That was Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon’s previous campaign slogan.
When I broached this topic with my favorite former managing editor, he replied, “The sad thing is, this is one of those stories people really should care about, but they won’t until it finally happens to them.”
The average voter doesn’t give a flying bleep about a State’s Attorney’s office that can’t spell the word “justice” much less administer it. They’d much rather count themselves among the cacophonous crowd who insist on running with the faux social media outrage du jour.
Apparently, that’s much more fun. But since the prospect of spitting into the wind has never deterred me before, let’s move forward.
Despite the too-obvious fact that Shadwick King’s murder trial was a complete sham foisted upon the public by now-retired Kane County Judge James “Hang ‘em High” Hallock, McMahon and the KCSAO are heading to the Illinois Supreme Court in an attempt to get King’s successful appeal reversed.
For the uninitiated, The First Ward covered that successful appeal at length.
To fill in the general background blanks, King, then 47, was convicted of strangling his 32-year-old wife Kathleen in July of 2015. The prosecution contended he strangled her in a “jealous rage” in July of 2014 after discovering cell phone evidence of an emotional affair with a much younger man. A jury convicted King, and Hallock sentenced him to 30 years.
Fast forward to August of 2018, and that Second District Appellate Court panel, consisting of Judges Kathryn Zenoff, Ann Jorgensen, and Mary Schostok, came down on Hallock like the proverbial wrath of God – or at least like Donald Trump on a recalcitrant Democrat.
In what might be the strongest unanimous reversal I’ve ever read, they declared:
1. That Hallock permitted FBI profiler Mark Safarik to testify on “facts” well beyond his expertise. The ruling stated that “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.”
2. That allowing Kathleen’s family to testify they were “upset” by her death, was beyond the legal pale. The appeals court correctly ruled that testimony had no probative value and was “introduced solely for its emotional impact.”
3. That Hallock was completely off base when he did nothing to prevent prosecutors from telling the jury they could have “questions” about the evidence, and still convict. In other words, they could redefine reasonable doubt! The panel called it “an improper attempt to define and dilute the state’s burden of proof,” succinctly adding, “Nothing close to it is permitted on retrial.”
4. That consistently looking the other way while the prosecution admitted new evidence during the trial rebuttal phase was a blatant disregard for due process that prevented the defense from offering their own rebuttal to those new facts.
Put more simply, Zenoff, Jorgensen, and Schostok tore Hallock a new one for playing second prosecutor. It’s the stuff of a defendant’s worst nightmare. I’m convinced the ignominy of that appellate rebuke played a major role in Hallock’s decision to retire.
Remember! The appeal question isn’t whether King is guilty or innocent, it’s whether he got a fair trial. Since he clearly did not, that means he – or any similarly railroaded defendant – gets a new one.
Make no mistake, McMahon and the KCSAO share a great deal of that ridiculous reversal responsibility. Instead of heading over to Old Town Tavern and drinking to their massive judicial good fortune, those prosecutors should’ve gone to the Chief Judge, or minimally, stayed within the bounds of what they damned well knew to be the law.
It begs the question, are they after justice or just more convictions?
McMahon knew that ill-gotten guilty verdict would be at risk, especially with the eminently capable Public Defender Kelli Childress at the defense table. But because the KCSAO didn’t do the right thing, now there will be a new trial with another round of expensive expert testimony all underwritten by – yes – the hapless Kane County taxpayer.
As my favorite TV Judge Marilyn Milian likes to say, “Just because you can take advantage of a situation doesn’t mean you should!” Lady Justice may be blind, but she’s not stupid. There’s something to be said for understanding the law they swore to uphold also applies to prosecutors, too.
And just when you thought the KCSAO couldn’t get any worse, they do! Despite those vast defects in the King trial, they’ve managed to get the Illinois Supreme Court to review the Second Appellate District’s ruling.
So, a potentially innocent man continues to languish in jail because McMahon would rather go to the wall in the pursuit of a bad conviction than serve justice by preparing for a retrial. So much for the “good guys” always doing the right thing.
Trust me, the Illinois Supreme Court will not reverse the Second District and King will get his new trial. The due process violations are simply too egregious, as is the behavior of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office.
Not that I’m surprised by either.