Stories by Matt Masterson

Refugee Graduate of Sullivan High School Earns Full Ride to UIC

Alaaulldin Al Ibrahim, center, will attend UIC this fall on a full scholarship to study pre-med. Also pictured: Sarah Quintenz, left, and Joshua Zepeda. (Matt Masterson / WTTW News)

Alaaulldin Al Ibrahim, or “Al” to his friends, was born in Syria, moved to Jordan and eventually resettled as a refugee in Chicago. This fall he’ll attend the University of Illinois at Chicago on a full scholarship to study pre-med.

Why Brendt Christensen Can be Sentenced to Death in a State That Abolished the Death Penalty

Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff's Department)

Illinois banned capital punishment in 2011, but a state resident now faces a possible death sentence in a first-of-its-kind murder trial since that ban took effect. A Northwestern law professor explains how that’s possible.

Read: Full Transcript of Opening Statements in Brendt Christensen Trial

Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

Reporters are allowed into the courtroom where Brendt Christensen is on trial, but electronic devices are not. Read the court transcript of Wednesday’s stunning opening arguments.

Defense Attorney: ‘Brendt Christensen Killed Yingying Zhang’

Christensen’s attorneys admit he is responsible for death of Chinese scholar

Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

“Brendt Christensen is responsible for the death of Yingying Zhang,” federal defender George Taseff told a packed court Wednesday inside the Peoria federal courthouse. Despite the admission, Christensen is not changing his not guilty plea. 

Lawsuit: ‘Deliberate Indifference’ of U of. I. Social Workers Allowed Scholar’s Kidnapping

Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

The federal lawsuit claims university social workers should have done more to address the “homicidal ideations” of Brendt Christensen, who is charged in the kidnapping and death of Yingying Zhang.

Chicago Police Officer Charged in Fatal DUI Crash

Terrance Finley (Chicago Police Department)

Terrance Finley, 24, was charged Tuesday with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI after he allegedly drove into an Auburn Gresham neighborhood restaurant, killing a 35-year-old woman.

Brendt Christensen Defense Team Wants Mental Health Records of Key Witness

Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

Attorneys for the man charged with the kidnapping and death of a Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois are demanding access to mental health treatment records from his girlfriend, who wore a wire for federal investigators.

2-Year Anniversary of Chinese Scholar’s Disappearance as Death-Penalty Case Begins

A memorial stone engraved with Yingying Zhang’s name in both English and Chinese is adorned with flowers on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday, June 7, 2019. Zhang was last seen alive at a nearby bus stop on Friday, June 9, 2017. Inset: Yingying Zhang. (Memorial photo by Mark Van Moer. Zhang photo courtesy University of Illinois Police Department)

Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of Yingying Zhang’s disappearance. Her kidnapping has left a mark on the University of Illinois campus as the trial of the man accused of her killing gets underway.

R. Kelly Pleads Not Guilty to New Sexual Abuse Charges

Musician R. Kelly, center, arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court building for an arraignment on new sex-related felonies Thursday, June 6, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)

The R&B superstar pleaded not guilty to several new criminal charges relating to a 16-year-old victim he allegedly sexually abused between 2009 and 2010.

Silicon Valley Businessman Convicted in Chicago of Defrauding Investors

(Thomas Hawk / Flickr)

For years, Jeffrey Batio promised investors a revolutionary 3-in-1 laptop device. Prosecutors say it was all a lie that allowed him to defraud investors out of millions of dollars.

Death Penalty, Religious Questions Highlight Day 1 of Brendt Christensen Trial

Former Ph.D. student accused in kidnapping, death of missing Illinois scholar

Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

One prospective juror in the high-profile case said she’d have difficulty sentencing someone to death because “God doesn’t want us to take revenge.”

Kim Foxx: False Rumor Caused Recusal in Jussie Smollett Case

This Feb. 22, 2019 file photo shows Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaking at a news conference in Chicago. (AP Photo / Kiichiro Sato, File)

As she releases 2,000 pages of documents related to the high-profile case, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx claims she recused herself because of a false rumor that she was related to the “Empire” actor.

