Genetic tests connected former St. Clair County judge Michael Cook more closely to a “one-hitter” cocaine device than the late judge Joe Christ, according to state police laboratory reports.
Scientist Kelly Biggs, who compared Cook’s DNA to that of the one-hitter’s major user, estimated that Cook and one other Caucasian among nine billion would fit the profile.
She excluded Cook as the minor user. In a previous report she had excluded Christ as the major user.
The heading on her report, four days after Cook’s arrest on heroin charges, identifies Cook as suspect and Christ as victim.
The lab reports were included in a file that Pike County sheriff and coroner Paul Petty produced involving Christ’s death. The file remained confidential during the investigation, and became public after Cook pleaded guilty and his appeal rights lapsed.
The Record obtained the file June 26.
Reports of Petty and deputy Matt Frazier show that on March 15, 2013, the day of Christ’s funeral, Cook told Petty an attorney gave Christ the one hitter as a gift for becoming a judge.
The reports show Petty suspected it belonged to Cook.
According to Frazier, Cook told Petty that he and several others like him in the judicial system used illegal drugs.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton of Fairview Heights, who received Petty’s file, found no basis for tying Cook to Christ’s death.
He filed no drug charges against anyone in the judicial system except Cook and probation officer James Fogarty, who admitted he sold cocaine to Christ.
Fogarty successfully argued that the government couldn’t enhance his sentence for causing Christ’s death because he didn’t sell the cocaine that killed Christ.
Wigginton did not determine the source of the cocaine that caused his death or the identity of the attorney who provided the one hitter.
Wigginton’s spokesman, James Porter, said on July 8 that the DNA tests did not prove the one hitter belonged to Cook.
“There was not enough certainty to lay a criminal case on somebody,” Porter said.
On Cook’s claim that others used drugs, he said, “We tracked down every indication of anybody using drugs, and we found insufficient evidence to charge anyone else.”
On the involvement of attorneys, he said Wigginton’s office is in a disclosure process with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
“That is an ongoing process right now,” Porter said.
Petty’s investigative file
Christ was pronounced dead by emergency responders at 6:47 p.m. on March 10 at Cook’s hunting lodge near Pleasant Hill.
Frazier arrived first for the sheriff, at 6:58 p.m. Chief deputy Steve Lehr, close behind, took Cook to a private room.
Lehr wrote later that Cook said he and Christ came to the lodge about every other weekend to hunt or get away and that they had come up this weekend for the Quail Unlimited banquet on Saturday night in Pittsfield.
He wrote that they went with Brian Hill, who runs an outfitting service for duck hunters.
He wrote that Cook told him they got home and drank some beer, and Brian left around 10:30 or 11 p.m.
“The last time Cook saw Christ alive was about the same time, and had last saw him lying on the couch in the front room,” Lehr wrote.
He wrote that Cook said he got up around 3 or 4 p.m., and went to get Christ.
“After calling out his name and him not responding, he found Christ in the bathroom lying on his side,” Lehr wrote. “He thought he might have tried to revive Christ for about 20 minutes before calling for help.”
Petty called Lehr and said an autopsy would be done. Lehr told Christ’s family.
Monday morning, Petty delivered the body to pathologist Amanda Youmans at the McLean County coroner’s office in Bloomington.
“While disrobing him, a clear vial containing a white powdery substance fell to the ground from around his pants and waist area,” Petty wrote later.
He wrote that he field tested it for cocaine and it tested positive.
Petty wrote that on his way back to Pittsfield he received a call from St. Clair County coroner Rick Stone, inquiring about the cause of death.
Petty said it was unknown, and no further facts were discussed.
He wrote that on his way home he also talked with a member of Christ’s family who reacted with natural surprise to evidence of drug activity.
“I explained to her that I would not be sharing this information with anyone and would ask she do the same,” Petty wrote.
“It was apparent to me that she was not in the judge’s circle and would not be sharing the information with anyone.”
Back in Pittsfield, Petty called Cook and set up a Tuesday lunch meeting.
Petty deflected news gatherers by saying death appeared to be from natural causes.
