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updated: 4/18/2011 5:31 AM

Why Illinois may be so attractive to murderers

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The never-ending death penalty debate has been given new life by a British Columbia man. DuPage County prosecutors say the man decided to hunt down and kill his ex-girlfriend in Illinois only after determining that he wouldn't face the executioner.

The 36-year-old woman was shot numerous times in the head as she walked out of the Oak Brook office where she worked.

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If the man had done a little more research, he would have found out how easily many murderers get off in Illinois -- death penalty or not. On average, murderers convicted in the state are locked up for less than 15 years, according to the most recent data published by the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Combine that statistic with this fact: more than half of all inmates released from Illinois prisons today will check back into the crossbar hotel within three years, according to the IDOC.

Consider the case of 19-year-old Keith Randulich, a former Lincoln Way East High School honor student. There was nothing honorable about what Randulich did to his 4-year-old sister in the basement of their Mokena home two years ago.

As his baby sister cried out, "Why are you killing me?" her brother slashed at her throat with a steak knife, until she was dead. His parents weren't home at the time. A brother was playing video games in another room. It was Mokena's first murder in more than 25 years.

Randulich, the honor student, claimed he wanted to save the girl from being molested by a relative. But there was no evidence of that, according to detectives and the coroner... as if it would have mattered.

After obtaining a guilty plea in December, Will County prosecutors last week said that Randulich deserved nothing less than life imprisonment -- or at least a 60- to 100-year sentence so that he would "never walk among society again."

Will County Judge Amy Bertani-Tomczak didn't agree. She sentenced Randulich to 40 years. That means he will be out when he is 58 years old. By that time, the life expectancy of Americans will probably give him another 50 years to live.

Why would a seasoned criminal judge see that as a case for mercy and leniency? There was forethought, planning, premeditation, extreme cruelty, a guilty plea, but no remorse -- all of the components that you would think and hope would add up to a life sentence.

It is not the first time that Judge Bertani-Tomczak prescribed a surprisingly light sentence for murder. Last October, a man named Hugo Sanchez stood before her honor. Sanchez had broken into an apartment across the street from where he lived in Joliet. He stabbed a 23-year-old neighbor woman several times in the face, tied her own shirt around her neck and strangled her.

The woman was pregnant. She and the baby died, but Sanchez got what he came for: her wallet that contained $100.

His accomplice, who has never been caught, raped the pregnant woman.

Will County prosecutors called it "unspeakable brutality" and a "nightmare of pain and fear."

Judge Bertani-Tomczak awarded Mr. Sanchez with a 35-year prison sentence. He'll be released when he is in 50s as well.

Yet another example: Judge Bertani-Tomczak sentenced an 18-year-old armed robber in Joliet who shot and killed an ice cream vendor and then escaped on a bicycle to 45 years. He'll still have some time to enjoy a stroll with a chocolate cone and watch some sunsets when he gets out.

You would think Bertani-Tomczak would be tougher on heinous killers. She is a former prosecutor herself and a former assistant Illinois Attorney General.

Her father was Louis R. Bertani, who served as Will County prosecutor from 1968 to 1972. And she is married to former Will County prosecutor Jeff Tomczak.

Judge Bertani-Tomczak's husband lost a bitterly-contested re-election fight against the current state's attorney, James Glasgow.

Asked about Judge Bertani-Tomczak's recent sentencings, Glasgow would only say: "The brutal and heartless murder of this innocent, helpless little girl demanded an enhanced sentence to guarantee this coldblooded monster would die in prison so he would never have another opportunity to commit such an atrocity."

His spokesman, Chuck Pelkie, on Sunday told me: "From our perspective there are no politics when you go into the courtroom. We ask for sentences that are appropriate based on the facts and circumstances."

Pelkie said a life sentence was warranted in Randulich's case. He added that judges don't have to explain their decisions away from the bench.

Judge Bertani-Tomczak did not respond to a message left for her this weekend or several other attempts to contact her to explain the ruling.

She is up for retention in 2014.

Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie.

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