board voted to parole Veal in May 2021. He is 70 years old.
“The administration is placing criminals above victims and they are trying to silence the voices of victims across the state,” Durkin said. “There is no reason that cold blooded murderers are released back into society against the wishes of the people they hurt.”