Judge to receive capital litigation training

Ann Knef Aug. 10, 2006, 2:22am

Judge Weber during his swearing-in ceremony last year.

A former prosecutor who spent 25 years ensuring that bad guys served time and good guys got justice is hoping to return to the criminal justice system.

This time wearing a black robe.

After he completes capital litigation training in September, Madison County Circuit Judge Don W. Weber will be qualified to preside over capital cases-- ones which call for the death penalty.

Weber, a former Madison County state's attorney and prosecutor has previously tried five capital cases as a prosecutor. Since his appointment to the bench by the Illinois Supreme Court in November, Weber has presided over a civil docket.

Judicial assignments rarely include criminal and civil cases.

"I'm looking forward to handling criminal cases in the near future," said Weber.

The Illinois Supreme Court sponsors the capital litigation training, which is required for judges who preside over capital cases.

Weber said he has prosecuted more than 20 murder cases during his career and has also defended three accused murderers as a defense attorney.

In 1982, Weber, then Madison County State's Attorney, prosecuted Girvis Davis for the murder of an elderly woman, Esther Sepmeyer.

Davis was sentenced to death but the Illinois Supreme Court commuted the death sentence to life in prison. He was subsequently executed for an unrelated murder of an elderly victim in St. Clair County.

Weber also sought the death penalty in 1990 for Paula Sims, who was convicted of murdering her infant daughter, Heather.

Sims, who recently filed a petition for clemency, claimed that Heather was kidnapped by a masked gunman. She was found guilty.

At the sentencing hearing then Madison County State's Attorney Bill Haine argued unsuccessfully for the death penalty. Sims was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Her clemency petition will be heard by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in October.

In a recent interview, Weber said he has completed the mentoring program for new judges, which is mandated by the Illinois Supreme Court.

New judges are allowed to choose their mentor among the judges in the Third Judicial Circuit.

"Of the judges available, I felt that Judge (James) Hackett was the best choice. I have tried many criminal case and motions in front of Judge Hackett and have the greatest respect both for his knowledge of the law and for his courtroom demeanor and dedication to fairness.

"While Judge Hackett did not always rule in my favor, I knew that he treated both the defendant and the people of the state of Illinois fairly."

Weber, who is seeking election to a full term in November, said he thinks reforms introduced by Chief Judge Ann Callis (who is seeking retention in November) are "pretty good."

"I signed on to all of them," he said.

"It's up to the voters to decide if these are election year reforms...or long lasting (ones)," he said.

"This whole system could go back to the way it was on Nov. 8," said Weber.

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