Chicago judge lectures attorney for calling church burglary a crime of poverty: ‘that’s an affront to poor people’

Hannibal Kerry (inset) and a video image of a burglar who entered a Bucktown church in October. Kerry is not charged with that crime, but he is charged with breaking into a nearby school. | Chicago Police Department; Provided

Chicago — A Cook County judge delivered a quick response when a young public defender argued that a man accused of burglarizing a church and school in Chicago had committed a “crime of poverty.”

“Oh, please,” Judge Maryam Ahmad interjected, “don’t tell the court that.”

“OK,” attorney Hannah Gray sheepishly replied during the Thursday afternoon hearing.

“Because, you know what, Ms. Gray? As someone who grew up of little means, poverty is not an excuse to steal,” Ahmad continued. “OK? That’s an affront to poor people, economically challenged people, many of whom are probably sitting in this courtroom right now in various professional capacities and as members of this audience, who have been very poor in their lives and haven’t stolen a thing. So, please, don’t tell — I’m the worst person to say that to. Don’t say that.”

“OK,” said gray. “I apologize, your honor.”

The exchange came near the end of a bail hearing for 27-year-old Hannibal Kerry, who prosecutors said burglarized a Bucktown school and a Lincoln Park church in December, getting away with more than $9,000 in Christmastime donations.

Before Ahmad’s counseling session with Gray, prosecutor Sarah Dale-Schmidt said surveillance video showed Kerry breaking into Chicago International Charter School, 2235 North Hamilton, around 2:30 a.m. on December 26. 

He allegedly spent over an hour inside the school, where employees later discovered pry marks on a safe and the doorframe. But the safe was not compromised.

That evening, Kerry was again caught on video as he broke into St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 1010 West Webster, Dale-Schmidt said. Church workers later found pry marks on a door and a donation box.

The church safe, which an employee said may have been left unlocked, was emptied of cash and checks that the church received during Christmas services, Dale-Schmidt said.

On Wednesday, a parish employee saw Kerry outside the church and detained him until police arrived.

When police arrested him, he allegedly had a backpack that contained four credit cards in the names of different people and four deposit receipts for 25 checks dated Christmas and Christmas Eve that had been made out to St. Vincent de Paul. A church worker provided police with two checks endorsed by Kerry that the parish had received.

Before stepping into the weeds by referring to the allegations as a “crime of poverty,” Gray said Kerry is homeless and has never been arrested before.

He is charged with two counts of burglary and misdemeanor trespassing. Ahmad ordered him to pay a $1,000 bail deposit to get out on an ankle monitor.

Chicago police continue investigating other church and school break-ins dating back to last fall.

In one case, a man who resembles Kerry was captured on video (above) as he walked through a Bucktown church around 5:30 a.m. on October 29. The case is an open CPD burglary investigation, according to police records.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com