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Granat found guilty of killing his parents; Bridgeview man convicted also

  • Written by Steve Metsch

John Granat Jr. and his best friend, Christopher Wyma, were both found guilty Wednesday afternoon of two counts of first-degree murder in the bludgeoning deaths of Granat’s parents in September 2011.

After closing arguments were made in Room 110 of the Bridgeview Courthouse, it took a jury of seven women and five men just under two hours to find the younger Granat guilty.

Granat, 22, in dark slacks and a white striped shirt, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read by the clerk of Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Neil Linehan. He did not look toward the 20 or so relatives and family friends gathered in the court room.

Wyma’s jury, of nine women and three men, needed just 40 minutes to find him guilty. Wyma, 22, nodded slowly as the clerk read each verdict.

The son of a Palos Heights police officer, the cleanly shaven Wyma wore dark slacks, a striped shirt a few sizes too large, and a striped tie. Three times he looked toward family and friends in the court room, flashing a brief smile as he was led to a holding cell.

Post-trial motions will be heard Feb. 22 for Wyma and Feb. 24 for Granat, said Judge Linehan, who thanked each jury for their service.

Wyma’s family and friends quickly left the courtroom after his verdict was read.

Assistant state’s attorneys Deborah Lawler and Donna Norton hugged the sister of Maria Granat afterward. Family members declined comment, but a friend said he was surprised at how quick a verdict was reached.

“All I can say is justice is swift. At least now the family can get some closure. It’s been too long,” said Frank Brongiel, of Alsip, a Granat family friend for 20 years. “They can go home to their families now.”

Lurid details revealed in the trial “were gruesome” Brongiel said.

He said he never saw anything out of the ordinary in the younger Granat that gave him cause for concern. “I’d see him out cutting the lawn on his father’s properties,” Brongiel said.

But the prosecution painted a much darker picture of a young man who, although he never wanted for money, hated his parents, especially after they found his backyard marijuana crop and threw out the plants.

He was grounded in August 2011 for that, and grew so angry he told his friends that he wanted his parents dead. Together, prosecutors said, they devised a plot in which the parents would be murdered

John Granat Sr. and his wife, Maria Granat, were beaten to death with baseball bats in the bedroom early Sept. 11, 2011, in their spacious Palos Township home in the 12700 block of 81st Court.

When Maria, showed signs of life after the beating, she was also stabbed 21 times in the brutal attacks, prosecutors said. Wyma, of Bridgeview, and another friend, Ehab Qasem, of Hickory Hills, had beaten the couple. Qasem did the stabbing. They acted on orders from Granat, who was busy in the garage, counting money stolen from his parents and later distributed to Qasem, Wyma and Mohammed Salahat, driver of the getaway car.

When told his mother was still breathing, Granat handed a knife to Qasem and told him to “finish it,” the state said.

On Wednesday, during closing arguments, Lawler recounted how Qasem on Tuesday told the jury that on Sept. 10, 2011, an angry Granat told his friends “I want it done today.”

“What this offender did to his parents is unimaginable. It takes our breath away with its sheer brutality and callousness,” Lawler said as she pointed one of the aluminum bats at the unflinching Granat.

Granat, she said, had lured and groomed the other three by buying clothes for them and handing them wads of money, once giving Qasem $2,300 stuffed into an empty chewing gum package.

“He planted the seed. You asked if they liked this lifestyle. He told them, ‘If my parents were dead, everything would be in my name’,” Lawler said.

Using a code word for the murders, he sent a Skype message to Wyma at 1:46 a.m. Sept. 11 that set the wheels in motion.

“He was the mastermind of the plan. This ‘Son of the Year’ opened the door for them,” Lawler said.

Detailed cell phone records place the four in the vicinity of the Granat home in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2011, she said. She also noted how Granat’s story changed 14 times when he was interrogated by Cook County Sheriff’s police investigators, and questioned how a teenager who allegedly finds his parents brutally murdered would sound so calm on a 911 call.

