McHenry County could see 1st woman state’s attorney; Randi Freese announces run after Kenneally drops out

Freese has entered the race as a Republican; it’s unclear if Democrats will run a candidate in November

Assistant State's Attorney Randi Freese listens as defense attorneys Chuck Bretz and Kristine Honiotes speak representing Ryan Yarber inside McHenry County Judge Michael Coppedge's courtroom Friday, Aug. 14, 2020.

Randi Freese began as an intern in the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and soon could be leading it, making her the first woman to hold that position in the county’s history.

Freese, who currently holds the role of first assistant state’s attorney, announced Wednesday that she is running for the office in November, a day after incumbent Patrick Kenneally announced that he will end his reelection bid and step down at the end of his second term, citing family obligations.

“I am making these remarks on the heels of the announcement made by [Kenneally] to no longer seek reelection and to withdraw as the Republican Party nominee,” Freese said in a news release. “I have been honored to work for State’s Attorney Kenneally, and I look forward to continuing to work with him through the end of November, when his current term expires.”

Freese said she has been “fortunate to work with two great mentors as a prosecutor,” Kenneally and his predecessor Lou Bianchi. Bianchi hired Freese “fresh out of law school” after she completed her internship, she said in the release.

“I believe he saw in me the qualities that would make me not only a solid prosecutor but also a true public servant,” Freese said.

Freese, who said she loves being a prosecutor, said Kenneally “encouraged” her to “step forward and seek the Republican Party nomination” and be on the ballot in November.

“I am new to politics, but am a fast learner,” she said, adding that she will be embarking on her journey with support from her “mentor” Kenneally and critical partnerships including with McHenry County Sheriff Robb Tadelman.

“Together, we shall continue to ensure that McHenry County and its citizens are safe,” Freese said.

Freese, of Nunda Township, began with the office as an intern while attending DePaul University College of Law. She was hired in 2011 as an assistant state’s attorney and has served in all areas, from misdemeanor to felony courtrooms. She has handled drug asset forfeitures and prosecuted criminal cases including murders, drug-induced homicides and sex offenses. She was promoted to chief of the criminal division in 2019, filling the vacancy left by Rita Gara, who resigned.

Among the cases in which she secured convictions was that of Carlos Acosta of Woodstock. Acosta, found guilty in October and awaiting sentencing, is one of two Department of Children and Family Services caseworkers charged criminally in the mishandling of the Andrew “AJ” Freund case. She also successfully prosecuted William Bishop in 2022, convicted of murder and aggravated driving under the influence in a head-on crash near Hebron that killed one man and critically injured another; and Ryan Yarber, convicted in 2021 for a double homicide in his Crystal Lake home, according to McHenry County court records.

In 2012, Freese was awarded Turning Point’s Peace and Justice Award for her prosecution of domestic violence cases.

Retired McHenry County Associate Judge Sharon Prather said she is sorry to see Kenneally leave.

“I liked him, she said. “I always thought he was fair and ethical, hardworking, did a good job. I enjoyed working with him.”

However, she said, she is “very happy” Freese is going to run.

“She is an excellent choice, totally professional,” said Prather, who was the first woman presiding judge in 2004 when the 22nd Judicial Circuit included Lake and McHenry County. “She would be the first woman in that position. The only advice I would have for Randi would be that she continues to be the same great person that she has always been.”

Freese is married to McHenry County Associate Judge Robert Zalud, also a former prosecutor and first assistant in the office.

Kenneally had just run in and won the GOP primary for state’s attorney last month without opposition. The Democratic Party did not run a candidate in the primary but could choose to seat a candidate to run in November.

Officials from the McHenry County chapters of both major parties could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Northwest Herald reporter Claire O’Brien contributed to this report.

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