Kelly’s record on sex as­sault be­comes a key cam­paign is­sue

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JOSEPH BUSTOS jbus­

In re­sponse to a lack of pros­e­cu­tion in sex­ual as­sault cases in re­cent years, St. Clair County State’s At­tor­ney Bren­dan Kelly says he has worked to re­verse the trend.

Dur­ing his con­gres­sional cam­paign, Kelly has has touted his work to com­bat sex­ual as­sault and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. He has said that he helped cre­ate a St. Clair County Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Coun­cil and the Chil­dren’s Jus­tice Di­vi­sion, worked on ini­tia­tives like a statewide sex as­sault task force, and helped start a county-wide spe­cial vic­tims unit.

But now, the at­tributes Kelly has touted since early in his bid for Con­gress are a tar­get for Repub­li­can in­cum­bent Mike Bost of Mur­phys­boro and other con­ser­va­tive groups forc­ing the St. Clair County pros­e­cu­tor to de­fend pre­vi­ous plea deals.

The race also in­cludes Green Party can­di­date Randy Aux­ier.

Bost and the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund, a con­ser­va­tive su­per PAC, have each run ads point­ing out cases where Kelly agreed to plea deals where do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or sex­ual as­sault per­pe­tra­tors only re­ceived pro­ba­tion.

The Bost cam­paign point­ing out cases that did not re­ceive the high­est pun­ish­ment is a strat­egy to turn a Kelly strength into a Kelly weak­ness, said John Shaw the di­rec­tor of the Paul Si­mon Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute at South­ern Illi­nois Univer­sity.

“Some­times in mod­ern cam­paigns, one of the tac­tics, one of the tech­niques is to kind of at­tack the op­po­nent at what is per­ceived as his or her strengths,” Shaw said.

Shaw added the strat­egy is a well-rec­og­nized tac­tic.

“It seems when you have a race this close both of the can­di­dates are go­ing to look for any pos­si­ble an­gle or com­ment or is­sue in which to both fire up their vot­ers and to di­min­ish your op­po­nents vot­ers’ en­thu­si­asm,” Shaw said.

And with the race within the mar­gin of er­ror, ac­cord­ing to re­cent polling, cam­paigns look for ways to go after their op­po­nents’ records.

“Some­times the cri­tiques are fair and based on fact and oth­ers it’s a very creative and pos­si­bly not al­ways hon­est in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the op­po­nent’s records.”

Dur­ing a re­cent news con­fer­ence de­fend­ing Kelly’s record, a vic­tim spoke about the work done by the St. Clair County State’s At­tor­ney’s of­fice.

Among those to de­fend Kelly’s record was Leti­cia Cross, a St. Clair County res­i­dent who is a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sur­vivor.

“Two years ago, I was bru­tally at­tacked and held against my will,” Cross said. “The rea­son I’m here — the rea­son I was able to get jus­tice, and the rea­son I’m will­ing to talk to­day — is be­cause the state’s at­tor­ney al­ways lis- tened to us. He al­ways put us, the sur­vivors, first.”

Among the speak­ers at the news con­fer­ence were women who pre­vi­ously worked in the St. Clair County State’s At­tor­ney’s of­fice with Kelly.

“Not only does Mike Bost’s false ad politi­cize the se­ri­ous is­sue of as­sault, but he is mak­ing it harder for sur­vivors to come for­ward and get the help that they so des­per­ately need,” said Kristi Flint, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor in the Spe­cial Vic­tims Unit in St. Clair County. BOST CRIT­I­CIZES KELLY FOR OF­FER­ING PLEA DEALS

In a re­cent Bost ad, the Bost cam­paign cites cases where Kelly’s of­fice agreed to plea deals with of­fend­ers in­clud­ing cases where men as­saulted preg­nant women, a man as­saulted a woman with a ham­mer, and a case where a man knocked out a woman’s teeth.

A re­view of the cases cited in the ads showed that the per­pe­tra­tors could have been sen­tenced to spend years in prison. In­stead they pleaded guilty and were sen­tenced to pro­ba­tion.

Kelly de­fended his of­fice’s han­dling of the cases.

“In the spe­cific cases be­ing cited in these ads, ev­ery sin­gle time we fought for the vic­tim and we did what the vic­tim asked,” Kelly said.

Kelly said his of­fice al­ways fought to put vic­tims first.

“With these ads, with this


politi­ciza­tion of this dif­fi­cult is­sue, I’m afraid my op­po­nent is now putting him­self first,” Kelly said.

The Bost cam­paign stood by its crit­i­cisms of how Kelly han­dled the cases.

“Our hearts go out to any vic­tim of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or sex­ual as­sault. How­ever, Bren­dan Kelly’s record of al­low­ing vi­o­lent crim­i­nals off the hook is clear as day,” said Bost spokesman Ge­orge O’Con­nor in a state­ment. “Time after time vi­o­lent of­fend­ers were charged with crimes pun­ish­able by over a decade in prison, but Bren­dan Kelly let them walk with pro­ba­tion. These plea deals al­low preda­tors to go right back on the street and put women and chil­dren in our com­mu­ni­ties at risk.”

Bring­ing the cases to trial could in­flict even more pain on a vic­tim, Kelly said.

“Is it dif­fi­cult work as a pros­e­cu­tor? Ab­so­lutely,” Kelly said. “But it is nowhere as dif­fi­cult for a pros­e­cu­tor as it is for a vic­tim who has en­dured that hor­ri­ble trauma who has been vic­tim­ized, who prob­a­bly in many cases was afraid to come for­ward in the first place, made a brave de­ci­sion, did that, and now is look­ing at the prospect of hav­ing to re­live that trauma.”

Kelly’s cam­paign has touted the en­dorse­ments he has re­ceived from lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Swansea Po­lice Chief Steve John­son, Madi­son County Sher­iff John Lakin and Ki­won Guy­ton, pres­i­dent of the St. Clair County Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, among oth­ers.

In one ad ran against Kelly, the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund even has Nick Gail­ius speak­ing. Gail­ius is the for­mer Fairview Heights po­lice chief and is the GOP nom­i­nee for St. Clair County sher­iff.

In the ad, Gail­ius refers to a case in­volv­ing Todd E. Bram­blett, who was sen­tenced to 31⁄ years of pro­ba­tion after plead­ing guilty to two of three crim­i­nal sex­ual as­sault charges. Bram­blett was ac­cused of en­gag­ing in sex­ual acts with young girls in Au­gust 2013.

At the time, Kelly said the terms of the sen­tence were what the vic­tim pre­ferred “un­der the cir­cum­stances,” but did not elab­o­rate.

The Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee had sig­naled early in the cam­paign it would go after Kelly on his pros­e­cu­tion record.

“Bren­dan Kelly is known for two things: say­ing he doesn’t sup­port Nancy Pelosi but then tak­ing her money, and al­low­ing a pe­dophile who sex­u­ally as­saulted two 14-year-old girls to walk free. That’s all vot­ers need to know,” Mad­die An­der­son, a spokes­woman for the NRCC, said in a state­ment in re­sponse to Kelly’s re­cent news con­fer­ence.


St. Clair County State’s At­tor­ney and Demo­cratic can­di­date for Illi­nois 12th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict Bren­dan Kelly de­fends his record as a pros­e­cu­tor. Po­lit­i­cal ads have chal­lenged his work as a state’s at­tor­ney, in­clud­ing cases where he agreed to plea deals.

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