When talking with police at the scene, Granat asked “is the fire department going to clean up the mess because I want to keep living here.”

His story began to unravel when, after dividing the money at Wyma’s home, Granat was pulled over by a Palos Heights police officer in a routine traffic stop at 5:18 a.m., she said.

“We know he’s not a quick thinker. He told (detectives) no less than 14 versions of his whereabouts Sept. 10 and 11 and who murdered his parents,” Lawler said.

Public defender LaFonzo Palmer said “John did not kill his parents” and said the murders were carried out by Wyma and Qasem who feared their “gravy train” of easy money from Granat was coming to an end.

“John is stupid. He hung out with the wrong kids, with the bad kids,” Palmer said. “The state says he wasn’t upset on the 911 call. You all know everyone responds differently to shock and fear."

He blasted Qasem’s testimony fingering Granat, saying that Qasem admitted to lying to detectives and a grand jury.

“You didn’t see a remorseful young man. You saw a young man here protective himself,” Palmer said, noting that Qasem testified against his friends in exchange for a 40-year term in prison, not the life sentences faced by Granat and Wyma.

After the Granat jury began deliberations, it was time for final arguments on Wyma.

Assistant state’s attorney Norton made extensive use of his sometimes chilling videotaped interrogations from October 2011.

Told that Qasem was given more money than him, an angry Wyma asks, “How much does he have? Sixteen K?”

The quote showed Wyma’s hunger for “blood money,” Norton said. “This was Chris’ priority, his greed.”

Another tape has Wyma saying that in a visit on Sept. 10, 2011, Granat told him he wanted his parents “(expletive) dead.”

Norton recounted Qasem’s testimony in which he admitted having second thoughts before entering the couple’s bedroom that night, again stressing Wyma’s hunger for money.

“He slapped him on the back of the neck because Wyma need Qasem to help him do his job, to help feel free and live like a king. That was dream. What were the dreams of John and Maria Granat? To grown old together in the home he built with his two hands? To enjoy the fruits of their years of hard work, to be surrounded by loved ones? Their dreams were shattered by the sound of baseball bats striking their heads and bodies,” Norton said.

Earlier in the trial, Wyma’s former girlfriend told of finding $15,000 in his room the day after the murders.

“He got his money for helping John out. He got it for murdering Maria and John Granat. The $15,000 he got in exchange for the screams he can’t get out of his head,” Norton said.

Qasem and Salahat, now serving 35 years, were also paid cash by Granat, she said.

Wyma’s attorney, public defender Daniel Nolan, argued there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Wyma was actually in the house on Sept. 11. Cell phone records indicating his phone was there do not mean he was, Nolan said.

A sentencing date has yet to be set.

Chicago Ridge firehouse will have 24/7 coverage

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

chicagto ridge firehouse photo 1-19

Supplied photo

The second Chicago Ridge firehouse at 10658 S. Lombard Ave. will be open for 24 hours starting Feb. 1.

Chicago Ridge firehouse on Lombard Avenue will be open for 24 hours

By Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar announced on Tuesday that the long-awaited Lombard Avenue fire station will open for 24-hour coverage starting Feb. 1.

The station, at 10658 S. Lombard Ave., had been shuttered for years prior to being renovated, largely by fire department volunteers, and reopened for 12 hours a day, in March 2015. The main fire station is located at 10063 Virginia Ave., in an industrial park on the western edge of the village, and having the second firehouse open 24 hours a day has been the long-term goal.

The mayor informed the village board at a meeting in December that everything was on schedule to have the building open 24-hours a day by March.

“Public safety is my number one priority, and this station opening for 24-hour coverage will enable our combination fire department, which includes career and part-time firefighter/paramedics, to better serve the main population center of our community,” said the mayor in a statement released Tuesday. “In the past 2.5 years, since we embarked on an innovative ‘shared’ fire chief concept, Fire Chief George Sheets has initiated numerous creative, cost-effective and efficient methods of providing fire and paramedical services. Since April of 2015, when the station was opened, it has been staffed only 12 hours a day. The availability of having this station open 24 hours per day will result in response times being reduced by two minutes, which in an emergency, can be a window of time wide enough to save lives,” he continued.

