Threat Level

The first time someone threatens to kill you – it gets your attention. The second and third times it does, but not as much.   In my other life, I dealt with bad people.  Bad crime.  Pretty intense stuff.  A few of the bad guys I dealt with took the enthusiasm I showed for my job personally.  When that happened, they were likely to lash out. 

Threats were rare.  But they happened.  The first time for me was Robert A.  A North Shore white scumbag punk who had a string of armed robberies.  He had cases all over.  So, I followed him.  From courthouse to courthouse.  Courtroom to courtroom.  Informing the judges of all the other cases.  And what a bad guy he was.  So Robert A. remained in custody – ultimately going down for the count.  After perhaps half a dozen of these expeditions, as he was being led away – he screamed at me.  Lunging.  Held back by court bailiffs.  He described in detail what he planned to do to me – and my family – when he got out. 

Our usual protocol was to report such threats to the Chief of the Criminal Division.  He would ask us to fill out a 3″ x 5″ card detailing the case, the parties and the threat.  That way – if one morning I was found floating in the Sag Canal, investigators could thumb through the file cards and have a heads up on where to start (“Lemme see. . . . Petersen . . . here he is . . . . Petersen was threatened by . . . . . . “).    

Groundhog Day

In my post of March 20, 2014, I discussed testifying in parole hearings on murder cases that I tried when I was a States Attorney (prosecutor) at 26th & California.  Last Wednesday was “Groundhog Day.”   I was asked to testify – again – in the 1976 case referenced in that post.  What’s left of the family was there.  Very emotional. 

Ernie S. stabbed Susan H. to death in the fifty hundred block of South Ellis.  She was stabbed in a kitchen.  Ernie S. ran out.  Susan sat down at the kitchen table.  Bleeding out.  Her screams brought two friends who were upstairs.  Beat cops arrived and scooped her up and raced her in the squadrol to the hospital.   No time for an ambulance.  But Susan was DOA.   Ernie S. got 100 to 300 years after a 2-1/2 week jury trial.  The  U.S. moratorium on the death penalty (for which he would have been eligible) did not end until June 1977.  Interestingly, Ernie had done the same thing the week before to Jasmin G – a nursing student (Jasmin lived).  Some years later, he escaped from a prison van and ran into Joliet West High School and yanked a 14 year girl – Kristine D. – out of a classroom.  He did stuff to her in a stairwell.  He was recaptured.  But now Ernie wants out.  

Because the sentence was “indeterminate,” every two or three years we go back and testify that Ernie S. should never see the light of day again.  Some folks will say “ohhh – just let him goHe’s a victim.”  Just wait.  Until it’s their child.  Grandchild.

Postscript:  On March 24, 2016, the Parole Board voted 12-0 to deny parole.  They agreed on a 3 year “set.”  Ernie will not be up for parole again until 2019.        



On August 17, 1973, Ernie S  – an 18 year old with a lengthy rap sheet – broke into a home at 5009 South Ellis in Chicago where Susan Marie H was working as a graphic artist in a small studio in the home. Susan surprised Ernie while he was rifling through two purses in the dining room.  He picked up a large knife and stabbed her five times in the chest and stomach. She screamed and Ernie ran out. Susan’s friends in the other room came in and sat her at the kitchen table. She was doubled over and bleeding heavily. Officers who arrived on the scene realized there was no time for an ambulance. They picked her up and raced her to a hospital. Susan – age 23 – was DOA.

In 1976, I was 29 and a seasoned Assistant States Attorney in the Felony Trial Division. I handled a great number of murder cases and I remember details of many. But this one stands out.  It was a 2 week jury trial which I tried with my partner Chuck H.   The jury deliberated for an hour, Ernie was convicted and sentenced to 100 to 300 years (see post of 10/28/12).   

About 7 years ago, I had a call out of the blue from the State’s Attorney’s Office. “Mister Petersen, do you remember a home invasion/murder involving Ernie S__?” I said “yes” and provided graphic details.  The State’s Attorney who called me said “wow – you really do remember.” Of course. I will never forget.  Upon his election, State’s Attorney Richard Devine began asking former State’s Attorneys to participate in parole hearings.  On the bad cases.  I just testified for the third time on Wednesday.  Asking that Ernie never be released.  It is terribly emotional.  Susan’s parents both died a few years after Susan’s death.  Eight months apart.  They were in their mid-50’s.  Two of Susan’s siblings have died.  Why?  Grief.  Susan’s sister Pat has testified “you have no idea how suffocating the grief is when something like this happens to a family.”   

Ernie?  A few years after his conviction, he escaped from a prison van taking him to a hospital.  He ran into a Joliet high school, stormed into a classroom and dragged a 14 year old girl into a stairwell.  Police were minutes behind and he was recaptured. 

Neither the death penalty nor life without parole were available in 1976 but this is one case where either would have applied.  Instead remaining family members have had to argue against his release every few years.  Reliving the pain.