Jim Dey: UI still quiet on Kilgore
When The News-Gazette published a lengthy story in February about a 1970s political terrorist and longtime fugitive now teaching and working at the UI, the school's highest-ranking officials were notably silent on the issue.
Both UI President Robert Easter and Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to comment on the employment of James W. Kilgore, a onetime member of the California-based Symbionese Liberation Army, bank robber, convicted murderer, bomber and fugitive for nearly 30 years before his 2002 arrest in South Africa. Public response to Kilgore's employment at the UI, where his wife also teaches, was mostly negative.
The UI recently broke its silence following an inquiry about Kilgore from the Chicago Sun-Times. UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler was effusive in her praise for Kilgore and vehement in her contention that all should be forgiven.
"He does a great job. He's very well respected among students. He is very remorseful. He didn't do the shooting. He is a good example of someone who's been rehabilitated. If you believe in second chances and redemption, he's someone who helps prove that's the human thing to do. A child of the victim said he has served his time and should be allowed to go on with his life," the Sun-Times quoted Kaler as saying.
Despite's Kaler endorsement, the highest-ranking UI officials still do not want to talk about Kilgore.
UI spokesman Thomas Hardy said he "spoke with the president and he still respectfully declines to comment on this matter."
Email inquiries sent to Kaler soliciting comments from Wise received no response.
Kilgore was among four heavily armed political revolutionaries who stormed a Sacramento bank in 1975. One of the robbers shot and killed bank customer Myrna Opsahl before the robbers grabbed the loot and fled. Media heiress Patty Hearst, who drove a getaway car, was among those who participated in the robbery. Although Kaler minimizes Kilgore's role in Opsahl's death, the law is not nearly so forgiving. Under the theory of accountability, Kilgore and the two other robbers were as legally responsible for Opsahl's death as Emily Harris, the woman who pulled the trigger.
Regarding Kilgore's purported rehabilitation, he never needed rehabilitation. He wasn't a street thug; Kilgore was a political revolutionary intent on bringing about political change through violence. He abandoned his criminal activities while living overseas under an alias contrived to escape law enforcement.
Kilgore was arrested in South Africa, where he worked as a college faculty member known to co-workers as Charles "John" Pape. He subsequently pleaded guilty to bombing and murder charges in state and federal courts, serving six years in prison. Following his release from prison in 2009, Kilgore's parole was transferred from California to Champaign-Urbana. Shortly after that, he was hired to fill a variety of roles at the UI.
Kilgore also has become active in community affairs, joining the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice, supporting Democrat Carol Ammons' campaign for the Illinois House of Representatives and serving as a member of the Champaign County Board's jail advisory committee.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at email@example.com or at 217-351-5369.