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A cop killer divides two police families

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Updated: August 2, 2013 6:54AM

It was late on a June night in 1970 when Chicago Police Officer Kenneth Kaner slipped into his young son’s room to kiss him good night.

Kaner was about to begin his midnight shift in the Englewood District on the South Side, one of the most dangerous in the city. His 5-year-old son, Kurt, was awake and begged him to stay home.

“Call in sick,” he suggested.

Kaner, 33, a St. Rita High School grad and city Golden Gloves middleweight champion with nine years on the force, told his little boy he had to go to work.

Several hours later, the doorbell rang.

Kurt’s mother saw the chaplain and uniformed officers at the door.

Before they said a word, she screamed.

Kurt was listening to the chaos when a man in a suit walked into his bedroom. The man told the boy what he already knew.

His daddy was dead.

The next morning, in the home of another Chicago Police family, Carol Sharp was listening to the radio when she heard something that stunned her. She broke the news immediately to her husband, Tyrone Sharp, a Chicago Police officer: his younger brother, Bruce, was a suspect in the shotgun slaying of Kaner.

After prosecutors called Tyrone Sharp, he visited his brother in the lockup and told him to tell the truth.

“I did it,” Bruce Sharp confessed. “I messed up.”

43-year struggle

It took only an instant for Bruce Sharp to gun down Kenneth Kaner on June 19, 1970.

But 43 years later, the two cop families — the Kaners and the Sharps — are still locked in struggle.

The two families treat each other with respect — while they couldn’t be further apart on this issue.

Year after year, decade after decade, they have petitioned the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

The Kaners always urge the board to keep Bruce Sharp in prison.

And the Sharps insist he should go free.

For Tyrone Sharp, 75, there is no worse crime than killing a cop. But he believes his brother should be released.

“Enough is enough,” he said in an interview.

For Kurt Kaner, 48, Bruce Sharp is a sociopath who should never taste freedom again.

Both families are police families.

Kurt Kaner followed his father’s footsteps into the Army, serving as a paratrooper, before becoming a Chicago Police officer like his dad.

Kurt Kaner’s wife is also an officer. They work together in the Marine Unit. One of the Marine Unit boats was named in honor of Kaner’s father in 1982, and he worked on the boat before it was taken out of commission last year.

Tyrone Sharp was in the military too, working as an Air Force jet engine mechanic and CTA bus driver before joining the Chicago Police Department. His police career included stints guarding Mayor Harold Washington and Mayor Eugene Sawyer. He retired to Florida, where his son and daughter became cops.

‘Indeterminate’ sentences

His brother, Bruce Sharp, is among 236 Illinois inmates who remain in prison on “indeterminate” sentences. Sharp received a sentence of 30 to 125 years in prison.

Such sentences were last given out in 1978 before the Illinois General Assembly mandated fixed sentences. Sharp and the other “C class” prisoners with indeterminate sentences receive regular parole hearings before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

Sharp went before the board every year from 1979 to 2009. Each year, he was denied parole. But in 2005, he came close to getting the majority vote he needed to be released.

Since 2009, though, his hearings have been staggered every three years at the request of the Kaner family. His next hearing is in 2015, and his mandatory parole date is 2023 because of “good time.”

Kurt Kaner and Tyrone Sharp are rivals at the parole hearings, but they say they respect each other’s point of view.

“He’s always been the gentleman,” Kaner said of Tyrone Sharp. “I am a son and a father before I am a police officer. I understand his position.”

Tyrone Sharp responded: “I can understand how he feels, growing up without a father.”

Still, neither man intends to give up his fight until Sharp’s mandatory release date — even though reliving the day of the murder is “mentally draining” Kaner said.

“This revictimizes us, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

The day of the murder

In 1970, Bruce Sharp was 24 when he squeezed the trigger of a stolen 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun and shot Officer Kenneth Kaner in the head at 1:30 a.m. as he sat in his squad car.

Bruce Sharp was a recent college graduate preparing to start a job as a county social worker. He landed the position through his South Side committeeman, Eugene Sawyer, the future alderman and mayor.

Sharp was a standout basketball and baseball player at the now-closed Parker High School on the South Side.

Sharp, who is African-American, earned a basketball scholarship at North Texas State, but grew upset with his lack of playing time, which he attributed to racism. He transferred to the historically black Texas College, where he graduated in December 1969 with a degree in sociology.

His graduation was just a few weeks after Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton was shot to death during a raid by officers assigned to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, fanning racial tensions in the city.

In a prison interview, Bruce Sharp said he was already frustrated by the racism he experienced in Texas and by the struggles of his brother, Tyrone, and his uncle, also a Chicago Police officer, on a predominantly white police force.

A growing anger

“The anger, by the time I finished school, it was out of control,” he said in an interview at Dixon Correctional Center. “I had this in my head, but didn’t have an avenue to release it.”

On the night before the killing, Sharp played basketball with his buddies, who included a Black Panther member. They decided to “embarrass” a police officer by taking his gun and handcuffing him, Sharp said.

