You’ve likely seen our ongoing coverage of people charged with committing serious crimes in Chicago while on bail for other serious crimes.
Lately, a different situation has been popping up more often than we remember: a seeming lack of urgency on the part of judges and prosecutors to address serious allegations against people.
Like Rayon Allen, the man accused of running over three people with his car in Lakeview this week, just months after he was given probation for killing a 93-year-old woman with the same car.
The judge in the 2018 reckless homicide case should be reconsidering Allen’s probation in light of the new and remarkably similar allegations. But, instead, Allen was slapped with misdemeanor charges and sent home on a recognizance bond. His next court date is set for October.
Then there’s Emonte Morgan. He was on probation for robbery when he allegedly struck a pedestrian downtown and fled the scene in April. He was arrested and, like Allen, was sent home on a recognizance bond for misdemeanor charges.
Four months later, a judge still hadn’t reviewed his probation status and, on August 7, Morgan shot and killed Chicago Police Officer Ella French, according to prosecutors. He also allegedly shot French’s partner, who suffered life-altering injuries.
But the most inexplicable case may involve 25-year-old Justin Cortes, a three-time convicted felon and admitted Latin King gang member who is on parole for home invasion, according to police and court records.
A grand jury indicted Cortes on multiple felonies in June, including Class X armed violence, Class X armed habitual criminal, and multiple gun felonies, but authorities never tried to arrest him. When the case first came up in court during a Zoom hearing in July, the judge continued the matter until August, court records show.
Cortes allegedly decided to pass the time by killing a man.
So, how did this seemingly avoidable cluster unfold? It all started in June of last year. An Illinois Department of Corrections officer and Chicago police went to his home for a parole check. They found $1,800 worth of pot, 6 individually-packaged ecstasy pills, a loaded and defaced handgun, ammunition, and $900 cash, according to an arrest report filed by CPD.
Prosecutors charged him with unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and possession of a defaced serial number, among other things. State authorities sent him back to prison for violating his parole by having prohibited items in his home. And in August 2020, prosecutors dropped all of the charges stemming from the parole check, court records show.
On October 22, authorities released him from prison again. Not much happened until June 21 of this year when prosecutors asked a grand jury to approve charges for the gun and drugs that were allegedly found in Cortes’ home nearly a year prior — the charges that prosecutors dropped when Cortes went back to prison.
The grand jury obliged, returning a true bill for Class X armed habitual criminal and Class X armed violence — two of the state’s most serious criminal violations other than murder. They also charged him with being a felon in possession of a firearm while on parole, possession of a defaced firearm, and other counts.
The new case was assigned to Judge Thomas Byrne. He held a hearing via Zoom on July 8, during which he scheduled another hearing for August 18.
Cortes didn’t show up for that court date because he was busy being arrested for murder instead.
Around 9 p.m. on August 6, Angel Figueroa was riding in the front passenger seat of a van with his girlfriend in the driver’s seat and his daughter in the back seat. As they headed down the 3400 block of West Division, Cortes pulled up next to them in a silver Santa Fe and fired one shot, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said.
Figueroa’s girlfriend heard the shot, saw the Santa Fe speed away, and then realized Figueroa was slumped over in his seat. He died from a single gunshot wound to his face.
Investigators used a series of private and public surveillance cameras to track the Santa Fe and identify Cortes as the driver based on, among other things, his face tattoos and jewelry, Murphy said.
Police arrested Cortes on August 18 — the same day he was supposed to appear in court on the grand jury’s charges. The next day, Judge Susana Ortiz ordered him held without bail for first-degree murder.
Cortes doesn’t qualify for our growing list of people who’ve been accused of committing heinous crimes in Chicago while on bail for a felony because the judge never got around to actually setting bail. So, he’ll have to settle for a dishonorable mention.