Grand jury approved weapons charges, not first-degree murder
By GRACE KINNICUTT
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House Republicans on Wednesday, February 9, continued a push to repeal a criminal justice reform bill passed one year ago, citing the law as the reason a Chicago man was not charged with murder for his role in a shootout that left one bystander dead.
A Cook County grand jury declined to indict Travis Andrews, 26, for the murder of Melinda Crump, 54, who was shot in the abdomen during a shootout initiated by Andrews while walking to a convenience store in December, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
While Andrews initiated the shootout by firing multiple shots at someone else, his bullet did not kill Crump. Bullets apparently fired by the intended target, who has not been identified, struck Crump in the abdomen.
State law, in certain circumstances, allows a person who did not directly take the action that led to a death to be charged with first-degree murder. But reformers, in passing the criminal justice reform law, tried to lessen prosecutors’ ability to file those so-called “felony murder” charges if a person’s action doesn’t directly cause the death.
The reform bill, called the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, and Equity-Today, or SAFE-T Act, passed during a lame duck session in January 2021. It changed one of three subsections to crimes contained under first-degree murder.
Under the SAFE-T Act, it allows for felony murder charges of an individual if “he or she, acting alone or with one or more participants, commits or attempts to commit a forcible felony other than second degree murder, and in the course of or in furtherance of such crime or flight therefrom, he or she or another participant causes the death of a person.” The previous version did not include the language which said “causes the death of a person.”
Andrews was indicted on weapons charges in the shooting but not on the first-degree murder charge.
While grand jury deliberations are secret, the Sun-Times reported that Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy told a judge during a hearing that jurors cited the SAFE-T Act as the reason for not pursuing the murder charge.
“The Cook County grand jury’s decision not to indict Travis Andrews on first-degree murder because of the SAFE-T Act highlights what we have been saying all along,” Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva said at a news conference Wednesday. “The SAFE-T Act has made Illinois a less safe place to live.”
“How does [Gov. Pritzker] explain this dismal failure that played out before the Cook County grand jury on this investigation,” House minority leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said.
But Jobi Cates, executive director of Restore Justice Illinois, said the reforms “narrow the wrongdoings” and make it difficult to charge people with first-degree murder when they did not intend to kill the person who died.
Cates said the change in the statute is intended to prevent the possibility of charging someone with a first-degree murder when the killing was committed by a third party.
“It’s a minor change to the statute, people can still be charged,” Cates said in a phone interview with Capitol News Illinois Wednesday.
“We want to actually solve for violence,” she added. “We want to actually make communities safer.”
Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, released a statement following the GOP news conference and grand jury’s decision, saying he hoped the person responsible for Crump’s death would be arrested.
“The criminals who instigated and participated in the shooting that led to Melinda Crump’s death must be brought to justice,” Slaughter said. “I am glad Travis Andrews is facing more than a decade of jail time, and I hope the gunman who shot and kill Ms. Crump is found and charged with murder.”
Republicans have continually claimed that the criminal justice reform bill has led to an increase in violent crime. In response, they filed House Bill 4499 to repeal the SAFE-T Act
Among other provisions, the SAFE-T Act overhauls police certification and decertification, reforms use-of-force standards, increases police accountability and abolishes cash bail.
“The Democrats insist on staying the course with the SAFE-T Act. They refuse to acknowledge the policies they passed are leading to spikes in crime,” Ugaste said.
Durkin said that Illinois is becoming a “lawless state when it comes to crime,” and that repercussions need to be put in place to prevent violent offenders.
“We need to immediately repeal the failed Democrat law, the SAFE-T Act, before more tragedies occur,” Durkin said.
Slaughter said the SAFE-T act makes the justice system more fair and effective and that “Republicans are continuing their scare tactics by twisting the law and the facts of this case in order to score political points in an election year.”
Pritzker was asked about the Andrews case Wednesday in a news conference.
“Well, let’s begin by saying that the crime that was committed and the death, of course, heinous and something that someone should have the book thrown at them for,” he said. “The fact is that what he’s been charged with, would result in, if convicted, 14 years in prison without possibility of parole. Not every crime will have first-degree murder as the charge that gets brought against somebody, but I am at least pleased that he’s been apprehended and that he will be prosecuted on those crimes.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.