In the sage words of that great philosopher, Britney Spears, “Oops!… I did it again,” I availed myself of social media, somehow believing things would be different this time. Yes! I inexplicably hit Facebook in an effort to determine how regular folks were reacting to Shadwick King being granted a retrial.
Let’s just say that “utter disappointment in the general cluelessness and outright stupidity of the average Tri-Cities denizen” is not nearly a strong enough statement. How some of you manage to make it through an entire day, fully clothed, is beyond me.
For the uninitiated, Shadwick King, then 47, was convicted of strangling his 32-year-old wife Kathleen in July of 2015. The prosecution contended King strangled her in a “jealous rage” in July of 2014 after discovering cell phone evidence of her emotional affair with a younger man. A jury convicted him, and the judge sentenced him to 30 years.
It was Geneva’s first homicide since 1975.
But to anyone with half a legal brain, or an IQ above 56 (which eliminates most judges), this retrial was inevitable. Judge James “Hang ‘em High” Hallock, who never met a prosecutor he didn’t like, went so far out of his way to see King convicted, it’s as close to willful misconduct as I’ve ever seen.
Please note that the “Hang ‘em High” moniker came from local attorneys, and not yours truly.
By their asinine responses to the retrial news, apparently being a Genevan means never having to be burdened by the facts. It must be nice! And those reactions included, but were not nearly limited to:
- But there was so much evidence!
- Wouldn’t that be double jeopardy to retry him?
- These types of technicalities are ugh! (Written by a poet, of course!)
- But the jury found him guilty! Who cares about the judge?
- And my favorite from a well-known local loon, “I feel he was 100 percent guilty.”
Because you’re all that matters, right?
Having cowered in that basement crawl space for the better part of three days while I came to terms with the frightening reality that these are the nitwits with whom I live, please allow me to explain how the appeal process really works.
First, in a criminal jury trial (as opposed the bench variety), a judge’s sole purpose is to ensure the defendant gets a fair trial. He or she simply serves as a referee.
If the judge fails in this singular regard, the defense attorney must object right then and there, and, should their client be convicted, they have 30 days to cite the “reversible error” in a motion for a new trial.
Since I can’t remember the last time a circuit judge overturned themselves, that means it’s generally up to the appeals court to vacate a verdict. If the defense attorney successfully argues there was reversible error, as Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress did here, it goes back to the circuit court for retrial.
A successful appeal DOES NOT mean:
- The jury did anything wrong
- The verdict has been reversed
- King can’t be retried due to double jeopardy
- King will be immediately released
- Technicalities were necessarily involved
What it does mean is Judge Hallock screwed up so badly that King didn’t get a fair trial. So, now he gets a Mulligan. It’s as if the original trial NEVER took place. The defendant is, once again, presumed innocent, and given the resources, he can post bond and be released.
The fact that some of you feel he’s “100 percent guilty” is utterly immaterial and it belies the kind of immaturity that means you should never serve on a jury – or operate a motor vehicle for that matter.
In overturning the verdict, the Second District Appeals Court ruled:
1. That FBI profiler Mark Safarik testified on “facts” beyond his expertise. In their unanimous ruling, those judges wrote:
“Safarik – no matter how many crime scenes he had attended as a police officer, how much study he had done on violent crime scenes as an FBI profiler, or how many courses he had attended – was not qualified by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to opine on the cause and manner of Kathleen’s death.”
Since it seems most of you need everything spelled out, whenever a prosecutor or defense attorney calls an expert witness, unless the other side doesn’t object, they must lay the foundation for the witness’s expertise.
For example, were I called to testify on journalistic satire and hyperbole, the worst Kane County attorney could lay the foundation in five minutes. But if I proceeded to testify about journalistic tact and subtlety – clearly not my areas of expertise – that would be a due process violation because my testimony would be more prejudicial than probative.
Probative testimony involves fact, while prejudicial testimony involves emotion, and convictions are always supposed to be based on fact.
To wit, the appeals court ruled, “We hold that Safarik’s opinion as to the cause of Kathleen’s death was so highly prejudicial that we must reverse the defendant’s conviction.”
2. Now that you understand “probative” versus “prejudicial,” you’ll also understand that allowing Kathleen’s family to testify how “upset” they were by her death, was beyond the legal pale. The appeals court correctly ruled it was “introduced solely for its emotional impact.”
3. The appellate judges also smacked Hallock upside the head for permitting prosecutors to tell the jury they could have “questions” about the evidence, and still convict. In other words, they could ignore reasonable doubt! Those judges noted it “was an improper attempt to define and dilute the state’s burden of proof.” They also declared that, “Nothing close to it is permitted on retrial.”
Personally, I think they’re more than a little peeved at Hallock, and they should be.
4. Though I haven’t gotten that far in the brief, I’m sure the appellate court also cited Hallock for consistently permitting the prosecution to admit new evidence during the trial rebuttal phase. That blatant disregard for due process prevented the defense from offering their own rebuttal to those new facts.
As a brief aside, I dealt directly with the FBI for 20 bleepin’ long years, and I never met a “profiler” who wasn’t a complete charlatan along the lines of psychics, faith healers, and Trump cabinet members. They will eventually be discredited just like all that formerly accepted bite mark and arson evidence proved to be a total sham. A local attorney told me “Safarik would testify that your mother killed Kathleen King if you paid him enough.”
C’mon! This one isn’t even close, folks. Regardless of what you think of the defendant, he DID NOT receive a fair trial, so we’re going to do it all over again. Meanwhile, one of the rare sensible social media folks asked, “Shouldn’t our prosecutors know they have to play by the rules?”
It would be nice if we had a state’s attorney’s office that didn’t regularly game the system. Those prosecutors knew exactly what Hallock was gonna do and they played him like a fiddle. To be fair, I haven’t met a defense attorney who wouldn’t take advantage of a more liberal judge, either. But I expect a little more from the folks who represent The State.
Oh! And by the way, the Kane County taxpayers coughed up a mere 18 grand to have Safarik testify.
So, if you want to blame someone for this mess – and all that extra taxpayer expense – blame Judge Hallock, who went so far beyond the scope of his referee role that a first-year law student would’ve overturned King’s conviction. And this isn’t nearly the first time he’s played second prosecutor, either. That man shouldn’t be judging dog shows or as much as sitting on a plastic park bench.
And the state’s attorney’s office came close to pulling this one off, too! If it wasn’t for Childress’ exceptional legal acumen and dogged persistence, King would’ve suffered a truly gross miscarriage of justice.
Trust me, if it was you sitting in that jail cell on an errant verdict, you’d quickly come to appreciate the checks and balances our Founding Fathers deemed critical to the Constitution. And I would encourage you to avoid commentary on something you know absolutely nothing about, because as the old adage goes, it quickly removes all doubt.
This wouldn’t nearly be the first time the Geneva Police made it up as they went along, either.
The KCSAO said they would appeal the Second Appellate Court’s ruling, but that ain’t gonna change a thing. Those judges are renowned for following the letter of the law and getting it right. So, there will be a retrial and, since Childress has never lost a jury trial, this one’s about to get very interesting.
You better believe I’ll be there.