ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – Sporting a bit of gray stubble for No-Shave November – to promote cancer awareness – Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon gave his last press briefing Tuesday, talking about his 10-year tenure and his optimism for State’s Attorney-elect Jamie Mosser.
“Let me congratulate Jamie Mosser on her election,” McMahon said. “I’m excited about the leadership that she brings to this office. Jamie was an assistant state’s attorney for me for about ... the first six years of my administration. She has proven herself then, and continues to show herself as a strong advocate for victims. I believe that the office is in excellent hands.”
McMahon said the office is staffed with both experienced and new, young lawyers “who are eager. Who work incredibly hard, put in incredibly long hours.”
“It’s my hope that she feels she’s taking over a strong office like I did when I came into this office 10 years ago,” McMahon said.
Over the next three weeks, McMahon’s goal will be to aid Mosser in the transition to her administration when she takes over Dec. 1.
“She has an excellent working knowledge of the cases and the personnel, the volume and the complexity of the work,” McMahon said. “I will do everything I can to see that she gets off to a successful administration as the next state’s attorney for Kane County.”
Proud of diversion programs
In looking back over his tenure, McMahon was particularly proud of low-level drug offenders who got second chances and stayed out of the criminal justice system. By its nature, the criminal justice system is not set up to help them, he said.
“Every year, we put more than 500 people into one of our diversion programs and I think right around 80% ... successfully complete that diversion program,” McMahon said. “I’m proud of the offenders who recognize that they are given a second chance and we don’t see them come back into the system.”
McMahon said he has received letters from the former offenders and their parents, as they have gone on to college or trade school or become employed for the first time in 12 months, further solidifying the good that the second chance programs do.
Prosecuting serious crimes
But McMahon also recalled serious, incredibly horrific crimes that his office prosecuted.
“Every murder case, every reckless homicide, every aggravated DUI, any aggravated criminal sexual assault– those cases change victims and victims’ families, their family members forever,” McMahon said.
There was Frank Hill, convicted of the 2007 murder of his girlfriend, Karyn Pearson of Gilberts, who tried to end their relationship. Hill set fire to her townhouse to cover up the crime. He was sentenced to 90 years.
“Domestic violence (are) incredibly dangerous cases, and oftentimes, they are the most dangerous and the most volatile when someone is trying to end the relationship,” McMahon said. “Those domestic violence situations revolve around control and intimidation. And this is the ultimate way for the offender to try to exert control over … his victim.”
There was also Richard Schmelzer, who drove from Texas in 2014 to murder his grandmother, Mildred Darrington of East Dundee, to hasten his inheritance.
Schmelzer was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the stabbing death of his grandmother.
“He drove 14 hours. He drove nearly a thousand miles,” McMahon said. “He had dozens if not hundreds of opportunities to turn around and change his mind and not carry out this (crime).”
In both instances, new technology aided police and prosecutors in putting their cases together, by using cell phone records that showed what towers calls pinged from and surveillance from tollways, McMahon said.
Another case was that of Christopher Whetstone, convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend in 2014 in Aurora.
His estranged ex-girlfriend "was trying to arrange a visit for their two children who are in their car seats in the back seat. Whetstone shoots and kills her right in front of their two kids,” McMahon said. "The lack of empathy and callousness of that anger is hard to fathom.”
Whetstone was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Another case McMahon recalled was that of Joshua Spudich of St. Charles, who killed Susan Gorecki, also of St. Charles, on Thanksgiving day 2014. Spudich was driving under the influence of heroin, marijuana, cocaine, diazepam and alprazolam when he crossed the center line of Route 31 and crashed into Gorecki’s car head-on. She later died of her injuries.
Spudich pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, Spudich’s projected parole date is March 4, 2024.
“It’s senseless cases like that, that stick with me,” McMahon said. “The truth is, you can’t sit in this chair and not be touched by how violent crime and reckless conduct impacts individuals. … But at the granular level, it rips apart human beings and families – primarily the victim’s family, but also the offender’s family as well.”
Mental health support
McMahon credited the Fox River Valley Initiative as a good partner to his office in trying help create affordable housing for those with mental health issues.
In particular, the Elgin City Council approved such a project at the site of the former Larkin Home to provide stable housing for people with mental health issues, he said.
Access to counseling and stabilizing their housing keeps them out of the criminal justice system, McMahon said.
One thing he wishes he had been able to do is establish a conviction integrity unit where three lawyers would use new resources and technology to look at cases thought to have been handled properly.
It would have brought more transparency to the office and reduce long term financial risk for wrongful convictions, he said.
The estimated cost was $300,000 to $400,000 for the attorneys for this unit, though it would not be their sole job, McMahon said. But the previous county board and the current one both rejected his proposal.
“I think that was shortsighted,” McMahon said.
As to the next phase of his life, McMahon said he would be joining a Geneva law firm in private practice on Jan. 1.
For several years of his administration, McMahon and his office have had several public disagreements with the outgoing Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen.
“The chairman has a very difficult job with a lot of demands,” McMahon said. “I wish Mr. Lauzen good luck after December.”