In a stunning development, Judge James Schreier granted bail—in the amount of $750,000—to former Chicago Department of Public Health employee Michael Jackson April 7 in the case involving the Feb. 4 death of taxi driver Haroon Paryani.
Paryani died allegedly because Jackson allegedly ran over the victim three times with the driver's own cab.
The statute that was at issue was 725 ILCS ( Illinois Compiled Statutes ) 5/110-4, which deals with bailable offenses. Part of the law states that ' [ a ] ll persons shall be bailable before conviction, except the following offenses where the proof is evident or the presumption great that the defendant is guilty of the offense: capital offenses [ and ] offenses for which a sentence of life imprisonment may be imposed as a consequence of conviction ... .' The issue that was debated by defense attorney Tom Breen and Assistant State's Attorney Mercedes Luque Rosales was if Jackson actually committed vehicular hijacking, which was the alleged underlying felony and capital offense in the case. ( A capital offense is a crime so serious that capital punishment, i.e., the death penalty, is considered appropriate. )
In contesting that Jackson was not guilty of carjacking, Breen maintained that his client was a victim of the cab driver's aggression who was attempting to flee the scene. During his argument, Breen brought up the grand jury testimony of Doug Ferguson, whom Jackson apparently had visited before and after the events in question. According to Ferguson, Jackson came to him after the incident and said that he was unable to pay his fare and the cab driver pursued an argument. Jackson then told Ferguson that he was in fear of his life and drove the cab; he then ended up at Ferguson's place.
In discussing Ferguson's testimony, Breen insisted that Jackson's actions were not those of a carjacker. The attorney said that since Jackson feared for his life and was trying to escape a fight when he took the vehicle, it was not hijacking. Breen added that the vehicular hijacking statute is meant to cover robbery and similar crimes that involve force. Since there was no force used here, he argued, the statute was not applicable—and there was no underlying felony. 'Just because there is a tragedy doesn't mean that a capital offense has been committed,' he said.
Luque Rosales also discussed Ferguson's statements. She said that, according to Ferguson, Jackson showed up at his home around 10:30 and he smelled of alcohol; he eventually had to escort Jackson out. Ferguson then said that Jackson returned later in a disoriented state, claiming that he was attacked by two people—which the prosecutor said actually contradicted what witnesses said, who claimed that Jackson was the aggressor. ( However, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that, responding to a state's attorney's question, Ferguson said it didn't appear Jackson was on drugs. ) The prosecutor also talked about the supposed danger factor, asking 'What imminent harm did Mr. Paryani pose?' She also mentioned that the suspect was practically home and wondered why he would even commandeer a vehicle. 'If he's going to flee, why didn't he go home? Go home, Mr. Jackson,' Luque Rosales said.
The prosecutor also compared the injuries both parties suffered. She said that Jackson had only a scratch under an eye while Paryani suffered multiple injuries, including numerous lacerations to his chest and heart. Luque Rosales also talked about what she perceived to be something more than accidental, stating that if someone is run over once it is an accident but, if it happens multiple times, it is intentional. She said that Jackson was a 37-year-old man ( Paryani was 61 ) who wanted to make sure that the victim did not leave the scene.
Breen again reiterated that there was no evidence of felony carjacking. He also opined that the prosecution 'gave a wonderful argument for second-degree murder.' Jackson is currently charged with the more serious crime of first-degree murder.
In the end, Schreier sided with the defense by stating that the 'proof is not evident and the presumption is not great' in the case. The judge added that he wanted the trial to begin before the end of the year.
The courtroom was emotionally charged. During the recess when the judge read the prosecutor's and defense lawyer's exhibits, Jackson and his partner ( who declined to identify himself ) looked across to each other and whispered 'I love you.' After Schreier issued his ruling, Jackson's partner and his supporters all wept. In contrast, the looks on the faces of Paryani's family and supporters reflected shock and dismay. After the proceeding, the bailiff had the victim's family exit the courtroom first while making sure everyone else stayed seated.
Afterwards, Breen said that during the trial the evidence will show that Jackson did not mean to harm Paryani, adding that the suspect 'is a 37-year-old man with no history of violence who has done good for the community.' Breen went on to say that he was not even sure Jackson knew what transpired.
The defense attorney added that he expected Jackson's parents ( who live in Peoria ) to post bail ( which was 10 percent of the stated amount, or $75,000 ) that evening or the following day. ( Jackson was released the evening of April 7. ) The attorney added that Jackson would be staying in an undisclosed location.