Families of Chicago homicide victims blasted the state’s criminal justice system at an emotional Illinois General Assembly committee hearing on Monday, while police officials promised to do better.
“There’s somebody out here killing people. They’re not catching them. We need help,” Riccardo Holyfield told a handful of Illinois state senators.
Holyfield’s cousin, Reo Renee Holyfield, was found dead in a dumpster in Chicago in September 2018.
Holyfield was one of several people to testify before the joint committee of the public health and criminal law committees, describing the ways they believe Chicago — and state police — have failed their loved ones, and pleading with lawmakers to step in and do something.
“If y’all say you’re gonna help, that’s awesome. But if y’all say you’re gonna help and don’t help, y’all putting us under more and more pressure. We keep reliving these people’s deaths over and over again. It hurts,” Holyfield said.
Holyfield and others outlined poor communication, long waits for DNA test results and an ultimate failure to hold anyone responsible for their loved ones’ deaths.
“I’m sad, I’m disappointed in the system, the justice system. I feel that being a black woman with a black male child, that the system does not serve us,” said Reginice McBride, whose son was shot to death in 2017.
City data show Chicago police have made arrests in about 30 percent of all homicides between 2015 and 2018, a dismal clearance rate that means the vast majority of city murders go unsolved.
And at Monday’s committee hearing, Illinois State Police Assistant Deputy Director Robin Woolery told state senators there are 527 homicide cases awaiting testing at the Forensic Science Center in Chicago, one of six testing locations throughout the state.
The state police crime lab has long struggled with evidence backlogs. A state report last year showed more than 3,000 pending DNA cases in state police labs.
Woolery, who recently took over as head of the state police forensic division, said the agency is implementing a number of changes to try and address the problem. Those changes include more robotics, more staffing and greater transparency.
However, state police officials cautioned that it will take time before those changes bring down the backlog.
“Our hope is that within the next 18 to 24 months, we start to see a measurable impact on the DNA backlog,” said State Police Deputy Director Matthew Davis.
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.