In December, Tokar also stressed the importance of opening the second station, noting that is located in the residential center of the village. He pointed out that when the Lombard firehouse is not open, ambulances have to come from the industrial park, where they could be blocked by trains, or neighboring communities such as Bridgeview, Oak Lawn and Alsip.

Sheets said that Tokar, along with the board of trustees, have provided the necessary funds to equip the fire department with state-of-the-art tools, training and technology. The fire chief told the board in December that keeping the station open 24/7 would not cost the village any additional money in salaries because the part-time firefighters are already on 24-hour shifts. They currently split their time between the two firehouses.

Tokar pointed to the recent acquisition of a new ambulance and quint fire apparatus, which encompasses five units in one. “By selling and consolidating outdated fire apparatus, we were able to save village taxpayers over $2 million in replacement fire apparatus costs,” he said.

“We are immensely appreciative of the continued support of all the firefighters within the department. The opening of the Lombard station for 24 hour service is a great investment in our community, a landmark and presence that our firefighters are here to answer the call quickly when there’s an emergency. I couldn’t be happier,” Fire Department Liaison Amanda Cardin said.

 

Former Bear Tilllman says he's 'all about goals'

  • Written by Kelly White

charles tillman signs photo 1-19

Photo by Kelly White

Former Chicago Bear Charles “Peanut” Tillman signs his book, “The Middle School Rules of Charles Tillman,” during an appearance Monday at Advocate Christ Medical Center.

 

Charles “Peanut” Tillman may no longer be intercepting passes or stripping the ball away from opponents as a defensive back during his long NFL football career, but his positive attitude toward life is his new playing field following his retirement.

“I use my position of strength for service, not status,” the former Chicago Bears cornerback, Tillman, 35, said during the 26th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Monday afternoon.

Tillman highlighted the event with a lecture on his football career, life and his book, “The Middle School Rules of Charles Tillman,” which was published in November of 2015 and co-written by sportswriter Sean Jensen.

The event featured music from the Providence St. Mel School Chamber Choir and a multicultural taste luncheon, featuring food from all around the world. The event was held in the medical center’s Stein Auditorium. The auditorium was packed to capacity for the event and was organized by Advocate Christ Medical Center’s Mission and Spiritual Care. The event was headed by Rev. Richard James, senior staff chaplain of Spiritual Care and chairman of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee.

“Charles Tillman is a person of great character,” James said. “He is much more than a great football player; he is a great person.”

All attendees received a free signed copy of Tillman’s book.

Born in Chicago in 1981, Tillman is nicknamed "Peanut" by his family because of his small stature growing up. With his father serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, Tillman attended 11 different schools domestically and internationally. He was frequently stationed in different locations, ranging from the U.S to Germany. He attended high school at Copperas Cove High School in Texas.

Tillman said his inspiration to succeed came from failing a math class in high school.

“I thought I had everything,” Tillman said. “I had a lot of friends, I had a girlfriend but then I failed a math class and I wasn’t able to run track. Failing that math class was probably the best thing that ever happened to me because I found fear in my failure. With the help of teachers, I got my grade back up.”

However, teachers weren’t the only motivation in Tillman’s life.

“I’m nothing without the values that have been instilled in me from my teachers, coaches, parents and grandparents,” he said. “So many people have helped me along the way, and they have all helped to build me into the man you see today. It all starts at home. Learn to love each other a little more at home. It will go a long way.”

“He (Tillman) can teach us all about lessons learned, from what his parents have instilled in him and what he has learned as a football player,” said Vicky Tanulanond-James, practice manager for Advocate Medical Group.

