Cameras appear in court for first time in Cook County

AP News
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Posted: Feb 04, 2015 6:58 PM
Cameras appear in court for first time in Cook County

CHICAGO (AP) — Two men who acted as lookouts during the killing of an off-duty Chicago police officer were sentenced to life in prison Wednesday in the first Cook County criminal court hearing to be recorded by news cameras.

Judge Timothy Joyce agreed last month to allow journalists to televise and photograph the sentencing despite objections from the defendants' attorneys, saying the public is entitled to see "how these things get resolved." Cook is the latest county to participate in Illinois' experiment with courtroom cameras, a practice commonplace in other states.

Thomas Wortham IV, a 30-year-old Wisconsin National Guard solider who had just returned from Iraq, was killed in a May 2010 shootout with two men who were trying to steal his motorcycle. The confrontation took place outside his parents' home in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago's South Side.

Prosecutors say Paris McGee and Toyious Taylor acted as lookouts for the two gunmen, one of whom was killed. They were convicted in November of first-degree murder. The fourth man is awaiting trial.

Wortham's father, Thomas Wortham III, a retired Chicago police sergeant, came to his son's aid during the robbery attempt and shot the two attackers, injuring one and killing the other.

He testified at trial that McGee, who was in the passenger seat of the getaway car, also fired shots at him.

Prosecutors say Taylor, who was behind the wheel, drove into the younger Wortham after he'd been shot and dragged him down the street.

Judge Joyce called it a "horrid and horrific death."

Wortham's father, mother and sister spoke tearfully at Wednesday's hearing about the impact his death has had on their lives.

The elder Wortham recalled being amazed at how his son sounded like a father when he spoke of the younger troops under his command in Iraq. Wortham was also involved in his community and worked to make a neighborhood park safer for children.

"When my son was killed, they didn't just kill anybody, they killed a man who spent his whole life trying to help people, trying to make the world a better place," his father said.

He added that had his son met his killers under different circumstances, he likely would have tried to help them better their lives.

Taylor addressed the family, saying his "heart goes out" to them, while insisting he was not involved in the killing.

Attorneys for the defendants said they would appeal the sentences.

The use of two still cameras and one video camera to record the proceedings caused no disruptions. A padded cover was used to muffle the noise of the camera shutters.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the state's courthouses could be opened up to cameras. But Cook County's proposed pilot program was held up by disagreement over how it should work. Then, in December, the state Supreme Court approved the county's proposal, allowing cameras and audio recording devices to be used at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on an experimental basis.

The Chicago Tribune, joined by several other media outlets, requested to have cameras at Wednesday's sentencing. Judge Joyce agreed, saying he was confident he could "ensure that the proceedings remain dignified." He said last month that allowing in cameras would "extend the range of people who see that the criminal use of guns can wreak havoc," the Tribune reported.