Prosecutor plays politics with statutory rape case

June 05, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

It's about time that Jack O'Malley, the Cook County state's attorney, receive praise and glory for cracking down on men who have sex with underage females.

This is the crime that used to be called statutory rape. It now has another name, but it still adds up to men having their way with females under 17.

Most people aren't aware of how often this happens. But you need only look at the teen-age birth rate.

In Chicago, more than 10,000 unmarried teen-age girls have babies every year. In the suburbs, another 2,000 to 3,000.

Experts say that more than 60 percent of the male seducers are over 20 years old.

So clearly there is a shocking amount of statutory rape going on around here, especially in the low-income African-American neighborhoods.

Well, guys, watch out because the fun is over. O'Malley is in hot pursuit of U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds.

Of course, Reynolds says that he is being hounded and persecuted for political reasons.

But why would an Irish-American Republican prosecutor want to pick on an African-American Democratic congressman?

What's the point?

No, it is clear that O'Malley's devotion to justice has led to the prosecution of Reynolds, who is accused of having sex with a woman when she was 16, although she now says she is not interested in pursuing the matter.

And the same devotion to justice has led to the prosecution of the following men for statutory rape:

Hmmm, it seems I don't have a list. O'Malley's office couldn't provide one.

The problem is that this outburst of zeal to nail male seducers seems to have begun with Reynolds.

Since O'Malley has been in office, there have probably been 50,000 potential statutory-rape cases in Chicago and Cook County.

Apparently O'Malley's office didn't notice. Shelton Green, the chief of the felony trial division for the public defender's office, said such prosecutions are "very, very rare. I think the only time that it's really pushed is when the parents of the victim want a prosecution. It just makes more sense, I think, from the prosecution's perspective."

Not any more, as the Reynolds case demonstrates. The parents of the woman aren't squawking. The female, now 19, has recanted. So has another young woman, now 21. And both appear to have been less-than-blushing young innocents when Reynolds allegedly did what O'Malley says he did but the women now say he didn't did.

Some cynics, a low sort, say that O'Malley is in hot pursuit of Reynolds because O'Malley also is in hot pursuit of higher office -- governor or U.S. senator maybe -- and Reynolds would provide a fine scalp to dangle at Illinois voters.

But that is nonsense. O'Malley already has so many other major prosecutorial trumps.

There's the Hofer murder case. You remember -- the gay young German who stood trial for the brutal murder of a Wilmette woman.

Ooops, a mistake. The accused killer was not guilty. And the woman's ex-husband has never been charged with arranging the crime.

Then there was a big-time Teamster prosecuted for the gunshot murder of his dope-deranged adult son.

Uh-oh. I erred again. Another not-guilty verdict.

But there was the real estate millionaire accused of hiring arsonists to torch one of his buildings so he could collect the insurance. Seven people died. Awful crime.

Whoopsy. It says here that the real estate guy beat the rap.

I guess that leaves us with Gregory Hudson, who was foolish enough to handle his own defense in a double-murder case even though he is not a lawyer and had no legal training. A prosecutor's dream.

Tut-tut. It appears that Hudson defeated the prosecutors and persuaded a jury of his innocence.

Well, you can't win 'em all, I always say. And as a wise man once said, "It isn't whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game and what kind of headlines you can generate."

So O'Malley still has Reynolds, whether he did what O'Malley insists that he did or he didn't, as the two victims who say they weren't victims say he didn't.

But even if the Reynolds case doesn't work out, O'Malley can continue his admirable crusade. This year, like last year and the year before that, there will be another 10,000 or more potential statutory-rape cases he can shake a fist at.

Who knows, there might be another Democratic politician out there.

Like a wise man also said: "Maybe you can't win 'em all, but you can't lose 'em all, either, can you?"

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