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'I stand by what I did': Longtime McHenry County prosecutor fired for helping out friend

Longtime prosecutor fired for helping out friend

Longtime McHenry County prosecutor Assistant State’s Attorney Michael P. “Mick” Combs was abruptly terminated Aug. 24 for what he described as helping “a personal friend” in a scenario where he did not see any conflict, Combs said.

But it appears his boss, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally, saw things differently.

Combs said that Kenneally took issue with him after Combs appeared in court, in his role as a prosecutor, and argued for the release of a defendant picked up on a 13-year-old Cook County warrant.

Kenneally confirmed that Combs was no longer with the office but declined to provide details, saying he would not comment on personnel matters.

Combs, 47, was hired in 2008 by former McHenry County State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi.

Combs prosecuted thousands of felony cases and won convictions on some of the county’s most notorious cases. Among those cases is Scott Peters, 58, who ambushed three police officers outside his Holiday Hills home in 2014. Peters is serving a 135-year prison sentence.

In 2016, Combs secured the conviction of William Ross, who murdered his ex-girlfriend then entombed her remains inside a bedroom of his McHenry home before fleeing to Las Vegas. Ross, 69, is serving 49 years in prison.

But Combs has also seen his share of some well-known, troubled convictions.

Combs prosecuted Mario Casciaro for the nationally recognized 2002 disappearance and presumed murder of Johnsburg teen Brian Carrick. Casciaro, 37, was found guilty of the rare charge of murder by intimidation. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison, although he later won an appeal and was released. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction outright, stating prosecutors did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Combs also prosecuted Kenneth Smith, 44, at Smith’s second and third murder trials in 2008 and 2012 for the murder of Raul Briseno, owner of Burrito Express in McHenry. After the first conviction in 2003 that Combs did not work on, Smith won two appeals which subsequently led to the two additional trials Combs did prosecute.

After each conviction, Smith was sentenced to 67 years in prison. However, Smith recently won a third appeal and could either be released or face a fourth jury trial. The Illinois Attorney General is appealing the latest Illinois appellate court’s decision.

But it was the uneventful, non-newsworthy case involving a 13-year-old active warrant out of Cook County that led to the prosecutor’s demise.

Kenneally declined to elaborate this week on what led to Comb’s dismissal. He would only confirm that Combs no longer worked for the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Combs said it all started the evening of Aug. 22, when his friend Tracy Tures, 33, of Marengo was pulled over by a McHenry County sheriff’s deputy. The deputy ran her license plate number and found she had an active 2007 Cook County warrant for failure to appear on a charge of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Tures was not pulled over for any local violation or crime, therefore Combs said he saw no conflict with himself or the State’s Attorney’s Office. Had there been a local charge against Tures, Combs said, he would have directed the case to another prosecutor.

But as it happened, Tures was arrested and taken into custody at the McHenry County jail on a no-bond warrant out of Cook County. She could have waited up to 30 days to be picked up by Cook County deputies.

Tures said she reached out to Combs that evening for advice and Combs said he chose to help her.

On the following Monday morning, in his prosecutorial role, Combs appeared in the criminal courtroom of McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt.

Tures appeared in court with her defense attorney, Pete Michling, whom she also works for.

“I was like a mess,” Tures said of the time spent in jail and being in a courtroom believing her hard times were behind her. “I was bawling. It was a no-bond warrant. Murderers get bond.”

Michling explained to Wilbrandt this is a 13-year-old warrant and Tures is local and often comes to the courthouse for work, therefore is not a flight risk. He argued that the mother of two young children, who works two jobs, should be released on recognizance bond rather than be in jail up to 30 days, the time allotted for Cook County to pick her up, Tures said.

Michling declined to speak to the Northwest Herald for this article.

Combs said he informed the judge “on the record” that he and Tures are friends and argued for her immediate release, citing the invalid warrant. He argued the warrant itself was not valid because there were no details of what the warrant was issued for, the exact date it was from or what Tures was accused of doing.

Combs said he appeared in court with Tures because he saw this as a clear violation of her due process and being a prosecutor is about “seeking justice, not convictions.”

He felt “ethically bound” to help her, he said.

“Regardless if it is my friend or not … I would have done this for a total stranger,” Combs said Thursday. “It was a defective, invalid warrant. The language in it is so bare. There is no specific allegation.”

Tures, an admitted recovering drug addict, said she does not recall the Cook County charge, when or where it came from.

Additionally, Combs questioned why Tures had never been arrested on the warrant in all these years despite having had run-ins with police in McHenry County, including four traffic stops in the past six months. She also has been held on other charges in McHenry County jail over the years and had served probation, which required her being in the courthouse regularly.

Wilbrandt agreed to release her on a recognizance bond with the agreement she return three days later for status.

But as she left the jail Aug. 24, with her mother and Combs present, a Cook County vehicle drove up and she was taken into custody by three deputies. Tures said she was driven to the 11th District Cook County jail in Chicago.

Then, Combs said he was called in by Kenneally and terminated.

On Aug. 25, the warrant was dismissed by a Cook County judge in Skokie and Tures was released. On Thursday, she appeared again in McHenry County with Michling and Combs and the case was dismissed there as well, according to Combs, Tures and the McHenry County court website.

Tures said in dismissing her case Thursday, Wilbrandt referred to her Monday morning appearance, saying he thought as the attorneys had argued, this was a due process violation issue.

Combs is not sure of his next steps but said he is still in good standing with the Attorneys Registration and Disciplinary Commission. He “encouraged” Kenneally to report the situation to ARDC. He said he wants to have the opportunity to explain what happened.

“If a law was broken, I would have called in someone else,” Combs said. “To me, I’m thinking this has nothing to do with McHenry County. I stand by what I did and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I would like to think I have done a lot for the citizens of this community in the last 12 years. I have always served honorably and ethically.”

Tures said the experience was “embarrassing” and “humbling,” but it felt good to have people in the community supporting her.

She said she met Combs about seven years ago in his role when he prosecuted a case against her and then helped her get on the path to becoming clean and sober. She said she called him Aug. 22 because she trusted him and sought advice, not to ask for any favors.

“I’m not saying I was innocent, but I did what I was supposed to do,” Tures said, regarding cleaning up her life and dealing with past legal problems and addictions. “I felt so bad when [Combs] told me about [losing] his job. But, he said he would do it again. He was really fighting for me when everyone at the jail was laughing at me.”                  

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