Four candidates seeking to become McLean County's top prosecutor made their closing arguments Tuesday before the County Board Executive Committee.
The vacancy was created when State’s Attorney Jason Chambers was chosen by the Illinois Supreme Court to become a judge.
Mark Messman, who joined the state’s attorney’s office in 2002 and spent the first 10 years as a prosecutor, said his position on alternatives to jail has transformed over the years to where he wants to give some offenders a chance at rehabilitation.
“If they do wrong, we’re going to lock them up and if they want to stop the cycle of crime, they can fix themselves,” Messman said in describing what he used to believe as a prosecutor. “I’ve softened that over the years, actually quite a bit. I’m to the point know where I think those programs are absolutely crucial.”
Jane Foster left the McLean County state’s attorney’s office in 2011 when she had served as first assistant and later unsuccessfully ran for state’s attorney in 2012. She referenced what she called an “unacceptable and alarming” wave of violence in McLean County, referring to the nine homicides in Bloomington-Normal this year.
“If we do not have a state’s attorney that can take the fight to the criminals in the courtroom, that can be an effective leader from day one, I fear that we could head down the path of seeing the levels of violence that are experienced in Decatur and Peoria,” Foster said.
Jessica Woods joined the state's attorney's office in 2007, first as a prosecutor and now first assistant of the civil division. She said her depth of experience in both departments uniquely qualifies her for the position.
“(I) have the breadth of experience and the knowledge to do the job of the state’s attorney’s office,” Woods said. “I’m the only candidate that has experience in that much of the office, including the civil side, and I’m ready to lead the office.”
Don Knapp became the county’s assistant administrator last year after serving as the first assistant in the state’s attorney’s office civil division.
Knapp said prosecutors must focus their attention on those who pose the greatest threat to safety.
“I truly believe in the notion and the theory that people do stupid things, especially kids, and every once in a while people do evil things,” Knapp said. “We should seek to punish evil things significantly different than we seek to punish (people for) stupid things.”
A fifth candidate, Bloomington attorney Chris Gramm, was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting due to a scheduling conflict.
County Board Chairman John McIntyre said he encouraged each of the candidates to meet with each of the County Board members before he submits a nomination at the Aug. 21 meeting. The County Board will vote on the nomination. The appointee will serve the remainder of Chambers' term, through 2020.
Each candidate is a Republican. Applicants are required to be of the same party as the person leaving the office.
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