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Thursday, November 18, 1999



Parole lapses
land cop-robber
in prison

Rodney Balbirona, 20,
gets five years for doing
'absolutely nothing'

By Debra Barayuga
Star-Bulletin

Tapa

A man sentenced to five years' probation for his role in the April 1996 robbery of a Chicago police officer will be going to prison after all.

Circuit Judge Sandra Simms Tuesday revoked probation for Rodney Balbirona, 20, and ordered he serve five years behind bars.

Balbirona, arrested a couple of months ago for probation violations, is expected to be transferred to the Halawa Correctional Facility. The parole board will decide how much time he will actually serve before he can be paroled.

Prosecutors were critical of Simms' leniency earlier this year when she gave Balbirona more time to comply with the court's requirements and a short jail sentence of 30 days. They praised her latest decision.

"The judge did the right thing -- she knew it was the right thing to do -- because this guy had gone too far," said Deputy Prosecutor Maurice Arrisgado. Giving Balbirona more than one chance to comply undermines the criminal justice system and was not fair to others who make some effort but still have their probation revoked, he said.

"You did absolutely nothing," Simms twice told Balbirona on Tuesday, Arrisgado said.

Balbirona stopped reporting to his probation officer, did not participate in counseling, wasn't making restitution payments and never enrolled in a substance abuse program, Arrisgado said. He also made no effort to complete his 200 hours of community service. Since his last appearance in court in January, he apparently had completed only four hours of cleaning beaches.

Balbirona's attorney, Keith Shigetomi, said his client had problems that kept him from needed counseling and support.

Balbirona apologized to the court, saying he had a drug problem and needed to address it.

Habilitat was willing to accept Balbirona into its two-year program, Shigetomi said.

But the offer was "too little, too late," said Simms, who questioned whether Balbirona would be successful. She had already given him two chances before to comply with probation.

A jury last year found Balbirona guilty of second-degree theft for taking James Boreczky's suitcase, but rejected a first-degree robbery charge. Balbirona claimed he took the policeman's suitcase but didn't harm him.

Boreczky suffered multiple facial fractures, two black eyes and a broken nose and broken jaw in the beating at a North Shore bus stop.

Balbirona was first arrested for violating terms of his probation in July 1998. He had been required to enroll in a substance abuse program, complete 200 hours of community service and make full restitution of $687.

At a hearing three months later, Simms gave him a chance and another four months to comply, rather than sending him to jail.

At another hearing in January, Balbirona still hadn't fully complied, so Simms sentenced him to 30 days in jail and five years' probation.

He only spent 15 days behind bars, however, because he was given credit for time already served. Simms said the sentence was appropriate since he hadn't been in trouble since his conviction. She felt that because of his age, Balbirona could be rehabilitated if he enrolled in a structured program such as Job Corps.

Arrisgado at the time said the court was "setting him up for failure."



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