The Chicago Syndicate: Victim's sister wants mob hit man to rot in prison

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Victim's sister wants mob hit man to rot in prison

Friends of ours: Harry Aleman, William "Butch" Petrocelli

Betty Romo won't be able to attend today's parole hearing for Harry Aleman, the mob hit man convicted of killing her brother. But if anybody at the Illinois Prisoner Review Board is curious about her opinion, this pretty well sums it up: "We just hope he stays where he's at and rots there." I have every confidence the Prisoner Review Board will come to the same determination, but you can never take these things for granted.

Three years ago, when Aleman first came up for parole, a state prison official was somehow persuaded to testify on Aleman's behalf, calling him a model prisoner who would pose no danger if released. One board member even voted in favor of parole. A grand jury has been poking into the matter, but no charges have been filed.

Aleman was, after all, originally acquitted of this crime, the 1972 murder of Teamsters official William Logan, only to be retried and convicted in a second trial in 1997 on the strength of testimony that Cook County Judge Frank Wilson had been bribed to fix the original case.

Romo, now 70 and living in the western suburbs, testified at both trials and attended every hearing. She said her late brother was never afraid of Aleman, despite his fearsome reputation, and she's obviously cut from the same cloth. "Listen, if he could get money to somebody, they would," she said, meaning he'd bribe his way out if he could.

Romo is not really concerned that will happen, although she was more than a little suspicious that Aleman was angling to rehabilitate his public image with an eye toward parole when he granted an exclusive interview in September to the Sun-Times' Robert Herguth. Herguth turned the interview into a two-part series, "Through the Eyes of a Hit Man," which I found to be great reading. It's not every day you get a sit-down with the guy believed to be one of the Chicago mob's most prolific hit men of the past half-century, even if he wasn't exactly spilling any family secrets.

For Romo, though, reading Aleman's continued denials along with his thoughts on everything from prison life to Jesus Christ -- only days before the anniversary of her brother's murder -- was another painful cut. "Look at what he's done to our family, all these years of stress," she said. "I'm the only one left. He tormented my family for 33 years. This has been torture. He's still doing it. How? Because he's alive, and his mouth keeps going."

"My dad died of a broken heart 14 years later," Romo said, also blaming the crime for health problems that claimed the lives of a sister and another brother.

"These have been bad, bad years for us," said Romo, who heard the gunshots the night of the murder from the second-floor apartment she shared with her brother. She raced to the street where he lay dying.

"He was still alive. He mumbled something. His keys fell. I held his head. I said, 'I'm not getting up. I don't want his head on the ground.' It was like in the movies."

In his interview with Herguth, Aleman attributed the murder to a man he referred to as his "partner," William "Butch" Petrocelli, also a mob hit man who was killed in 1980. Romo isn't buying it. "When you come from the old neighborhood, people tell you things," she said, referring to the old Italian neighborhood on the West Side, where she and her brother were raised.

Their father, also a Teamsters official, was Irish, their mother Italian. A cousin married one of the Giancanas, Romo observed pointedly. People tell you things. "[Aleman] didn't get an OK to kill my brother," she said. "We found out."

'At the second trial, Romo suggested a bitter custody dispute between Logan and his ex-wife was a possible motive in the killing. Aleman is a cousin of the ex-wife. But another witness had testified the motive was a dispute involving the Cicero trucking company where Logan worked. "This killing was personal, not business," Romo insisted, saying her brother was not involved in anything criminal.

A young mechanic, Bob Lowe, witnessed the murder and identified Aleman as the killer. Tribune reporters Maurice Possley and Rick Kogan wrote a book about Logan's murder titled, Everybody Pays, with Lowe as a central character. Romo always thought there should be a book with her brother as the central character. She has picked out a title, Tonight Brings No Tomorrow.

Aleman is serving a 100- to 300-year sentence at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling, which given his eligibility for parole, was obviously a sentence devised before truth-in-sentencing laws. Aleman, 66, deserves to spend the rest of his tomorrows just like he'll spend tonight.

Thanks to Mark Brown

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