“We were smoking weed, drinking and driving around,” he said. “Officer Kaner came up looking for a missing person.”

Sharp’s friends said they didn’t know anything, and the uniformed officer drove away.

“He wasn’t derogatory,” Sharp said of Kaner. “He was in the wrong place at the time. We said, ‘Hey, man, let’s go get him.’”

Sharp and his friends found Kaner sitting alone, writing a report, in his car near 74th and Union.

Sharp said an acquaintance, Dwight Cavin, handed him a sawed-off shotgun stolen from a freight train.

Sharp and a high-school classmate, William Redwine, approached the car to ambush Kaner.

Sharp was positioned on the driver’s side. Redwine, armed with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, was on the passenger’s side.

Sharp, in his 1970 confession, told prosecutors he said something like, “Hi, officer.”

Kaner lifted his head and Sharp fired the shotgun through the open driver’s side window into the officer’s face, blasting away the top right side of his head.

Redwine fired the revolver through the passenger-side window and struck the officer in the left wrist. Cavin opened the driver’s side door and stole Kaner’s .38-caliber service revolver.

Over the years, Sharp has elaborated on his confession, first saying Kaner’s gun was unholstered — and more recently saying Kaner was pointing his gun at Sharp before Sharp fired.

Sharp told the Sun-Times: “When I stepped up, I said, ‘Hey, officer,’ and I was thinking I would have him, that he wouldn’t be able to move once he saw the shotgun. I thought his gun was at his side [in a holster] but his gun was out. And he looked up at me. It was on the seat or wherever that he could get the gun, and he pointed it at me. He had the gun on me. I fired, then Redwine fired, almost simultaneously.”

Fact or fiction?

Kurt Kaner called Bruce Sharp’s latest account of the shooting a “fiction” that he concocted to improve his chances of parole by implying he was defending himself and in fact, has no remorse.

“It’s all about him,” Kaner said.

Sharp said in the prison interview that he’s sorry — even though it took him a long time to realize the devastation he caused.

“At first, that anger, that selfness was still holding,” he said. “I wasn’t dealing with my individual act. I started reflecting back on it — ‘was all of this worth it, taking a man’s life?’ — and how it affected my family.”

Sharp added: “I really understand what it did to his family.”

Sharp said he “grew up” in prison, teaching GED classes to other inmates, coaching basketball and mentoring fellow prisoners for life on the outside.

“There are numerous times guys’ mothers have called me to their tables in the visiting room to say, ‘Thank you for helping my son.’”

Kurt Kaner has never spoken to the man who killed his father.

Asked what he would want to tell Kaner, Sharp said, “I would say, ‘Hey, man, there’s nothing I can do to bring your father back. I’ve tried to be the best person I could be since then. Sorry for your loss.’”

Tyrone Sharp said he was “devastated” by his brother’s deed. The slaying left him “out of it for a long time.”

“In this country, I don’t think there’s any crime worse than killing a police officer,” he said in an interview at his Florida home. “In this country there’s a thin line between the police and the community. You bridge that thin line and you’re hurting the community when you kill a police officer.”

What’s more, he’s been there for his brothers in blue when they’ve lost a colleague.

He mourned a member of his tactical team who was killed in the line of duty. And in 2010, he supported his friend, retired Chicago Police Sgt. Thomas Wortham III, after his son, Officer Thomas Wortham IV, identified himself as a cop and robbers killed him.

Tyrone Sharp said he dedicated his life to working for positive change within the law — and encouraged his brother to do the same thing in the racially explosive era of the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Black Panthers were calling for the murder of one officer a month.

“He could have been a lawyer,” he said.

Despite his strong feelings about killing police officers, Tyrone Sharp said the Illinois Prisoner Review Board should release his brother. He’s a model prisoner and has spent more time in prison than other cop killers who’ve been granted parole, Tyrone Sharp argues.

‘A prospect of daylight’

He pointed to Judge Louis Garippo’s comments the day he sentenced his brother to 30 to 125 years in prison on Jan. 30, 1971. Garippo said he wanted to give Bruce Sharp “a prospect of daylight.”

Tyrone Sharp said he wishes Kurt Kaner would stop pressing the prisoner review board to keep his brother in prison.

He said his brother suffers from medical conditions, including hepatitis C, and could receive better treatment outside prison.

He added that his 67-year-old brother is unlikely to commit another crime. Sharp’s accomplices were released from prison long ago, he noted.

Tyrone Sharp said he approached Kaner after a parole hearing in 2009 — speaking cop to cop.

“I told him after 40 years I would not want my son coming here and rehashing old memories and going through his father’s death,” he said. “I told him I would let the prisoner review board handle it. I believe in forgiveness and redemption.”

Kaner said he does forgive Bruce Sharp.

But that doesn’t mean he should be free, Kaner said.

“I don’t think he’s truly remorseful at all,” Kaner said. “I think he’s sorry he got caught. He never really accepted responsibility for his crime. He blamed the times. I don’t think he could care less about my family, to be quite honest with you.

“I hope he rots in prison.”

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