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Finally, fugitive justice in Illinois

Published: Saturday, April 28, 2012 4:58 a.m. CDT

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, April 26:

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(MCT) — Illinois is one of about a dozen states that protect close relatives when they help a family member flee the country to avoid prosecution, no matter how brutal the alleged crime.

On Wednesday, the Illinois House voted 114-0 to end that astonishing loophole.

The bill, inspired by the findings in the Tribune series “Fugitives From Justice,” now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn. We trust he’ll sign it.

This came to light in the outrageous case of Muaz Haffar, accused of beating to death Tombol Malik, a 23-year-old political science major at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in 2005.

Haffar’s father bought him a plane ticket so Haffar could flee to Syria to escape the murder charge, law enforcement officials told the Tribune. Haffar’s father denies that he bought the ticket.

What’s undeniable: Haffar has never been extradited to face charges. His father couldn’t be charged with assisting Haffar because Illinois law wouldn’t allow it.

The bill, which also sailed through the Illinois Senate on a 52-0 vote, would apply only to relatives who are at least 18 and who intentionally helped prevent a fugitive’s arrest or helped him flee the jurisdiction of the offense. The penalty: a one- to three-year prison sentence.

We hope that will make family members think twice before assisting a relative avoid criminal charges. We hope that will provide some measure of solace to families like Malik’s, who still wait for justice.

There’s a lot more work to do, in Illinois and across the country, to stop the flight of fugitives.

Credit U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. for taking the lead. Last month, he introduced a bill that would direct $1 million to $3 million a year to a fund dedicated to enhancing efforts to apprehend international fugitives. The new fund would come from bail bonds and other fees forfeited by federal defendants who flee justice.

In January, Durbin convened a meeting of top federal, state and local law enforcement officers to find ways to improve the government’s faltering efforts to apprehend violent fugitives who cross U.S. borders to evade justice in Illinois.

The officials from the Justice Department and various northern Illinois agencies pledged to more closely coordinate their international fugitive apprehension programs. They said they would better manage mounting caseloads. They pledged to train local prosecutors and police in the long, complex and frustrating extradition process.

From Chicago to Cumming, Ga., police detectives have reopened cases. Three of the fugitives highlighted in the series have been captured in recent weeks.

So there is progress. But there are so many families out there who still wait, intensely frustrated that their families cannot find peace, cannot see justice. The Illinois Legislature took an important step Wednesday to stop that heartbreaking list from growing.

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