Shadwick King retrial – the closing arguments

Shadwick King retrial – the closing arguments

I managed to attend most of Monday’s five-hour King retrial summations, and even though both sides would’ve been equally effective in one-third of the time, it was still a fascinating proposition.

For reference purposes, as it is with all criminal proceedings, the prosecution issues their closing, then the defense gets their shot, and the state finishes it up with a rebuttal argument. The logic being that the prosecution’s loftier beyond-any-reasonable-doubt standard gives them a little more leeway.

With 2022 summations essentially becoming PowerPoint presentations, both sides plug into a central “feed” that displays the closing exhibits on one or two big screen TVs, as well as each attorney’s laptop.

Lastly, the courtroom gallery was generally at full capacity until later in the afternoon.

1. The state’s closing

Lead prosecutor Greg Sams started exactly where he should’ve started with the bizarre railroad track positioning of Kate King’s body and the inexplicable state of her running clothes. He explained that:

  • No human being could naturally fall into that position
  • Kate, who owned 9 running bras, was found wearing a twisted frilly magenta underwire bra pulled up over her right nipple.
  • Her running shorts were untied and she wasn’t wearing any underwear
  • One of her ankle height running socks was put on upside down
  • Her running shirt was pulled up over one breast

This was the strongest part of Sam’s closing. I don’t care how drunk a woman is, she’s not going running in an underwire bra, much less a twisted underwire bra. There’s no doubt in my mind that someone else dressed her.

Sams also made points when he described how Kate had no injuries consistent with a fall on railroad ballast, sinking the defense contention that she collapsed from sudden cardiac arrhythmia (SCA) while walking or running on the tracks.

Though this evidence wasn’t nearly as strong, Sams did a capable job of noting the injuries that were likely the result of Kate being strangled. A jury might’ve been confused by some of the medical terms, but this isn’t a jury trial, and a veteran judge will have no problem with it.

I would’ve saved the strongest evidence for last closing, but Sams returned to his staged death scene theory noting that Kate wasn’t wearing:
The cellphone armband carrier she always wore on runs

  • The earpods she regularly wore on runs
  • The contacts she put in the first thing every morning

The lack of contact lenses at the purported death scene was particularly damning evidence.

But then Sams went off on an ineffective tangent in which he tried to impeach Shadwicks’ police interview claim that he didn’t keep tabs on his wife. But what husband, when faced with their wife’s potential infidelity, wouldn’t try to look up her paramour and track her expenses during long absences. It’s hardly the stuff of stalking legend.

The prosecution did a much better job using Shadwick’s browser history to contradict a great deal of his two-day police interview assertions. For example, King told the Geneva Police he didn’t know the name of his wife’s “paramour” when he’d clearly googled it two weeks before.

What struck me most from those interview clips is, if you ever commit a murder – and I’d certainly advise against it – this case is a perfect example of why you should NEVER talk to the police. King’s perceived cooperation did not help his cause.

In the end, I would say that Sams’ initial closing was more than passable.

2. The defense’s closing

Perhaps there’s no point in a bench trial, but there were only the briefest of flashes of Kathleen Zellner’s legendary self-righteous indignation laced summations. Her closing revolved around these central themes:

  • The state must meet a higher burden and they didn’t prove the time or cause of death
  • The investigation was a “misguided” and there was a “rush to judgement”
  • The state’s expert witnesses contradicted each other
  • Kate was still alive when the Metra employees and GPD found her
  • No one saw Shadwick put Kate on the tracks and there was no mud on his shoes
  • Shadwick’s initial interview grief and his cooperation with the GPD are proof of innocence

We’ll save her burden of proof contention for last.

Zellner’s “rush” and “misguided” arguments would’ve been far more plausible had she offered some sort of theory for why someone else might’ve killed Kate, or why she was purportedly walking or running on railroad track ballast with a 0.15 blood alcohol content at 6 a.m. in the morning.

Zellner argued that the state’s experts couldn’t compete with the defense’s, but then she hung her hat on the freight train engineer who claimed he thought he saw “a little breathing” while calling in the body on the tracks. I certainly wouldn’t take the word of a railroad employee to establish a time of death.

