Top Hispanic pols back cop killer's bid to win parole

Chicago Sun-Times,  Oct 27, 2003  by Dave McKinney

Convicted cop killers don't typically have a lot of friends in high political places. But that's not the case with Ronnie Carrasquillo, a former Chicago street gang leader known as "Mad Dog."

Sentenced in 1978 for the shooting death of Chicago police officer Terrence Loftus, Carrasquillo has lined up a prominent congressman, two state legislators, a city alderman and a County Board commissioner in his bid to win freedom.

So far, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board has not granted him relief from his 200- to 600-year prison term. But his show of political clout has angered Chicago's powerful police union and Loftus' family, who believe Carrasquillo deserves to stay in prison for the rest of his life.

"They're just trying to let another gang-banger on the street," said Loftus' brother, Thomas, responding to the political forces aligned with Carrasquillo. "Why? I don't know."

At a party with fellow members of the Imperial Gangsters, Carrasquillo shot Loftus on Oct. 10, 1976, at Fullerton and Central Park. The officer -- in plain clothes and on his way home after finishing his shift -- had stopped in his own car and tried to break up a fight between members of Carrasquillo's gang and a rival group.

Loftus was struck in the face by a single bullet, which severed his spinal cord and caused him to die two days later without regaining consciousness. Witnesses identified the gunman as Carrasquillo, who had fired at the group from a distance.

"This guy [Carrasquillo] came out from the party, said, 'Die, you f---ing pig!' and shot him in the face," the slain officer's brother said. "Our mother was never the same after that."

Since the early 1980s, Carrasquillo has had more than a dozen parole requests rejected by the Prisoner Review Board, including in August. But in the last three years, some of Chicago's most notable Hispanic politicians have come to his defense.

His supporters include U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), state Representatives William Delgado (D-Chicago) and Cynthia Soto (D- Chicago), Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th) and Cook County Board Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (8th). Soto, Ocasio and Maldonado appealed in July for his parole request, which was denied although several prisoner review board members voted to release him.

Also backing Carrasquillo's cause is defense attorney Thomas Breen, who was one of the two Cook County prosecutors who tried Carrasquillo's case. Breen later became a leading backer of former Gov. George Ryan's decision to clear Death Row in January. Breen did not return a message left at his office Friday,

In a May 2000 letter to the board, Breen compared Carrasquillo to the man he killed, noting that the former gang leader's tutoring of other inmates and "model" behavior show "many of the generous characteristics of a caring person, not unlike Terry Loftus."

Breen's words of support, Gutierrez said, caused him to join the Carrasquillo parole drive.

"I believe in rehabilitation, and if the man that prosecuted him and sent him to jail believes that it's time he be released, I join him," said the congressman, who added he has never before advocated for someone who killed a police officer. "He knows the case better than you or I or anyone else, and he believes he's been rehabilitated. It wasn't a life sentence without parole or a death sentence. It was a sentence, and he's eligible for parole."

Carrasquillo's drive for freedom revolves around several arguments.

He contends that he fired into the air and accidentally shot Loftus. His backers say he was represented at trial by an attorney whose experience was rooted in real estate. He was convicted and sentenced by Judge Frank Wilson, who was accused of accepting a $10,000 bribe in the 1977 acquittal of mob hit man Harry Aleman. Wilson killed himself in 1990, several months after being subpoenaed to testify about the fixed Aleman trial.

"I regret the circumstances he finds himself in. I believe the criminal justice system failed the family and this gentleman," said Delgado, who wrote the board in 2000 on Carrasquillo's behalf but now says he is neutral on the inmate's parole efforts.

Carrasquillo's supporters also say he has renounced his gang allegiance and continues to feel remorse for Loftus' killing.

"He has shown grief and repentance and sorrow for what he did," said Carrasquillo's uncle, the Rev. Angel Mercado, who is pastor of Rebano Companerismo Cristiano at 2435 W. Division. "He says, 'I'm sorry for what I did. I learned from that mistake. But I have paid my time.' He's really humble for what he did and humiliated, and he feels badly about it."

But the union that represents Chicago's police officers sees things differently. A dossier of Carrasquillo's prison activities obtained by the FOP from "law enforcement sources" contends that Carrasquillo continues to sit on a committee that oversees policy and mediates disputes between Chicago's street gangs. It also alleges he fathered children with a secretary at the prison he is housed in. The inmate's uncle denied both allegations.