Sedlacek decision is travesty of justice

The Madison County Record Oct. 25, 2009, 8:13am

To the editor:

When Madison County State's Attorney Bill Mudge refused to seek the death penalty for the man who murdered Pastor Fred Winters in cold blood, I thought to myself: "If the State doesn't seek the death penalty for a man who murdered a pastor in cold blood with premeditation and malice aforethought in the pastor's own church in front of his congregation on Sunday, when is the death penalty EVER appropriate?"

I was outraged at the decision not to seek the death penalty and to hide behind the sincere and grief stricken family as an excuse for not doing his job. But I decided not to speak out in deference to Pastor Winter's family. After all, life in prison was a hefty penalty. However, ice cream and cookies at some Mental Health Cottage is not.

Now that Mudge has abdicated his responsibility completely by agreeing to a "psychological analysis" from some egghead psychologist without even putting up a fight for justice, I strongly believe that someone, and I guess it has to be me, must now speak out about this travesty.

In the interest of fair disclosure, I want to say that I attended Maryville Baptist Church and was present for some of Pastor Winters' insightful, thoughtful, Bible –based sermons. They were delivered with a special flair, intellectual depth and appropriate and amusing anecdotes. The congregation is composed of the some of the finest people I have ever met. They are still grief-stricken over the loss of their Pastor. In fact, I was on my way to Maryville Baptist Church that day for the 11 a.m. service but the Church was closed because of the murder.

I also want to say I fully understand why Pastor Winters' family and congregation have already forgiven his murderer. Their Savior, Jesus Christ, forgave his murderers from The Cross and I would have been disappointed in them had they not also forgiven Sedlacek. However, Bill Mudge must be "the scourge for evildoers."

He has the obligation to exact appropriate "public vengeance" for crimes against citizens and to be the crime-victims' advocate in our criminal justice system. Apparently, Mudge does not understand the difference between his role and that of the victims.

Bill, this is an adversary system. It doesn't work unless both sides have an advocate. Sedlacek apparently has a number of advocates, the Public Defender's Office and the egghead psychologist hired by the Court to name but two. Bill—it was your job to advocate for the victim. You have twice failed miserably.

Having tried over 30 murder cases myself, and having dealt with the insanity defense on a half dozen occasions, I can tell you that there was a good chance that you could have defeated this preposterous defense had you the experience or the stomach to do your job. Let me point out a few things to you.

While the law on the insanity defense has changed a little bit over the years, we still use basically a two-prong test in Illinois: Did the defendant appreciate the criminality (i.e. wrongfulness) of his act and was the defendant able to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law (i.e. was the criminal the "victim" of his own irresistible impulse).

In this case we have substantial evidence that Sedlacek both knew what he was doing was wrong and was able to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law if he chose to do so. Here are just a few examples of how the evidence shows this.

Sedlacek planned and premeditated this murder for days in advance. This is shown by his entry of "death day" on his calendar many days before he actually committed the murder. He planned "death day" for Sunday, when he knew Pastor Winters would be tending to his congregation at his church in Maryville. He went to the church, not to movies or on a picnic, to shoot his victim with a gun. He chose a gun with bullets, not a banana or a coconut as his weapon. He picked out the exact person he wanted to kill from a crowd of about 1,000 people.

This murderer did not think he was Napoleon out to get the Duke of Wellington. He planned to kill a particular pastor from a particular church at a particular time on a particular day with a pre-selected weapon. And he waited until the service started, when he knew the pastor would be in the pulpit, to go on his murderous rampage. After two shots (two is important because it also shows intent and that he knew what he was doing) he tried to escape. The act of escape is clear evidence of guilt and of the fact that he knew what he just did was wrong.

Without a doubt, Sedlacek knew what he was doing was wrong and was able to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Otherwise, why did he calmly wait for "death day" and why did he try to escape?

As a former state's attorney, a member of the Illinois Capital Litigation Bar and as a prosecutor who has actually tried murder cases (unlike our current state's attorney), it is unbelievable to me that Mudge didn't find a psychologist of his own to refute the findings of the court-appointed psychologist.

You left Judge Tognarelli, whose knowledge and integrity cannot be questioned, no choice. In an adversary system, Bill, we, the people, rely on you, the prosecutor, to produce evidence to support the prosecution. It is simply unacceptable for you to lay down and accept, and even stipulate, to the psychological report in this case without finding your own expert or even demanding a hearing.

I tried several insanity case defenses, the two I remember most were an attempted murder in the late '70s and a murder case a few years ago. In both of these cases the defense had an "expert" psychologist and I had none. (Mark Twain once described an "expert" as a liar from another county and I agree.) I didn't need an expert. As here, the facts speak for themselves. The jury rejected the defense "experts" and both defendants were convicted.

The test for fitness to stand trial is a little different than the test for insanity, but the same principles and facts discussed above apply. The court psychologist said Sedlacek would provide his attorneys with "inaccurate or illogical explanations" for his behavior and would be "unable to respond in a relevant manner during pleading or testimony."

As if Sedlacek had a logical explanation for murdering Pastor Winters or would be vital in helping his lawyers refute 1,000 eyewitnesses from the congregation and the mountains of evidence found at his house!

In my experience, these malicious and malingering defendants are quite able to miraculously recover their senses once the game is afoot and the trial for their own life begins. They know insanity is their only defense and they try to, and often do, fool the psychologist.

I am sure there are dozens of prosecution expert psychologists who would reach a different conclusion as to Sedlacek's fitness for trial or culpability for his dastardly crime. Presenting no prosecution expert witness but simply surrendering this case without a fight may fit in with Mudge's current ambitions, but it does not comport with a search for justice for Pastor Winters or his family or congregation.

Let me make a modest proposal. If the current state's attorney does not have the time or the stomach for this prosecution, I volunteer. If you can't find anyone on your current staff (you do have some good people) to vigorously prosecute this murderer, I will do it—for free.

Because the congregation's faith in "the conviction that truth will prevail" and justice for Pastor Winters require a different result than the one we just got.

Don Weber

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