Jim Dey: UI still quiet on Kilgore

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.

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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 jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.

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LincolnLounger wrote on April 03, 2014 at 11:04 am

A perfect addition to both the UIUC faculty and the People's Republic of Urbana.  (Naturally, he gravitated to the Carol Ammons campaign, but I hope the reporter checked to see if he cast an actual illegal vote.)

It's easy to understand why the Administration stonewalls.  Did the reporter talk to Chris Kennedy and members of the Board of Trustees? What is the good professor's salary (furnished by the taxpayers)?  I hope he's in line for a generous pension!  Maybe he'll get one from South Africa, too.

Is there one person who believes that a regular person who committed a simple felony like theft over $300 would be given these opportunities?  Certainly not.


asparagus wrote on April 03, 2014 at 1:04 pm

This remains a disgrace.

The left leaning bureacrats in charge find nothing wrong with this man being employed by this university as a teacher because they sympathize with his politics and beliefs. Tragically (but not surprisingly), they are unable to empathize with this man's victims who, in their minds, probably deserved whatever they got at the time.

When the wheel turns one day (as it always does) and this very same injustice is crammed down their gullets I am also certain that they will not remain silent. Hypocrisy never shames them. Having not done the right thing though when they had the opportunity they will inevitably reap the karma they have created.


vcponsardin wrote on April 03, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Oh, give it up, Jim.  Nobody cares about your petty vindictivenes.  The man served his time and he's now a productive citizen.  And isn't that what our justice system is all about?  Move on, Mr. Dey.  Time to move on.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on April 03, 2014 at 10:04 pm
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I'm not sure it's fair to say he "served his time." On the other hand, I wonder how much he enjoyed the quarter-century "on the run."


In general, I suppose I agree with your sentiments. Sixty-something men are usually a lot less aggressive than their youthful selves. (Cue Joycelyn Elders on "wilding.")


Why though, I wonder, did Jim employ the weak phrase "theory of accountability" when the significantly more powerful "law of conspiracy" was right there, practically preening to express Kilgore's culpability for murder?

basset wrote on April 03, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Misleading headline - you have a statement from the UI Public Affairs official spokesperson.  What more do you want?  You still haven't discussed his puny salary but instead insist on rehashing the same story.  Shame on you Jim Dey - few take you seriously - is that what you want or are you so ideologically blind that you can't see this or don't care.

locavore wrote on April 05, 2014 at 12:04 pm

This article isn't about James Kilgore. It's about the No More Jails campaign that Dr. Kilgore helped lead and which campaign last year successfully promoted alternatives to the building of a new $20 million jail.

If Dr. Kilgore was just another quiet, uninvolved UIUC employee, you can bet the News-Gazette wouldn't be writing stories about him. The attack stories are meant to pave the way for the next jail-building proposal to come around, probably in 2015, probably for more than $20 million.

Dey might not be aware of this agenda. I suspect News-Gazette employees don't last long if they ask questions about the political motives of their employer. Or, maybe he does know but doesn't care. Either way, this stuff is less like journalism and more like moral pollution.

thinks wrote on April 05, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Whatever the journalist's motivations, I don't think that institutions of higher learning should hire former violent felons to teach. I don't know where respondents are getting the idea that serving time in prison absolves anyone from the crimes they have committed. They have been punished for them to some degree, they have been removed from society for the public good for a time. They have not necessarily been rehabilitated -- I think we can all agree that our prison system fails heavily there. And they have not, through any term of imprisonment, made recompense to their victims or to society. That is a separate matter, which the responsible convict must either rely on the civil courts to determine (in part) or take up on his own.

Within higher education, I think it's safe to say that professors (full-time, part-time, tenured, non-tenured) are assumed to be role models. They are teachers, and if teachers do not serve as role models in our society, then who should? Mr. Kilgore did not murder Mrs. Opsahl himself, but he planned and participated in a terrorist act  in which guns were brought and one discharged. He left with his associates while she bled to death on the floor of the bank, gutting the lives of four children, left motherless. He helped to create and espoused the violent and demeaning rhetoric of this terrorist group. And he made and planned to distribute pipe bombs in public venues, with the intent to murder and maim innocents.

I am not a conservative. I am a social progressive. However, as a matter of principle, I cannot simply hold Mr. Kilgore absolved of his former acts, however long ago they may have been. They were too extreme. Mrs. Opsahl's son did not forgive Mr. Kilgore, despite what another respondent has said--her death and the family's attempt to bring those responsible to justice caused them enormous suffering*. At the hearing of the first four convicted of Mrs. Opsahl's death, her son said, according to a NYT report: "For nearly 28 years, I have lived with the fact that monsters do exist, the [sic] homegrown terrorism is real, that the incomprehensible happened, and that beyond our family and church, no one else seemed to care, including and especially the defendants." At his own sentencing, Mr. Kilgore, in assuming full responsibility for his actions (after having fled justice for over 25 years), said, "no apology or penance can begin to compensate for the loss and suffering." With responsibility comes consequences. As a result, this crime must have lifelong consequences for whether he is able to serve as a role model for young people, hold certain elected offices, and offer a guide for our community. I do hope that he will go on to lead a productive and peaceful life. Others who have written in and spoken on his behalf have said this is the case, and I respond positively to that. But there are limits, and in this case, I believe the university has unfortunately overstepped them.

*http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=130535: for one of Mrs. Opsahls' son's responses to an earlier conviction of an SLA member who participated in his mother's death

*http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/obstruction-of-justice/content?oid=10373: for how one of Mrs. Osahl's sons fought for years to bring her murderers to justice

*http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/15/us/4-in-radical-group-of-70-s-are-sentenced-in-murder.html: for details of the conviction of the first four SLA members guilty of Mrs. Opsahl's death

*http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/SACRAMENTO-Eyeball-drama-as-Kilgore-gets-jail-2760072.php: on Mr. Kilgore's sentencing

Huh wrote on April 05, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Amazing that if any other person caught lying on their resume would immediately be booted from U of I.

This guy is a Terrorist, a Murderer, a Bomber, and a Crook. All resume enhancers at U of I.

"Citizens for Peace and Justice" is a fraud. There was no peace and justice for the family of Myrna Opsahl. No, they only get cruel and unusual punishment, begging the courts for justice and finding none.

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 07, 2014 at 2:04 pm

B. Joseph White

Richard Herman

Michael Hogan

Lisa Troyer

Bill Ayers

Robert Rumbelow

Paul Pless

James Kilgore

and this University wonders why it's donorship is lagging? Obviously there is something foul in the search and vetting process that is installing these creeps into our system and costing us in public credibility.


Sid Saltfork wrote on April 09, 2014 at 1:04 pm

The U of I hired the wife.  Therefore, they had to find employment for the husband.  It is done all of the time by the university.  It is called "nepotism".  Husbands, wifes, children, and siblings are found employment on campus in order to recruit, or retain valued faculty.  The History Dept. wanted to hire the wife so they had to find something for the husband.  In state employment "nepotism" is a serious offense.  However, the university ignores it; and participates in it. 

Should an employee's relative be hired over other applicants?  It does violate state employment rules; but it happens all of the time in academia.