I’m not surprised that no one saw Shadwick put Kate’s body on the tracks. As busy as that Union Pacific line is, there are 10-plus minute gaps between trains which would provide more than enough time for someone to dump her dead body on the tracks in that generally uninhabited area. And the nearby Route 25 crossing is above the tracks so no motorist would’ve seen her.

The defense also contended that it was wet day, but no mud was found on Shadwick’s shoes, which the prosecution neatly countered by noting there was no mud on Kate’s shoes, either.

As far as “grief” and “cooperation” equal “innocence” goes, not even a jury would buy that “logic.” And the contradictory experts become immaterial because, in the end, their testimony doesn’t matter.

But here’s where Zellner’s closing completely fell apart. She claimed Kate didn’t fall from a standing position, but that she first went to her knees, and then leaned forward on her hands before collapsing from SAC. That theory may be more consistent with Kate’s injuries, but it doesn’t begin to explain her inhuman body position.

Zellner also argued that Kate’s bra was pulled up because, when she felt those early SCA effects, she panicked and tried to flag down a train to get help. But there’s no evidence of any other Metra engineer seeing her alive, and why would she try to flag down a train when the police found her cellphone near her right hand?

While that might explain why her bra was pulled up, but that scenario doesn’t begin to explain the twisted underwire bra. Sometimes it’s better not to make a point than it is to make one that plays right into the prosecution’s hands.

But the most fascinating part of her closing came when Zellner countered Sams’ “staging” argument by insisting that Shadwick wasn’t dumb enough to contrive the whole railroad thing. “Who would be stupid enough to deposit Kate on the railroad tracks when they could’ve placed her body near a running path or in the forest,” Zellner asked.

Zellner clearly had to take summation risks to have any shot at a favorable verdict, but opening that door was a really bad idea. Considering the evidence and having seen so much of the police interview video, Shadwick strikes me as someone of low average intelligence. We can’t all be geniuses, right? If you add the bizarre body position to the strange state of Kate’s clothing to the missing contact lenses, I had no problem believing this was the best King could come up with.

And it almost worked, too!

Had the first train through that area been westbound, it would’ve been much more difficult for the engineer to see Kate’s head draped over the rail from a straight on perspective. That engineer wouldn’t have had the benefit of the wide-angle view of his eastbound counterpart. So, that train would’ve likely struck Kate, vaporizing the upper third of her body putting a potential suicide theory well within the realm of reasonable doubt.

As the result of a rather eerie “coincidence,” the westbound train headed for Geneva wasn’t the next one because it had to stop for mechanical difficulties.

Early in her summation, Zellner asked the judge, “Are we going to convict this man on the basis of a twisted bra?” Of course not! That single consideration wouldn’t be nearly enough to meet that reasonable doubt burden. But when you consider the totality of the circumstantial evidence aligned against Mr. King, I don’t see any other outcome.

My recurring thought throughout Zellner’s somewhat disjointed summation was it would’ve been far more effective if it were a jury trial. But a veteran felony court judge? They tend to be a little smarter than twelve people who can’t get out of jury duty.

Sams’ rebuttal was four times longer than necessary, but it generally worked.

He attacked the lack of expert testimony as to why Kate perished from SCA on that day as opposed to at least four other binge drinking episodes. And his counterargument to Zellner’s “she was still alive when they found her contention” was particularly compelling.

Sams correctly noted that none of that testimony mattered. The Illinois statute reads that all the defendant has to do is “contribute” to the victim’s death to be charged and convicted. So, whether Kate died at home or on those tracks is immaterial. All the prosecution has to prove is her husband contributed to her death – beyond any and all reasonable doubt – and that’s exactly what they did.

Barring an unforeseen delay, Judge Barsanti will render his decision on August 12 at 1:30 p.m. in courtroom 319. And it will be a guilty verdict.


Author’s note:

Despite being my longest column, we did not nearly cover the totality of the closing arguments and all the nuance involved. My plan is to issue a DOA Podcast that fills in those missing blanks shortly. I’ll keep you posted.

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