CHICAGO – Cook County judges have improperly sentenced hundreds of violent felons to a boot camp program meant for nonviolent offenders, according to an investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times.
That is happening despite a state law that explicitly rules out the lighter boot camp sentence for those convicted of armed robbery, a Class X felony, as well as less serious felonies such as simple robbery, burglary and aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm.
One of the judges involved, Cook County Circuit Judge Diane Cannon, acknowledged in an interview with the newspaper that she has given sentences that did not follow “the letter of the law.”
“You got me,” she said.
Cannon also noted that the Cook County Jail’s boot camp program has helped young offenders get their GEDs, learn job skills and get counseling to manage their anger.
But one of those Cannon sent to the four-month boot camp program in 2007, a then-19-year-old first-time felon, is now charged with murder in the killing of college student Kermit Delashment II during a botched robbery in Chicago. The 21-year-old had a computer science degree from a community college and planned to attend Southern Illinois University. He excelled at basketball and even attended an NBA tryout.
He was shot and killed in the back seat of a car parked near his home in 2008, about 20 months after the suspect, Denzel Simons, was sentenced to boot camp.
The victim’s father, Kermit Delashment Sr., said the earlier decision to give his son’s suspected killer boot camp instead of prison time angers him and leaves him wondering if his son would still be alive if the sentencing law had been respected.
“The more that I have been thinking about it, I have become more and more angry about it, I really have,” he told the newspaper. “Because I really feel like if you had just did what you’re on the bench to do, then we wouldn’t be here.”
A review by the Sun-Times of thousands of pages of court records found that between 2006 and 2011, Cook County judges let 17 armed robbers off with boot camp. After their release, 12 of them were arrested for new crimes.
Hundreds of others were sent to boot camp after convictions for so-called “forced felonies” like simple robbery and aggravated battery during that period, according to the review.
Cannon said that in light of the findings, she would no longer sentence Class X felons to boot camp.
In response to Delashment’s slaying, she said, “To say I feel awful for any loss of life is an understatement. But, as a judge, you can’t live in fear over future crimes. I don’t have a crystal ball.”