One year ago today, as judge and heroin user, Michael Cook presided over a murder trial less compelling than his own circumstances.
Everyone within the St. Clair County legal community knew that Cook had found judge Joe Christ dead the previous Sunday at the Cook family hunting lodge, but not everyone knew they abused drugs there.
Cook and Christ’s choice of a wild weekend road trip shows how their judgment had warped, for they must have sensed impending exposure and ruin.
Sean McGilvery, Cook’s dealer, had called before the two judges left town on Friday, March 8 after federal agents questioned him. Agents had first questioned McGilvery two months earlier, according to court documents.
Whether Cook and Christ knew it or not, agents had suspected for two years that they abused drugs.
Drug dealer Justin Cahill offered that information in plea negotiations in 2011, and an anonymous “former drug user” who spent a lot of time with Cook corroborated it.
Yet Cook faced no consequences, and Christ advanced from prosecutor to judge.
Christ died March 10, 2013, just days after taking the robe.
Cook returned from the fatal trip to a judge’s most solemn duty, a murder trial, knowing that Paul Petty, Pike County's sheriff and coroner, would conduct an autopsy.
In Cook’s courtroom on March 13, jurors convicted Gregory Muse, but Muse would later win a new trial after alleging that Cook slurred his speech in jury instructions.
On March 15, according to an affidavit of Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Julie Neiger, Petty questioned Cook in Belleville.
“Judge Cook ultimately admitted using in the past, claiming he started his drug use after the death of a sibling,” Neiger wrote. "Judge Cook further admitted he used cocaine the day prior to Christ’s death, after Christ brought it out as the two drove to their hunting trip in Pike County.”
Still, Cook’s behavior did not change.
On four dates in April, according to Neiger, agents watching McGilvery’s house saw Cook drive up, enter a side door and leave 10 to 30 minutes later.
“On one occasion, Judge Cook was followed to his place of employment, the St. Clair County Courthouse in Belleville,” Neiger wrote.
She wrote that on April 25, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams signed a warrant authorizing global tracking for Cook’s Sport Trac vehicle.
It detected 15 visits to the vicinity of McGilvery’s house in 18 days, according to the affidavit, with agents confirming his presence at the house 10 times.
On May 15, Neiger applied for a warrant to search Cook’s home at 1817 10th Fairway Drive in Belleville.
She dated the start of the investigation at July 29, 2011, when Cahill agreed to plead guilty and serve nine years for selling oxycodone that he called synthetic heroin.
Neiger wrote that Cahill said Buck Reamer obtained OxyContin pills from him and gave them to Cook.
Cahill said he and Reamer went to the home of probation officer James Fogarty, supplier to Christ, on numerous occasions and observed males that Reamer referred to as “officials," according to her affidavit.
She wrote that Cahill said he didn’t know them, but Reamer identified one as Cook and the other as Christ.
Neiger's affidavit also states that in June 2012, Cooperating Individual No. 1 came to law enforcement and reported having seen Cook use cocaine hundreds of times.
Neiger wrote that this individual saw Cook abuse prescription drugs 50 to 60 times and said Cook used drugs for the past 10 years; plumber Tom Lee obtained heroin from McGilvery and provided it to Cook; and that Lee said Cook met a “dirty doctor” in Hawaii who prescribed Percocet for him.
She wrote that Cooperating Individual No. 1 said Cook eventually began buying from McGilvery.
“Judge Cook used heroin at Lee’s home four times a week and had access to Lee’s home with a key Lee provided Judge Cook,” Neiger wrote.
She added that this same individual saw Cook mix heroin with cocaine and Xanax and provided details about guns Cook owned.
Last May, Petty announced Christ died of cocaine intoxication.
Agents arrested Cook, charging him with possessing heroin and using it while possessing firearms. They also arrested McGilvery and Fogarty.
Cook waived indictment, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Proud released him on $10,000 unsecured bond.
In June, U.S. District Judge William Stiehl delayed trial so Cook could seek treatment.
In August, Stiehl recused himself.
Chief Judge David Herndon determined no Southern District judges could take the case, and assigned senior judge Joe Billy McDade from the Central District in Peoria.
Cook and prosecutors agreed on an 18 month sentence, and Cook pleaded guilty in November.
McDade accepted the plea, but in February he rejected the sentence.
Cook can withdraw the plea and stand trial, or he can bargain a longer sentence and see if McDade will approve it.
McDade scheduled a hearing for March 28, and set a March 19 deadline for notice of a new plea agreement.
Fogarty negotiated a five year sentence and McGilvery a 10 year sentence.