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Police say they have 'promising leads' in fatal shooting of Cook County judge

Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Elvia Malagon, Jeremy Gorner

It started out as a typical Monday morning for longtime Cook County Associate Judge Raymond Myles.

An early riser, Myles was up before dawn at his West Chesterfield home on the city's Far South Side, getting ready to hit the gym with his girlfriend before reporting to his courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

But as the 52-year-old woman left the two-story brick residence shortly before 5 a.m., she was confronted near the garage by a gunman who shot her in the leg, according to Chicago police. Hearing the commotion, Myles, 66, ran outside and exchanged words with the assailant himself before he was shot multiple times and killed.

A neighbor and friend of the judge told the Tribune he was awakened by the shouts of the woman and the crack of about six gunshots.

"She was screaming, 'Don't kill him, don't kill him!'" the neighbor said.

The brazen attack, believed to be the first fatal shooting of a Chicago-area judge in more than three decades, touched off a massive investigation Monday and brought fresh attention to the city's ongoing crisis of gun violence, which has made embarrassing headlines around the nation and remains a focus of criticism from the Trump administration.

Calling the shooting "another senseless act of violence," First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro said the Police Department will use "every resource to track down the offender and bring them to justice."

"When incidents like this occur, it's not only a reminder of the ever-present challenge we have with illegal guns and the offenders willing to use them, but it's also a direct attack on the criminal justice system that keeps our society safe," Navarro told reporters at a news conference at police headquarters.

While the gunman remained at large, Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples said police were pursuing "multiple and promising leads" and reviewing video footage from public and private surveillance cameras in the neighborhood. The FBI has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, Staples said.

Staples said robbery appeared to be the motive, although the assailant didn't get away with any possessions from either victim. Detectives do not know if the judge's work had anything to do with the shooting, she said.

Sheriff Tom Dart's office investigates about 10 death threats a year against Cook County judges, said Cara Smith, the office's policy chief. Smith said the office has no record of any threats against Myles in recent years.

News of Myles' death stunned colleagues at the county's main criminal courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue, where Myles had worked for years. Longtime courthouse employees described Myles as hardworking and friendly, a devoted father and Cubs fan who wore a flashy team jacket to work during their World Series run last year.

LeRoy K. Martin Jr., presiding judge of the Criminal Division, said he last saw Myles on Friday when Myles brought his teenage daughter to spend the day with him at the courthouse.

"Everyone here is devastated," Martin said. "People know when a judge is fair."

Just before 9 a.m. Monday, a handful of young men stood outside Myles' locked Courtroom 204, waiting to attend his scheduled morning call.

A woman emerged.

She quietly inquired if they were looking for Judge Myles and then directed the men to a courtroom down the hall.

The judge's courtroom staff said one defendant slated to appear before Myles on Monday began to cry on hearing the news of his death.

A 1968 graduate of the former Carter Harrison Technical High School on Chicago's West Side, Myles earned his law degree from the University of Illinois and worked as an assistant state's attorney and later in private practice as a criminal defense attorney. In 1999, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Myles to fill a vacancy on the bench. After two years in Traffic Court and Juvenile Court, Myles was appointed an associate judge in June 2001, records show.

Martin said Myles was enthusiastic about his most recent assignment to the "youthful offenders" call, where he heard narcotics cases involving defendants about age 27 and younger. Martin had recently discussed expanding Myles' assignment to include young defendants charged with crimes other than drug offenses, he said.

"He was in favor of doing that," Martin said. "It was just his concern about young people. We'd talk about the youth. If we're going to succeed as a society, we'll need to give youth a chance to succeed."

Myles' previous work as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney gave him "a certain perspective," Martin said.

"He was very patient with people and gave out a lot of tough love," Martin said. " … He would try and provide services for people, to work with people, and try to keep people out of the penitentiary."

