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‘Heater’ case couldn’t wilt lawyer

Updated: September 12, 2013 6:44AM



Dear Zach,

Your mom did the right thing. And she is still the cape-wearing, justice-fighting, superhero you tell her she is. That’s why I’m writing this column.

Best, Carol Marin

Zach is the 12-year-old son of former Cook County juvenile court prosecutor Sonia Antolec. A 30-year-old single mother with a stellar record, Antolec recently refused to prosecute a “heater” case involving a vicious “wilding” attack in March on the CTA Red Line. The evidence, she determined, was too flawed to proceed. Multiple sources confirm that her supervisor agreed. But amazingly, higher-ups in the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez suspended her without pay and demoted her when complaints on a cop blog and calls from downtown raised hell over her decision. The official reason given was that she hadn’t informed all of her bosses about dismissing charges.

Antolec quit last week.

Sun-Times reporter Mitch Dudek broke this story. It’s a cautionary tale about how justice in a high-publicity case can be kicked to the curb. And about how a superb prosecutor can be made a scapegoat.

Here’s the background:

In April, a 27-year-old woman and her mom were on the CTA Red Line when a band of teenage girls began attacking the young woman and pulling out her hair. They were armed with padlocks wrapped in socks and box cutters. She desperately tried to shield her face.

According to the police, the victim positively identified the faces of her attackers. Felony charges were approved. The case was sent to Antolec.

But when Antolec interviewed the victim and her mother, what they told her was substantially different. The victim described a “reverse” police lineup, asking her to look at suspects from the back, perhaps to identify their clothing. In addition, the mother reported having poor eyesight. And a CTA surveillance video, according to Antolec, was in no way definitive.

Antolec said she sat down with the victim and said, “A terrible thing happened to you. . . . You defended yourself. . . . You could not look up.”

They both, said Antolec, “shed tears” over it. But, said the former prosecutor, “I could not proceed.”

Nobody wants to arrest these roving thugs more than police.

Nobody wants to put them behind bars more than prosecutors.

But police and prosecutors every single day make terribly hard judgments about the quality of evidence and the ability to take a case to court. That’s why fully 75 percent of 25,000 juvenile criminal cases in 2011 and 2012 were diverted or dismissed based on either police and prosecutorial discretion.

But this had become a heater case.

Alvarez’s office does not dispute problems with the evidence. What the office does dispute is whether Antolec observed proper protocol in getting the upper echelons of the office to agree to dismiss.

“Whether these cases are bad or not is beside the point,” Alvarez chief of staff Dan Kirk told me Friday. “You have to go through procedures.”

Kirk added that he’s just learned Antolec had been looking for another job before this whole controversy blew up.

Can’t say as I blame her.

Email: cmarin@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CarolMarin



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