After high school, Tillman received a Division 1-A scholarship to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he continued to play football and was able to graduate in three and a half years.

“I’m a guy who is all about goals,” Tillman said. “I believe in writing goals down and having a plan. I knew going into college I wanted to graduate in three and a half years. I was taking 20 credit hours a semester 12 months a year all while playing football. No matter how difficult the class was, I always gave it my best effort.”

In 2003, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the NFL Draft.

“I love this city,” Tillman said. “It’s my home and I’m very proud of it.”

Tillman has been distinguished as one of the NFL’s most opportunistic defensive backs, intercepting 36 passes and forcing 42 fumbles.

Tillman was the 2013 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year, a 2012 Salute to Service honoree, a 2009 Ed Block Courage Award recipient, and a three-time Brian Piccolo Award recipient. He also played for the Carolina Panthers in 2015 before retiring at the end of the season. He retired on July 18, 2016 after playing for 13 seasons in the NFL.

His book features the defining childhood stories of a young, well-traveled youth who had to deal with racism, adapt to constant relocation, and endure the divorce of his parents. The book also discusses Tillman being racially profiled and wrongly detained by police as a youngster.

The book is inspired by faith and family, Tillman said.

Tillman tackled another issue off of the field when in 2008, his second youngest daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, and was in desperate need of a heart transplant at the age of only 3 months.

“I felt completely helpless as a man,” Tillman said. “When she received a heart, I was the happiest parent in the world but in the back of my mind, I knew there was a mother out there somewhere that had just lost their child. I didn’t know this woman, I didn’t know her family. She didn’t know us and she didn’t know my daughter, but she made a choice that saved my daughter’s life. It was both the happiest and saddest day of my life.”

During his football career in 2005, Tillman and his wife Jackie established the Cornerstone Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and opportunities to children in need. The mission of the foundation is to help improve the lives of critically and chronically ill children throughout Chicago.

“The thing that I am the most proud of in my life is the giving and service that I am able to provide to others,” Tillman said.

Village applauds arbitrator's rulings

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn village officials are generally pleased with the findings of an arbitrator called in to settle several labor disputes with the local firefighters union involving issues such as wages, residency and minimum staffing.

The findings were discussed at the Jan. 10 village board meeting, and although everything did not go their way, officials such as Trustee Bud Stalker (5th), Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen said the decisions made by arbitrator Steven Bieiring will save taxpayers money while maintaining safety standards.

“Although we didn’t prevail in reducing the number of firefighters on an engine rather than four, the numbers weren’t raised, either,” said Stalker, the fire department liaison on the village board. He said that Oak Lawn is one of the only municipalities that have four firefighters per engine. He maintained that higher numbers are not needed because neighboring fire departments also respond to Oak Lawn calls as part of the mutual assistance agreements they share.

“The net result is, we have more firefighters than we need (at many incidents),” said Stalker.

The union sought approximately $3.2 million in back pay for hours not worked, due to the staffing levels that were upheld. But that will not have to be paid now.

“We’re very satisfied that this most recent decision means there will not be any added staffing costs beyond those already incurred. The union was forced to acknowledge in this case that there is no need to increase the staffing levels from their current levels. The arbitrator’s award, like our previous court victories, locks in that principle,” said Deetjen.

Fire Chief George Sheets said in a statement that he still would like to see staffing levels brought down to three per engine, and plans to negotiate for that as soon as possible. The fire chief, who splits his time between Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge, said every department he has worked in assigns three firefighters per engine, and there is no safety issues involved.

“The arbitrator gave a mixed response but the village is happy,” said Stalker.

He added that the village also prevailed on the health insurance issue, in that members of Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Local 3405 will now have to raise their contribution to their health insurance costs from 10 percent to 12.5 percent.

“Residents need to know this is a significant victory for us. There are many challenges ahead. Our pension obligations are astronomical. But we’re going to work on that,” said Stalker at the meeting.

Bury said that raising staffing levels would cost the village at least $500,000 more per year.

