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Protests, verdicts, votes: The top 10 Chicago stories of 2012

U.S. Rep. Jesse JacksJr.

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

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Updated: December 31, 2013 5:20PM

10. Federal jailbreak

It was like something out of the movies.

Two men, both bank robbers, cut through a window and busted through the cinder-block wall of their cell early Dec. 18 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in the Loop and used bedsheets and other material to make a rope and climbed down 17 floors to freedom. Then they hopped in a cab a few blocks away.

Freedom was temporary for one of the men, Joseph Banks, who was captured three days later on the North Side.

His cellmate, Kenneth Conley, remained at large, as authorities examined how security failed at the facility considered secure.

9. Rod Blagojevich goes to the slammer

We don’t have ol’ Rod Blagojevich to kick around anymore.

The disgraced former governor began his 14-year prison sentence on March 15. But not before one final media circus.

Surrounded by a throng of reporters, he left his wife, Patti, and two daughters at their Ravenswood home, telling the TV cameras, “I’m leaving with a heavy heart, a clear conscience and I have high, high hopes for the future.”

Later that afternoon, he was locked up at the Englewood Federal Correctional Institution in suburban Denver, beginning the longest prison stretch handed to an Illinois politician convicted of corruption while in office.

8. Jury doesn’t buy Christopher Vaughn’s story

For five years, Christopher Vaughn argued that his wife shot their young children at close range before killing herself, claiming he was innocent of their murders.

But at the end of a five-week trial this summer featuring more than 80 witnesses, a Will County jury didn’t need to deliberate for even an hour.

They quickly convicted the Oswego man on Sept. 20 of the cold and brutal quadruple murder of his wife, Kimberly, 34, their son and two daughters on June 14, 2007.

Abigayle was 12. Cassandra was 11. Blake was 8.

7. NATO Summit shows Chicago off to the world

Chicagoans were warned to take precautions during May’s NATO Summit: Don’t wear a business suit to work if you don’t want to be targeted by protesters. And here’s what to do if tear gas is thrown.

Instead, most deserted downtown, leaving it all but a ghost town.

At the end of three days of peaceful protests and demonstrations, which began Friday, May 19, a small group of “Black Bloc” anarchist protesters taunted Chicago Police officers in riot gear after Iraq War veterans ceremoniously gave back their war medals at the end of a largely peaceful march.

Officers warned protesters to get out, just moments before objects — sticks, bottles garbage cans and rocks — were hurled at cops at Michigan and Cermak, where the march erupted into violence.

Blows from batons rained down on the front row of protesters, who were screaming at police and pushing forward.

Some left the crowd with bloodied heads. Others in the back of a police wagon.

But overall, police were praised for their restraint.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got his successful summit. His police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, looked even better.

6. Drew Peterson goes down

Years after she vanished, Drew Peterson’s missing fourth wife helped convict the former Bolingbrook cop of murdering his third wife.

That’s what jurors said in September after they found Peterson guilty of drowning ex-wife Kathleen Savio in 2004.

In a bizarre twist, jurors heard some of fourth wife Stacy Peterson’s crucial secondhand testimony against her husband from a witness called by his own legal team.

But nothing about Drew Peterson’s legal saga — which began shortly after Stacy vanished in October 2007 — has been uneventful.

During the grueling five-week trial, his attorneys clashed loudly and frequently with prosecutors in the courtroom.

Outside of court, Peterson’s attorneys mugged for the media but publicly quarreled over trial strategy and press appearances.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the smirking, silver-haired Peterson — who before his 2009 arrest couldn’t keep his mouth shut — largely behaved himself and didn’t testify in his own behalf.

His words to Stacy Peterson were heard anyway.

5. Jesse Jackson Jr. quits Congress amid fed probe

Probably no prominent Chicagoan had a worse year than U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Once tipped as a possible U.S. president but dogged for years by allegations that he offered former Gov. Rod Blagojevich $5 million for Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, Jackson resigned from Congress shortly after he was re-elected in November.

But it was mental health problems that surfaced amid allegations that he misused campaign funds to decorate his D.C. home and buy a friend a gold Rolex watch that finally brought Jackson down.

The Jackson clan’s reluctance to discuss where the congressman was — or what was wrong with him — was widely criticized, but Jackson eventually acknowledged that he was being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for bipolar disorder and that he was the subject of FBI and House ethics probes.

4. CPS teachers strike

It had been brewing and brewing, ever since Mayor Rahm Emanuel had demanded a longer school day without extra pay for teachers. He had stripped teachers of a promised raise, saying kids got the “shaft,” and he had the law changed so teachers couldn’t strike unless 75 percent of them agreed to walk out.

The Chicago Teachers Union called him a bully and said, “No way.”

The union’s members flew past the new threshold with about 90 percent approving a walkout.

And for the first time in a generation, for seven school days starting Sept. 10, Chicago Public Schools teachers went on strike.

The city was awash in red shirts as about 30,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union walked picket lines. The teachers, and their charismatic leader, Karen Lewis, grabbed national headlines.

In the end, CPS agreed to a contract with modest raises for teachers, while the union agreed to tie a portion of teacher evaluations to student test scores.

The first casualty of the strike: CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, whose management style didn’t mesh with what Emanuel wanted.

3. Homicide spike shames city on national stage

In the annals of a notoriously violent city, 2012 wasn’t exceptionally noteworthy — when you looked strictly at the numbers.

But when the homicide rate skyrocketed in the first three months — rising 66 percent compared with the same period in 2011 — the narrative was set for the year, and it went national.

The spike in gun deaths meant that Chicago reached last year’s murder total of 435 two months early. And even though the killing slowed considerably after the early surge, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy fought a mostly losing battle to convince the public and reporters that violence in the city wasn’t out of control.

Police officers armed with assault rifles showed up to keep the peace at gang funerals, and hundreds of Nation of Islam disciples took to the streets to help quell the violence in the neighborhoods, adding to the city’s sense of unease.

2. Daley nephew indicted after Sun-Times probe

Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, was charged Dec. 3 with involuntary manslaughter in the 2004 death of David Koschman — an indictment that resulted from a special prosecutor’s investigation that was prompted by reports in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Twice in a span of seven years, the Chicago Police Department found no reason to charge Vanecko in the death of Koschman, 21, of Mount Prospect.

But in April, Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin, showing outrage at failures in the system, appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb to reopen the case — and determine whether charges should be brought against anyone in the Police Department or the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for mishandling it.

A judge from McHenry County is expected to be appointed early next year to preside over the Vanecko case because of concerns that too many Cook County judges have ties to the Daley family.

Vanecko, 38, of Costa Mesa, Calif., has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.

1. Obama wins re-election

The Chicago guy won again.

On Nov. 6, America’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, won re-election, besting Republican challenger Mitt Romney in one of the costliest presidential campaigns in history.

Overall, the presidential election cost roughly $2.5 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — topping record amounts spent in Obama’s historic first election of 2008.

In the end, the Chicagoan earned 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, and more than half of the popular vote, beating Romney by more than three percentage points.

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