Hallena Johnson replays the last time she saw her daughter over and over in her head. It was August 2009, and Johnson had a pizza delivered to her Chicago-area home for herself and her daughter Kiara Windom, 18.She wasn’t feeling well and dozed off. She later found the pizza uneaten and her daughter gone. Sonny Pierce has been charged with murder in Windom’s strangulation death. A decade later, he remains at the Cook County Jail awaiting trial, at the extreme end of the growing number of murder suspects whose cases have dragged on for years, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Nearly 500 people have been detained in the Cook County Jail for at least three years. Most are awaiting trial for murder. More than 130 people have been jailed for at least five years.
The number of detainees held for at least four years has risen since 2003. In 2017, the National Center for State Courts studied the delays, resulting in standards for how long felony cases should take. “Our stated goal is to try to resolve murder cases in 24 months,” says presiding criminal court judge LeRoy Martin Jr.. A case-management system is being rolled out to help judges keep cases moving. The cost of housing a detainee is estimated conservatively at $189 a day. Lawyers and academics offer varying explanations for the delays. Court activity slowed during the pandemic accounts for only six months of delays. Criminologist David Olson of Loyola University Chicago, says Illinois’ 1998 truth-in-sentencing law requires murderers to serve their full sentence. Defendants who don’t think they have much chance to win have little incentive to plead guilty or demand a speedy trial. They might prefer delays so they’re held longer in jail, closer to their families, and hoping the case against them will weaken with time.