Wendelin DeLoach, a criminal-defense attorney who practiced before Myles for five years, said the judge was known for insisting that defendants get their high school diploma or GED. Myles would often order defendants who had violated bond to write reports as punishment instead of revoking their bond, an unusual measure that happened to at least three of DeLoach's clients.

"He was a phenomenal human being. I don't know who is going to replace Judge Myles. He ruled his courtroom with an iron fist but with a great amount of kindness, fairness and justice," DeLoach said. "This was a man who walked with dignity. This was a man who walked proudly through the courthouse. He walked through the hallways. ... He had nothing to fear, so this was stunning."

While there was no indication Myles had ever been targeted because of his judicial duties, records show he'd fallen victim to the city's violence two years ago when a motorist attacked him after a minor traffic collision on the South Side.

Authorities said Myles was trying to park along East 86th Place when his car was struck by another vehicle. The two drivers got out of their cars, but when the judge pulled out a cellphone and began taking photos of the damage, the other driver punched him in the face, causing serious injuries, according to court records.

The judge fell to the ground bleeding and the assailant fled, according to a Cook County state's attorney's office spokeswoman. Myles was taken to Jackson Park Hospital, where he was treated for a fractured nose, facial bruising and a chipped tooth — injuries that later required reconstructive surgery, records show.

Ten months went by before authorities arrested Deandre Hudson, 22, and charged him with aggravated battery causing great bodily harm to someone over the age of 60 at the branch courthouse in Skokie, according to court records. Hudson is free on electronic monitoring while awaiting trial.

At the news conference Monday, Staples, the chief of detectives, said police were aware of the road rage case but had not determined there was any connection to the judge's slaying.

Citing preliminary information, Staples said Myles and his girlfriend typically leave their home in the early morning hours to work out together. About 4:50 a.m., the woman exited Myles' home in the 9400 block of South Forest Avenue when she encountered the gunman in a rear parking area by the garage. Words were exchanged, and she was shot once in the leg. The woman is expected to survive.

"Upon hearing the commotion and the gunshot, Judge Myles exited his residence," Staples said. "(He) exchanged words with the offender before he was fatally shot multiple times."

Staples could not provide a description of the suspect but said he fled on foot and then possibly got in a car nearby. The woman, who did not appear to know the attacker, was able to call 911, Staples said.

The neighbor who heard the gunshots and screaming said he called 911 and was told that other people had already called.

Security cameras installed by the judge at his home likely captured the shooting, according to the neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous. There had a been push recently to get cameras installed throughout the neighborhood. He remembered joking with Myles about how the cameras might catch neighbors doing something embarrassing.

"I knew him well," the neighbor said. "Great guy, great neighbor. He looked after the neighborhood. Any mischief in the neighborhood, he was investigating. He was always at the block clubs. He never talked about being a judge. He was just Ray."

The neighbor said he just saw the judge over the weekend. They talked about their yards.

"He tended a garden in the back, a vegetable garden," he said. "... He was developing a green thumb."

Myles had been active in the West Chesterfield Community Association for the past five years, according to Michael LaFargue, president of the neighborhood group. He'd also been helping get volunteers to participate in the group's "Clean and Green" event calling for residents to help beautify the neighborhood by planting flowers and cleaning the nearby viaducts. Participants would also visit senior citizens' homes to remove their overgrown weeds.

"We believe in the broken windows theory," LaFargue said. "That simply means that if the properties in the alleys look well kept, it shows the criminals that you care about the community and that very likely we're watching out what's going on."

Meanwhile, as the search for Myles' killer continued, Martin, the presiding judge at the courthouse where he worked, said losing a sitting judge to gun violence was still difficult to fathom.

"This is the first time any of us have gone through this," Martin said. "We'll just have to pick up and carry on, and he'd want it that way."

Chicago Tribune's Jason Meisner, Nereida Moreno and Rosemary Regina Sobol and freelance reporter Brian Cox contributed.

emalagon@chicagotribune.com



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