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State’s attorney drops felony murder charges against teens whose friend was killed during alleged burglary

Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

* Tribune

A month after he filed controversial murder charges against five teens whose friend was killed during an alleged burglary, Lake County’s top prosecutor has decided to drop them for lesser charges under an agreement with the families of the suspects. […]

The teens were charged with murder in the shooting of one of their friends by an Old Mill Creek homeowner, who told police the group was in his driveway near one of his cars in the early morning hours of Aug. 13.

The homeowner involved told police that when a member of the group began moving toward him with something in his hand, he fired shots, striking 14-year-old Ja’quan Swopes in the head and killing him. Authorities said a knife was found on the driveway in the area in which the homeowner said the teens were. […]

While Illinois law allows authorities to charge suspects with murder if someone dies during the commission of a felony, Nerheim’s decision to charge the teens with the felony murder of one of their group shot by someone else resulted in a backlash from activist and advocate groups.

* Excerpt from the state’s attorney’s press release

Let me begin by saying the safety of our community and the enforcement of the criminal laws is paramount. Justice requires that all offenders be held accountable and appropriately sentenced for their crimes. The circumstances and facts outlined in my statement support the charge of Felony Murder. However, after full consideration of all the evidence, mitigation presented by defense counsel as well as the wishes of the victim’s family, my office has entered into an agreement with defense counsel for the five offenders. This agreement ensures all offenders will be held responsible and face appropriate sentences.

Diamond Davis, 18, of Chicago, is expected to appear in Lake County bond court at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, where she will be formally charged with a class 4 felony of conspiracy to commit burglary and a class A misdemeanor of criminal trespass to a motor vehicle. Davis is expected today to waive her preliminary hearing, then plead guilty to the two charges next week. The preliminary charge of felony murder will be dismissed today. The case will then be scheduled for a sentencing hearing after she pleads guilty.

The cases against the four juvenile offenders are moving to juvenile court, and the charge of felony murder will be dismissed. However, due to strict laws governing juvenile courtroom proceedings, my office is unable to give details regarding the charges involving the juveniles going forward.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

34 Comments
  1. - @misterjayem - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 9:50 am:

    This was a just decision.

    – MrJM


  2. - Anon - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 9:54 am:

    Succumbed to the political pressure did they. God forbid if we actually enforce laws the way that they were intended to be enforced.


  3. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:05 am:

    ===the way that they were intended to be enforced===

    I kinda doubt the intent was to charge juveniles with felony murder after one of their cohorts was shot during a car theft and they took their friend to a first responder for help.


  4. - Nicj - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:14 am:

    Good.


  5. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:16 am:

    This is fair, and I think the felony murder statute does have its purpose - here maybe to push both sides to an agreement. I would support legislation to amend the statute to exclude its application to minors and to the deaths of accomplices. The idea behind it is an offender is responsible for the events they set in motion. Accomplices, however, are also assuming such risks. Bystanders and police are not, so it should remain applicable for such deaths in the course of a crime.


  6. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:19 am:

    == I kinda doubt the intent was to charge juveniles with felony murder after one of their cohorts was shot during a car theft and they took their friend to a first responder for help. ==

    The law’s purpose is to deter the commission of forcible felonies. Maybe it is right to be merciful to these defendants, but the purpose of the law is just to deter forcible felonies, which would be served by prosecuting.


  7. - Almost the weekend - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:21 am:

    It’s still appalling to me the older teens in the car made the youngest teenager commit this act. The current legislation is a slippery slope, but you can’t tell me these older individuals didn’t know what they were doing when they made the 14 year old get out of the car.


  8. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:22 am:

    ===but you can’t tell me these older individuals didn’t know what they were doing when they made===

    And?


  9. - Practical Politics - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    The “Felony Murder Rule” is not new. It has been on the books for many decades and was not considered controversial before the rise of the Social Justice Warriors and the advocates of “Restorative Justice.”

    The end result in this case seems just. The original felony murder charges may have been utilized as a lever to get the defendants to plea bargain and plead guilty to lesser crimes.


  10. - Anon - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    No probably not….but it was intended to put adults in prison when one of their cohorts dies during the commission of the felony. There was a so called adult there…and I have seen this same scenario played out in Cook County countless times. They all get a slap on the wrist and a stern warning from a judge. Quit committing crimes that might get your friends killed. We all see how well this form of Social Criminal Justice has worked out for Cook County. Seemingly, Lake County is just another victim of the Cook County plague.


