Within hours of yesterday’s guilty verdict, Chicago’s two newspapers declared the Jussie Smollett story dead.
“It’s a relief that this almost three-year saga is now over,” said a Sun-Times editorial, while the subheadline to the Tribune’s front page story announced a “dramatic end to a story that made worldwide headlines.”
And you can bet that’s exactly what Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx was hoping for: A distracted, superficial media that went for the celebrity trial “shiny object” while ignoring that the whole reason the trial existed: She and her top aides completely botched the case in the first place.
“The Jury has spoken,” Foxx’s office said in a short statement after the verdict on Thursday. “While this case has garnered a lot of attention, we hope as a county we can move forward. At the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office we will continue to focus on the important work of this office, prioritizing and prosecuting violent crime.”
You see, fellow citizens, the county’s prosecutorial office wants us to believe that they disposed of the Smollet case expeditiously because they’re just so doggone busy with violent crime.
But Foxx’s office didn’t quickly dismiss charges against Rey Ortega and Tino Guzman. Who are they? On July 2, 2019, about four months after Smollett was arrested, Ortega and Guzman were arrested for tagging “The Bean” sculpture in Millennium Park.
Foxx’s office charged them both with felony criminal damage to government property. And, for the next two years and two months, Foxx’s office pursued that case to the bitter end. That’s right. Two years. And two months.
She didn’t seem too concerned about “prioritizing and prosecuting violent crime” when she had a couple of rogue spray-painters in her grasp.
Ortega pleaded guilty at the end of September to one count of criminal damage in a plea deal that — get this — ended with him getting a one-year prison term. That’s not a typo. The sentence was offset by 477 days of credit that he received for sitting at home on electronic monitoring while the case dragged on.
Guzman appeared in court with Ortega in September, but the status of his case had not been updated when we last checked.
Foxx’s claim about focusing on violent crime is, of course, nonsense. Her office is plenty big enough to handle lesser matters, just like prosecutorial offices across the country. And it does address many lesser cases every day — without giving the defendant a secret plea deal and then having the results immediately sealed to prevent public scrutiny. They saved that trick for Smollett.
Speaking of focusing on violent crime, here’s a zinger.
Remember the CTA bus driver beaten and dragged down Michigan Avenue during last weekend’s “large group” incident? Prosecutors charged a 15-year-old boy with felony aggravated battery of a transit employee for his role in that attack.
What happened to the 15-year-old who helped mangle a bus driver on one of the city’s most famed avenues?
Greg Hinz has the unbelievable — or, perhaps, very believable — details in Crain’s this morning:
“He was arrested, released to a parent and given a police citation to appear in court. He never showed up. Now, there’s a new warrant so police can go out and arrest him again … Somewhere, the kid is probably laughing his butt off. The system is broken.”
Meanwhile, our city’s two newspapers have forgotten that Dan Webb, the special prosecutor whom a judge selected to clean up the mess Foxx created with Smollett’s case, accused Foxx and her top aides of misleading his investigation of the matter. He stopped short of calling them liars, but his team did file complaints about their behavior with state regulators.
Maybe Foxx can give the public a transparent and open status update on those complaints — after she comes up for air from all of that violent crime handlin’ she’s been doing. Don’t bet on it.
It’s too bad the Tribune and Sun-Times have declared the Smollett matter dead. There might be a story or two worth pursuing.