The family of a Carbondale woman found mysteriously dead four years ago scored a substantial victory Tuesday when Gov. Bruce Rauner came to Murphysboro to sign legislation bearing her name.
Rauner followed a tour of the Southern Illinois Airport Tuesday afternoon by signing “Molly’s Law,” legislation sponsored by State Rep. Terri Bryant and named for Molly Young, who was found dead in her on-and-off boyfriend’s apartment in 2012 from a gunshot wound to the head.
The legislation, which passed unanimously in both the House and Senate earlier this year, comes in response to much-publicized struggles Young’s father, Larry Young, has experienced while trying to obtain police records related to his daughter’s death, which he has long contended to be murder.
The measure —actually a combination of two separate bills that cleared the legislature this year — extends the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit from two to five years. It also mandates additional fines of up to $1,000 a day against public bodies that fail to comply with court orders resulting from public requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
“It’s so important in America that our system of justice work for the people,” Rauner told the assembled crowd, many of them wearing the signature green T-shirts of the “Justice for Molly” movement. “From a tragedy, hopefully we can do something better. We can change the system.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner signs the legislation as Rep. Terri Bryant looks on.
Molly Young, 21 at the time, was found dead from a bullet wound to the head in the Carbondale apartment of Richie Minton, at the time a dispatcher at the Carbondale Police Department. While text messages sent from Young’s phone that night indicated possibly suicidal intentions, other details in the case have given rise to a host of other questions and theories.
Young’s family has pointed to, among other things, the lack of fingerprints on Minton’s gun and the downward trajectory of the bullet, which the right-handed Young likely would have to have fired with her left hand. In the time since, Minton has declined to speak with police despite being named as a suspect in early State Police documents.
In 2013, an inquest jury was presented with the choices of suicide or homicide and ruled the nature of Young’s death undetermined. Three prosecutors have declined to file any criminal charges in the case, saying they lack sufficient evidence to prove homicide to a jury.
Larry Young initially received documentation concerning his daughter’s death from Carbondale Police in 2013, but he filed another Freedom of Information Act request in January 2014 seeking documents, including graphic photographs, that he alleged were improperly withheld on the supposed basis of privacy. He appealed the subsequent denial to the attorney general’s office.
The AG’s final letter last July in response to that appeal describes the Carbondale Police Department and the city attorney’s office as having been generally unresponsive during the duration of Larry Young’s FOIA appeal process. The AG also said Carbondale Police denied Young’s request by improperly claiming FOIA exemptions based on a supposed ongoing investigation and classifying Young’s request as “unduly burdensome.” The Times received similar denials from Carbondale Police and the Illinois State Police following FOIA requests made over the past four years, and in each case for which an appeal was filed with the attorney general’s office, the departments were found to have improperly withheld records.
In 2014, with the likelihood of any criminal prosecution diminishing, Larry Young filed a civil suit against Minton, but the case was dismissed from circuit court because Young’s filing came just months after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations in wrongful death cases. The dismissal is currently under appeal.
On Tuesday, Larry Young said it was an accomplishment both to get Rauner’s attention and see the new legislation signed into law, but he added that he hopes the governor makes good on a vow to try to arrange a meeting between Young and Leo P. Schmitz, the director of the Illinois State Police.
Young said such a meeting would be a substantial step toward getting an impartial review of his daughter’s case.
“It needs to be done,” Young said. “It would restore confidence in everyone here.”