Violent crime prosecution sparks heated debate between Cook County state's attorney candidates
Cook County state's attorney candidates Kim Foxx, the Democratic incumbent, and former judge Patrick O'Brien, her Republican challenger, agree attacking violent crime is a top priority.
But they challenged each other's records on combating violence during an often feisty debate before the Daily Herald Editorial Board.
"There has been a dramatic rise in violent crime across the country," said Foxx, who attributed the rise in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting financial collapse, as well as civil unrest that has wracked the nation.
Foxx characterized the uptick as "an outlier," saying "violent crime went down in Cook County year after year over the first three years of this administration."
O'Brien, a former prosecutor and circuit court judge, said his opponent's policies "have driven violent crime to the level it's at." He claimed Foxx disbanded the narcotics unit and declined to prosecute some thefts, which resulted in lawlessness and fear.
"This is violence that has spread beyond the borders of the city," he said. "We need to have someone who effectively wants criminals to be prosecuted and where it's appropriate to be placed in jail because of their violent crimes."
Characterizing Foxx as a "cheerleader for criminals" and a "champion for defendants," O'Brien said the county needs "a prosecutor who speaks for community safety and speaks for victims."
Foxx countered that her office secured more than 2,700 felony convictions over the last three years, which she says is more than her predecessor Anita Alvarez secured during her final three years in office. She further claimed the homicide rate was higher during the early 1990s when O'Brien was deputy chief of the state's attorney criminal division and described his statements as "divisive rhetoric" taken from the "Trump law-and-order playbook."
His "prosecutorial ethic" led to the wrongful conviction of four teenage boys for the 1986 rape and murder of 23-year-old medical student Lori Roscetti in Chicago, said Foxx, who claimed "at least 27 people were wrongly convicted under Pat O'Brien's watch."
Expressing doubt about that number, O'Brien said, "a number of those were vacated when I was in the office. A number more were vacated when (former Cook County state's attorneys) Dick Devine and Anita Alvarez were in the office."
Regarding the Roscetti case, O'Brien said he received "two court-reported confessions taken by assistant state's attorneys" as well as statements a friend said one defendant "made when he was bragging about the crime." Three jury trials resulted in convictions, he said, including one where a co-defendant "testified he committed the crime along with the others."
Given the evidence presented, no prosecutor "could have done anything less than prosecute," he said.
"Obviously the system got it wrong. The fact that it got it wrong weighs with me," O'Brien said. "We didn't have DNA and that turned out to exonerate the defendants."
Foxx said O'Brien "went forth anyway" with prosecuting the teens despite scientific evidence that did not align with defendant's statements.