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Mom challenges Evanston Police move to clear her son’s murder

Updated: November 13, 2013 10:58PM

The mother of a man who was shot to death in Evanston last November said police told her they intend to clear the case because the evidence led to a 20-year-old man who was fatally shot in Chicago in May.

Justin Murray, 19, was killed as he stood outside his grandmother’s house on Nov. 29, 2012. During the comment period before the regular Evanston City Council meeting on Monday, his mother, Carolyn Murray, told council members that Police Chief Richard Eddington told her that police were moving to clear the case that pointed to Blake Ross as the shooter in her son’s murder.

Police have said that Justin Murray, who lived in San Diego and was back in town only four hours when he was shot, was an unintended victim in a series of shootings that involved warring families and individuals that stretched back a half dozen years.

Ross was found shot to death on May 12 on the South Side of Chicago. Police said his killing also was tied to ongoing gun violence in Evanston.

Murray told council members she can’t support clearance of her son’s case, based on information she had received from family members, residents and others that there were at least three people present at the time of his shooting.

Under state law, she told aldermen, “If there is someone present at a murder they share as much guilt as the shooter.”

She urged council members to have police findings in her son’s murder turned over to her so she can hire a private investigator to gather “conclusive evidence and information,” leading to the arrest of all the perpetrators rather than pin the case on one individual conveniently “blamed for everything that ever happened in Evanston.’’

Eddington said Tuesday he sought to talk to Murray about the case in an effort “to be as candid and transparent” about where police are in their investigation.

He said police had picked up information from the street that Ross was held accountable for Murray’s death. He said detectives continuing to work the case developed information from three sources that verified that conclusion. That does not preclude other people being involved, he emphasized, but the chances of someone walking in and supplying police with that information at this point would appear to be remote.

The case fits the criteria of what police classify under “exceptional clearance,” for statistical purposes, Eddington explained. “We have sufficient evidence to believe who the offender is, but the situation is beyond our control to arrest, charge or prosecute” the individual because the suspected offender is deceased.

At the council meeting Monday, Murray, a longtime gun-control activist, noted the high number of unsolved homicide cases in Evanston: 36 dating back to the 1980s. Just weeks after her son was killed, Murray was the prime force behind the a one-day gun buyback event in which Evanston Police collected nearly 50 firearms, including 26 handguns, 15 rifles and four shotguns. For her efforts, she was invited to be the guest of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address in February. Three days later, she listened again as Obama addressed gun violence at the Hyde Park Career Academy on the South Side.

On Monday, she brought with her members of several other families who have lost loved ones in cases that are still unsolved.

Juanita Ross, Blake Ross’ grandmother, and Mahjabeen Hakeem — whose sons, Mobeen and Azim, were found shot to death in the family’s Davis Street tobacco shop on July 30 — also addressed the council.

Mahjabeen Hakeem expressed concern about police evidence-gathering methods. She said the collection of DNA samples from her and family members was off course from where the investigation should be.

The Hakeems have expressed concern that her family, devout Muslims, were the victims of a hate crime.

Police Cmdr. Jay Parrott, the department’s public information officer, said in collecting the DNA, police are trying to be very thorough.

“Anybody wanting us to properly investigate this type of crime would not only want us to be thorough, but would expect us to be thorough. Collecting DNA is essential today in this type of homicide investigation,’’ he said.

Eddington noted that police cleared one of the unsolved cases earlier this year: the 1992 brutal stabbing of a woman in her apartment — based on resubmitted DNA evidence that benefitted from new technology.

“We’re always open to new information, and when we have that information we react to it and take care of what we need to take care,” he said.

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