  11. - Almost the weekend - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:26 am:

    “And?”

    The 14 year old get out of the car


  12. - Quibbler - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:28 am:

    Good. The felony murder rule is barbaric and should be abolished.


  13. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:29 am:

    And that justifies felony murder convictions?


  14. - Dan Johnson - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:34 am:

    It is absurd on its face that we hold citizens criminally accountable for actions they did not take — especially murder.

    I hope the General Assembly will support HB1615 which would narrow the scope of felony murder to only those acts that lead to a death which is what the majority of states use instead of the anything-can-happen rule we use which creates absolutely ridiculous charges like what happened in Lake County.

    Let’s not justify an absurdly broad law because it gives the government the chance to negotiate a plea deal by terrorizing citizens who face charges for acts they did not commit.


  15. - Almost the weekend - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:48 am:

    “And that justifies felony murder convictions?”

    I said the legislation is a slippery slope. I don’t think felony murder is the solution but the individuals under 18 who have possibility to be released earlier and face lesser chargers than the 18 year old doesn’t seem adequate. I’m not an attorney, but they drove from Chicago to a rural area looking for cars, and unfortunately what happened is a consequence of their actions. They had pinned coordinates in their GPS around this area. Then seeking medical attention the second youngest is dropped off on the side of a road with the injured teenager, while the others start a high speed chase.


  16. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:50 am:

    The “Trial by Fire” is not new. It has been on the books for many decades and was not considered controversial before the rise of the Social Justice Warriors and the advocates of “Trial by Jury”


  17. - Anyone Remember - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:52 am:

    A mistake. The drive from Chicago to Lake County (in a stolen Lexus) is long enough to eliminate the notion of “impulsivity” … .


  18. - northernwatersports - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:54 am:

    More of this please…
    I think the realists have finally gotten into the game. Kudos also for the clear, balanced and timely process to get to this resolution.
    Wishing for the best outcomes, always.


  19. - @misterjayem - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 10:58 am:

    The “Felony Murder Rule” is not new. It has been on the books for many decades and was not considered controversial before the rise of the Social Justice Warriors and the advocates of “Restorative Justice.”

    The end result in this case seems just.

    So three cheers for the Social Justice Warriors and the advocates of Restorative Justice.

    – MrJM


  20. - Last Bull Moose - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 11:00 am:

    It seems the felony murder charge helped the States Attorney negotiate a reasonable outcome.

    Not sure who the victims family is in the article. The only victims were the people who were being robbed. The others were assailants.


  21. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 11:01 am:

    I don’t know that I like this decision. Part of the reason in passing this law was to create a deterrent by making examples of people that commit crimes resulting in the deaths of their accomplices. To see a states attorney simply cave on this issue - or really any issue - just because some activists complained is absurd. What’s the next criminal charge that will be dropped when these same activists complain?


  22. - Ron Burgundy - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 11:05 am:

    Lest we forget, even without felony murder here all of these defendants are facing serious time on a host of other charges, including stuff like assault, attempted car theft, fleeing and evading, etc. It’s not like they would get off light without having a murder charge to throw at them.


  23. - the Edge - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 11:06 am:

    This is an unjust law. One of the youngest persons on death row in the 80’s (Oklahoma) was there due to a law like this. He was 16 years old. “Lester”, lock them all up? No wonder the USA has the highest incarceration rate in the “free” (pun intended) world.


  24. - charles in charge - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    “The law’s purpose is to deter the commission of forcible felonies. Maybe it is right to be merciful to these defendants, but the purpose of the law is just to deter forcible felonies, which would be served by prosecuting.”

    NO. That might have been the intent of the legislators who voted to pass the law, but there is no actual evidence that harsher penalties deter crime, and plenty to suggest that they don’t.


  25. - Nick - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 11:52 am:

    On the question of deterrence it seems pretty clear to me that this, like a lot of other tough on crime ideas, was much more about being able to lock up more people longer rather than actually trying to deter crime.


  26. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    == “Lester”, lock them all up? ==

    I don’t know what your supposed case in Oklahoma is supposed to mean for this example. You don’t cite anything, you just make a reference to some random kid in the eighties. Try harder


  27. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 1:11 pm:

    And here’s a thought experiment for the Capfax commentariat: suppose the states attorney from somewhere downstate like Effingham county decided to drop certain gun charges against an individual who committed a crime because that states attorney received “backlash” from 2A advocates like the ILRA. Would you cheer that decision as well?


