Former St. Clair County Judge Michael Cook slurred his speech while instructing jurors at a March murder trial, according to defendant Stanley Muse who now seeks a new trial. But State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly’s office said it didn’t matter because Cook provided jurors with instructions in writing.
Kelly’s argument reflects the difficulty he faces in preserving guilty verdicts and pleas that Cook entered prior to his arrest on heroin possession charges in May.
On Oct. 2, Circuit Judge Robert Haida ordered a new trial for murder suspect William Cosby, who was convicted by jurors on April 23.
Kelly’s assistant prosecutor Deborah Phillips wrote in Cosby’s case that Kelly “agreed to allow some defendants to withdraw previously entered pleas of guilty.”
Jurors convicted Muse on March 13, three days after Cook found the dead body of Judge Joe Christ at the Cook family hunting lodge in Pike County.
Both men moved for new trials, alleging various errors on Cook’s part.
In May, Pike County Sheriff and Coroner Paul Petty determined that cocaine intoxification killed Christ.
On May 22, federal agents arrested Cook at the home of alleged heroin dealer Sean McGilvery.
On May 23, Kelly moved to substitute other judges for Cook in hundreds of cases. In his motion for substitution, Kelly wrote that he actively assisted in a federal investigation involving Cook.
Chief Judge John Baricevic assigned the sentencing of Muse and Cosby to Haida.
On Aug. 16, public defenders for Muse and Cosby amended their motions for new trials to add claims that Cook’s addiction tainted their trials.
Charles Baricevic, son of Chief Judge Baricevic, wrote for Cosby that “criminal activity may have occurred during the course of trial.”
In response to the Cosby amended motion, Phillips wrote on Sept. 16 that Cosby failed to establish that Cook committed errors or that his conduct prejudiced Cosby.
She wrote that overwhelming evidence established his guilt, and that even if Kelly had known of the investigation, the result would have been the same.
On behalf of Muse, Erin Conner wrote that Kelly may have known or had reason to know that federal agents were investigating Cook. She wrote that Cook slurred his speech.
"Defense counsel noticed that Mr. Cook had slurred speech during the reading of the jury instructions," Conner wrote.
Phillips countered Muse with a similar argument made in the Cosby case. On Sept. 25, Phillips argued that slurred speech didn’t affect the Muse verdict.
"[A]ssuming such occurred, counsel fails to establish nexus between the later arrest of Cook and the slurred speech or explain how this 'slurred speech' during the reading of jury instructions prejudiced the defendant, especially since jurors received a written copy of all jury instructions," Phillips wrote.
Haida meanwhile had held a hearing for Cosby, and Phillips followed through with a brief on Oct. 2.
Phillips wrote that Cosby either pre-supposed that Kelly possessed proof or strong enough suspicion around April 26, to seek Cook’s removal.
“Defendant cannot possibly suggest that the People would file motions involving a sitting judge absent sufficient proof,” Phillips wrote.
In Haida’s Oct. 2 order granting a new trial, he wrote, “The court has carefully considered the facts, law and arguments of counsel and in the interest of justice grants defendant’s motion for a new trial.”
He set a status conference in Cosby’s case for Oct. 30. He will also hear Muse’s motion for a new trial that day.