“We fought that and we won. We held the line. I really want to have good relations with all our unions, but we couldn’t afford it,” she said.

The mayor asserted that the village paid firefighters $2.6 million in overtime last year, but “because our pension system is so broken, it is cheaper to do that than hire more firefighters.”

The arbitrator also ruled in favor of the village’s proposal that employees must live in Illinois. The union had sought permission for members to live in Indiana.

Bury was happy about that, too.

“Employees will no longer be able to take their taxpayer dollars to live in Indiana,” she said. “Oak Lawn is a beautiful community, with fantastic schools, great shopping and excellent dining. We have so much to offer right here in town.”

Hickory Hills Council delays development plans for the Sabre Woods Plaza

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Plans to develop the Sabre Woods Plaza has been delayed indefinitely, it was announced at the Hickory Hills City Council meeting last Thursday night.

The plaza was scheduled to be located at 8900 W. 95th St. and was going to replace the once iconic Sabre Room, which closed last year. The Sabre Room was once a popular night spot in Hickory Hills and the surrounding suburbs dating back to the 1970s. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin performed there on separate occasions.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley made the announcement during the board meeting. He said that plans presented at the Nov. 10 council meeting by Jim Louthen, development project manager, and Charles Cornelius Jr., of Chicagoland Realty Service, did not fit the expectations of the city’s zoning board. Future ideas for the Sabre Woods project will be discussed at a later date.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions,” said Howley.

During the first Hickory Hills Council meeting in 2017, a swearing-in ceremony for a new police officer and the awarding of first- and second-place winners in the city’s annual “Lights of Hickory Hills” contest took place.

Joseph Murphy, the new police officer for Hickory Hills, was introduced and sworn in. Al Vodicka, the Hickory Hills police chief, said that Murphy grew up on Chicago’s Southwest Side near Midway Airport. He attended St. Simon Elementary School in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood and graduated from De La Salle Institute.

Vodicka added that Murphy had also served in the U.S. Army for five years, had previously worked with the Cook County Corrections Division, and had also served with the Cook County Forest Preserves Police.

“We are very happy to have this experienced officer join our department. We know that he was recruited by several departments, but he chose to join Hickory Hills and we are very pleased to have him.”

The chief said that when Murphy was asked why he chose Hickory Hills, he responded that it was because of the good reputation of the department and because he saw how well Hickory Hills treated its employees.

Also recognized at the meeting were members of the Stewart family, who live on the 9000 block of Forest Lane. They placed first in the 3rd Ward for their “outstanding Christmas lights decorations.” Congratulating them were the ward aldermen, Tom McAvoy and Brian Fonte.

The Kelly family, of the 9100 block of 92nd Place, placed second in the 3rd Ward.

Each city ward had first- and second-place prize winners in the Christmas decorating contest, but only the Stewart family was present at the council meeting.

Other winners in the 1st Ward were Moskala family, of the 9300 block of South 77th Court, who placed first; and the Las family, of the 7800 block of West 90th Place, who came in second.

In the 2nd Ward, the Schendl residence, of the 9100 block of South 83rd Court, came in first. The Gacek family, of the 9300 block of South 87th Avenue, came in second.

The Kubis family, of the 8800 block of 83rd Avenue, placed first in the 4th Ward. The resident of a home on the 8700 block of South 82nd Avenue placed second.

Ald. John Szeszycki (2nd Ward), chairman of Finance, announced that the city had collected a total of $230,000 from video gambling in 2016.

Fonte, who is also the chair of Health and Environmental Control/Recycling, reported that 49 households had called “At Your Door Recycling” to schedule pick-ups of electronic equipment since the program began with Waste Management on Jan. 1.

A business license was approved for USRC Hickory Hills, also known as HEMO Kidney Dialysis Clinic at 9640-42 S. Roberts Road. The owner is US Renal Care, of Plano, Texas. The proposed opening date is this November.