  28. - Ron - In Texas - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 1:36 pm:

    I just have 2 points here.

    Lots of comments here about the law and all seem to be looking at it where a cohort in a crime is killed. Yes that is part of the law. But that is not its end all be all.

    If 2 people go into a liquor store with pistols at 63rd and Harlem, and one kills the guy behind the counter, or a bystander, this law can also be applied. or they shoot to “scare the guy” and a bullet clips an innocent.

    While I understand there are juveniles here and maybe modifying the law to exclude those under 16 or 18, we also have to remember where laws like this come from and why.

    As to a comment Rich made that “they took their friend to a first responder for help” I say “Kinda…” they dropped the kid out of the car at a crash site where cops were about 10 miles from the actual event, then ran (in their stolen car) again. It isnt like they showed up at an ER or pulled up to a police station or firestation or something.

    This is a terrible thing that happened. But lets not assume that just because they are 17 or 18 they don’t know what they are doing. This was 3 17 year olds and an 18 year old that essentially went to rob someone, while in another stolen car, then basically pushed their injured friend out near a cop car that was stopped for something else. THEN kept running.

    I wish for justice. And I think there was some room here to be thoughtful and maybe lenient. But I cannot be blind that there are bad people and sometimes they are bad at 17 or 18 also. remember the ones that drove the car, and set this all up (if you are to believe the mother of the 14 yo) may be back out on the street in like a year or two.


  29. - SinkingShip - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 1:44 pm:

    Am I missing something? Where is the cause and effect here between the public reaction and the charges being dropped? This is a plea deal. The prosecutor charged to the teeth because he could, and bargained down to secure a guilty plea, cutting down the time, cost, and uncertainty. I might stand outside yelling at clouds to go away, but if they do, can I honestly say that the cloud bowed to my pressure? I’m not defending the felony-murder rule in general, or saying that the prosecutor exercised the sort of discretion that I would have, but c’mon, I don’t see the SJW victory that others are decrying here.


  30. - Thomas Paine - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 2:09 pm:

    @3D checkers -

    Based on what we know, the forcible felony was committed by the kid who was shot in the head. Thus the dropped knife.

    The forcible felony law was created to go after the getaway driver when the bank robber shoots someone inside. It was not meant to go after forcible felonies. It was meant to go after accomplices to a murder. It was never meant to protect the lives of perps…that is just an absurd argument.


  31. - Dee4Three - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 2:40 pm:

    Actually, Social Criminal Justice has actually worked out
    fine for Cook County, while crime is certainly not eradicated and the reform work isn’t close to being down, crime has fallen across the board of the past two years under new management.

    It’s almost as if creating policy with the goal of being puniative as possible, regardless of the greater impact on the community and decision making that protects the political and economic interests of mass incareration on the backs of communities that actually face outsized levels of crime and disinvestment…..isn’t the best strategy.


  32. - R A T - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 3:58 pm:

    There has been some discussion why this law exists at all. My understanding is that it is a law that was created for the mob. That is, if an individual in the mob committed murder when they were shaking down a business, who really is the murderer? The guy pulling the trigger or the mob leader that was there? Most would say the murderer and the boss. But then it was extended to what if this low level guy in the mob that pulls the gun loses? Who is to blame? Many still thought it was the same persons fault as before … the boss accomplice.

    Nowadays, these same arguments can apply to gangs.


  33. - Thomas Paine - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 4:06 pm:

    RAT -

    See my post. You are close. Think bank robbery, not mob.

    Actually, think an actual burglary.

    Two guys break into house. Homeowner comes downstairs. One burglar shoots homeowner. Days later they get caught with the loot, but cops don’t know who pulled the trigger. With forcible felony law, it does not matter, both are charged with murder. Now, if one guy flips, says he knows where gun is stashed, maybe he gets a break.

    Flip the scenerio. Two guys break into house, they have no gun but homeowner does. homeowner shoots one burglar, other is nabbed by the cops. While the forcible felony law may technically apply here, that would be absurd. We demand justice for the death of…the other burglar?!?


  34. - Stuntman Bob's Brother - Thursday, Sep 19, 19 @ 5:31 pm:

    Mr. Paine @ 4:06 has it right. If, in the actual case, the kid who was killed had been the one with the gun and murdered the homeowner (especially if his accomplices knew he was armed), then this law would make much more sense, and the Crew being charged with murder as well as the trigger-man would make sense. Keeping the law as-is, and then plea-bargaining down or ultimately dropping charges (as was done here), seems to be the right approach.


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