Judge to Decide if Special Prosecutor Needed In Jussie Smollett Case

Ruling date scheduled for June 21

Jussie Smollett appears at a hearing for judge assignment with his attorney Tina Glandian, left, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday, March 14, 2019. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Pool / Chicago Tribune)

A Cook County judge will decide next month whether a special prosecutor is needed to review the handling of the Jussie Smollett case by the state’s attorney’s office.

Read: Chicago Police Release First Wave of Jussie Smollett Documents

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, center, arrives at Leighton Criminal Court Building for a hearing to discuss whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom during his disorderly conduct case on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo / Matt Marton)

A new trove of documents is shedding light on the Chicago Police Department’s investigation into “Empire” star Jussie Smollett’s “false report” that he was the victim of a hate crime.

R. Kelly Facing New Criminal Sexual Abuse Charges

R. Kelly appears at a hearing Tuesday, May 7, 2019 before Judge Lawrence Flood at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune / Pool)

The R&B superstar is facing 11 new charges, three months after he was initially hit with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for allegedly assaulting multiple women between the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Attorney: Family of Missing U. of I. Scholar Wants to Believe She’s Alive

Yingying Zhang disappeared on June 9, 2017. (University of Illinois Police Department). Inset: Brendt Christensen (Macon County Sheriff’s Department)

Jury selection in the capital trial of Brendt Christensen is set to begin Monday in Peoria. Christensen is charged with kidnapping resulting in the death of 26-year-old Yingying Zhang, who went missing in 2017.

Read the Newly Released Jussie Smollett Case File

Left: Actor Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday March 26, 2019, after prosecutors dropped all charges against him. (Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

The Cook County Clerk on Thursday released more than 250 pages related to the “Empire” star’s abruptly halted prosecution for allegedly filing a false police report. Read the entire file.

Bill Would Require Presence of Parent or Guardian for In-School Interrogations

(Don Harder / Flickr)

A suburban tragedy inspired new legislation that could aid students who face questioning by police inside their school.

Judge Orders Jussie Smollett Case File to be Unsealed

Actor Jussie Smollett talks to the media before leaving Cook County Court after his charges were dropped, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (AP Photo / Paul Beaty)

A Cook County judge vacated a sealing order that had kept the case file removed from the public eye following intense public scrutiny over the prosecution’s handling and dismissal of the high-profile case.

‘Offensive’ Senior Quote Delays Suburban High School Yearbooks

Statement often attributed to Nazis chosen as senior quote

Highland Park High School (Google Maps)

Highland Park High School won’t be handing out its yearbooks on time after a statement linked to Nazi leaders was chosen as a senior quote.

OPRF High School to Reprint Yearbooks After Racist Gestures Found in Photos

Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF / Facebook)

The suburban school district’s Board of Education voted Monday to spend $54,000 to reprint the books after more than a dozen photos were found of students displaying an upside-down “OK” hand gesture.

Lightfoot Sworn in as Chicago Mayor: ‘This City Felt Like Where I Belonged’

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during her inauguration ceremony at Wintrust Arena on Monday, May 20, 2019. (AP Photo / Jim Young)

Chicago’s new mayor, the first black woman and openly gay person to hold the office, takes aim at aldermanic prerogative and outlines her four guiding principles: community safety, public education, stability and integrity.

Bond Denied for 3 in ‘Brutal and Heinous’ Killing of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez

Clarisa Figueroa, left, Desiree Figueroa, center, and Piotr Bobak (Chicago Police Department)

A bond proffer presented by Cook County prosecutors Friday outlines the gruesome details of a pregnant teens’s death at the hands of Clarisa Figueroa and her 24-year-old daughter Desiree Figueroa.

Kim Foxx Won’t Have to Testify Amid Scrutiny of Jussie Smollett Case

This Feb. 22, 2019 file photo shows Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaking at a news conference in Chicago. (AP Photo / Kiichiro Sato, File)

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her top assistant will not have to testify about their dismissal of criminal charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett despite a request for a special prosecutor to investigate how that case was handled.

Police: 3 Charged in Murder of Pregnant Teen Marlen Ochoa-Lopez

Clarisa Figueroa, left, Desiree Figueroa, center, and Piotr Bobak (Chicago Police Department)

A 46-year-old woman who allegedly lured Marlen Ochoa-Lopez to her Southwest Side home under the guise of giving her baby clothes is now among three people who have been charged in the teen’s murder.