Rival criticizes Lake County State's Attorney over Old Mill Creek murder charges
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim is facing criticism from his chief political opponent for his decision to levy murder charges against five teenage accomplices of Jaquan Swopes, who was shot to death by a homeowner last Tuesday while the group was allegedly trying to break into the man's car in Old Mill Creek.
"Nerheim's decision to charge the teenagers in this case with felony murder appears to be another instance of his office's rush to judgment and prosecutorial overreach," Eric Rinehart said in a statement released over the weekend.
Rinehart is a Lake County defense attorney and the sole candidate running for the Democratic nomination for Lake County state's attorney in the March 2020 primary election.
When reached for comment Monday, Nerheim said "while some may see this case as a political opportunity, I remain focused on keeping Lake County safe while respecting the rights of these offenders."
According to authorities, the teens were confronted by the 75-year-old homeowner at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday. The homeowner told investigators that when he shouted at the teens, one approached him with something in his hand, so the man opened fire, striking Swopes in the head. A knife was found at the scene.
Authorities said the teens then fled in an SUV stolen days earlier in Wilmette, stopping in Gurnee where one 17-year-old boy got out with the mortally wounded 14-year-old to seek medical help from police.
Rinehart said the Lake County State's Attorney's Office should have waited until the investigation was completed and all of the facts came in before making the decision to charge the teenagers with felony murder. In Illinois, prosecutors are allowed to charge accomplices in certain felonies with murder if anyone dies during the commission of the crime.
"While it is important that the police work fast to protect our communities (and I commend their work in this case), the State's Attorney's Office does not face the same time pressure," Rinehart said.
On Thursday, Nerheim put out a news release going over the facts of the case and why he chose to charge the teens with felony murder.
"It's clear these offenders were solely responsible for placing the now-deceased 14-year-old offender in danger," Nerheim said in the statement. "They are ultimately responsible for his death. Had they not made the decisions they did make early Tuesday morning, this 14-year-old would still be alive today."
Nerheim, a Republican from Gurnee, is serving his second term as Lake County State's Attorney.
The case remains under investigation by the Lake County Sheriff's Office.
The teens charged with felony murder include Diamond C. Davis, an 18-year-old woman; and her twin brothers Steven Davis and Stacy Davis, 17. The others are Kendrick Cooper, a 17-year-old male, and Curtis Dawson, a 16-year-old male. All five are from Chicago.