Editor’s note: On May 20, 2023, the Cook County medical examiner’s office stated that the woman has died. The agency identified her as Linda Chattman, 39, of Chicago.
CHICAGO — Alton Mills, a 54-year-old man whose federal life sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2015, now faces the potential of another life sentence after officials accused him of shooting and gravely wounding a woman on an expressway in suburban Chicago this week.
Mills was held without bail by Judge Thomas Carroll during a bond hearing on Tuesday. Prosecutors told Carroll that the woman Mills allegedly shot was brain dead. She was not expected to survive.
In 1994, Mills received a life sentence for trafficking cocaine because the crime was his third felony conviction, even though neither of his previous convictions resulted in prison time. After Obama commuted his sentence, his defense attorney said this week, Mills went to work for the Chicago Transit Authority. He also campaigned to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing.
Shortly after receiving clemency, Mills spoke at a U.S. Senate criminal justice forum at the invitation of Sen. Dick Durbin. At the time, Durbin said Mills was “an overlooked casualty in our ‘war on drugs.'”
“The life story of Chicagoan Alton Mills shows why we need to pass the #FirstStepAct,” Durbin tweeted three years after Mills’ release. “Alton, who received a pardon from President Obama in 2015, was destined to spend his life in prison. He’s now a contributing member of society. #cjreform”
Early Sunday morning, May 14, three friends left a nightclub in south suburban Harvey, and one of them drove the group home. As their Ford Explorer neared the ramp to I-57, the driver pulled up behind Mills’ SUV at a red light, Assistant State’s Attorney Kathryn Morrissey said during Mills’ bail hearing this week.
Mills’ car didn’t move when the light turned green, so the Explorer’s driver pulled around and passed without screaming or honking, according to Morrissey. She said Mills sped to catch up to the Explorer, pulled up next to them, and fired shots from his driver’s window.
A bullet struck a woman sleeping in the Explorer’s back seat in the head, Morrissey said. The Explorer’s front passenger told police that the shooter was an older Black man with a salt and pepper beard. She also took a blurry picture of the gunman’s license plate and recorded a video in which she read the license plate number out loud.
The Explorer’s driver sped to a Chicago Fire Department station near 79th and Michigan and called the police.
Morrissey explained that Illinois State Police investigators focused on Mills’ vehicle after reviewing license plate reader data from the area of the shooting. Police executed search warrants on his home and car Monday. They found loose 40-caliber bullets in his bedroom, the same caliber used in the shooting, and his car tested positive for gunshot residue, according to Morrissey.
She told Judge Carroll that Mills “made admissions that he did the shooting.” Mills, she said, is responsible for inflicting “great bodily harm and soon death” on the victim.
He is charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder.
A second chance
When Durbin encouraged Obama to commute Mills’ sentence in December 2015, the veteran senator said it was only the second time he had sent Obama a clemency request.
Mills was little more than a low-level drug courier who made $300 a week, Durbin wrote.
“I hung out with a bunch of goldfishes that was dealing with some sharks, and the sharks caught the goldfishes up and we were the ones that ended up going to prison,” Mills said in an MSNBC interview after his release.
“Mr. Mills is now 46 years old, and studies demonstrate that ex-offenders ‘age-out’ of crime and that recidivism rates decline dramatically with age,” Durbin argued in his letter to Obama. Mills had bettered himself in prison and had strong community support waiting for him in Chicago, the senator wrote.
Even the federal judge who sentenced Mills to life didn’t think he deserved it, Durbin wrote in the letter he sent to Obama.
At Mills’ 1994 sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen said, “If I were free to sentence [Mr. Mills] … it would be for something other than life.”
Aspen wrote a letter that accompanied Durbin’s clemency request.