His ambiguity escaped St. Clair County chief judge John Baricevic and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, whose memorial statements attributed death to natural causes.
On Tuesday in Hardin, Cook told Petty he was aware of issues with Christ regarding sleep apnea and that he was overweight.
Petty wrote that Cook inquired as to the autopsy findings.
“I described an enlarged heart and asked if he was aware of any complaints prior to that day,” Petty wrote. Cook didn’t indicate he was aware of any such issues.
He wrote that Cook said Christ didn’t have television at home and would watch it at the cabin into the early morning hours.
Petty left Hardin with doubts, describing Cook’s actions as “wired in nature.”
“He appeared in my opinion to have more knowledge regarding facts surrounding Judge Christ’s death but was unwilling to disclose during our conversation,” Petty wrote.
“I gave him at least three separate opportunities to describe any knowledge of anything which might have caused his death to which I believed he was not being completely honest with me at the time.”
On Friday, the day of the funeral, Petty and Frazier drove to Belleville.
Petty called Cook and asked to meet him.
“He immediately asked if he needed to sign something,” Petty wrote.
He wrote that he told Cook he just wanted to speak with him.
“He asked if he was being arrested,” Petty wrote. “I advised him he was not being arrested.”
Petty explained he was in Belleville, and they agreed to meet at Hardee’s.
He wrote that Cook asked him if there was something wrong, and he indicated he needed to clarify some things so he could conclude the investigation.
At Hardee’s, Petty told Cook they found the cocaine device.
“I asked him if he used cocaine,” Petty said. “He said he did not.”
Petty wrote that Cook squirmed in his seat.
He wrote that he asked Cook if he would submit to a urine test, and Cook’s reaction was that of someone considering such test.
He wrote that he informed Cook he didn’t care if he used cocaine, but he wanted him to be truthful in the event he did any further testing.
“He indicated that he in fact had used in the past, but had not used recently,” Petty wrote.
“I asked him if the cocaine was his. He immediately answered no. He further answered he had no idea he was using.
“I explained that I thought that to be the case and explained that I needed to confirm it was Judge Christ’s vial and not his.”
Petty wrote that he explained he would not be going on record with the conversation at that time and had no intention of ruining his life or discrediting Christ’s life.
“I explained that upon hearing his response, I knew what the answer was to my original question of the item being his,” Petty wrote.
He wrote that Cook indicated he would tell the truth.
“He explained that he believed Judge Christ got the item from a friend when he was appointed judge.”
He wrote that Cook indicated that Christ brought it out while driving to the cabin, and that Cook acknowledged he took a hit.
Petty explained he would like a DNA test, and Cook indicated he believed that would violate his civil rights.
He wrote that Cook indicated he would like to speak with an attorney and didn’t want to answer any more questions.
He wrote that he asked Cook not to answer any more questions but simply to listen.
He wrote that he explained his options of determining whose cocaine it was, and was it on Christ, or did it fall out of Cook’s pocket while he assisted Christ.
Cook got back in the conversation and indicated he lost a sibling and went through a bout with depression.
Petty wrote that Cook indicated he had been a social user but didn’t believe he had a problem.
“I explained that having a judge use illegal drugs is in fact a problem that needs to be addressed immediately,” Petty wrote,
He wrote that Cook agreed and indicated he believed this incident would cause him to change his life.
He wrote that Cook didn’t want the facts to come out as they might jeopardize a fund he established for Christ’s children.
In a separate report on the interview, Frazier wrote that Petty asked Cook about the time of his 9-1-1 call and the time he indicated he found the deceased.
He wrote that Cook couldn’t remember the exact time but remembered looking at Christ’s watch and thinking it was closer to four.
“Judge Cook since remembered the time just changed that night and Judge Christ’s watch may have been off an hour,” Frazier wrote.
“Sheriff Petty told Judge Cook that would make a little more sense but it still didn’t explain away the cocaine.”
Frazier wrote that Petty told Cook he received calls about drugs being involved, and that he personally knew about false rumors on elected officials.
“Sheriff Petty explained if the news got wind over what was located he may have a hard time,” he wrote.
“Sheriff Petty explained he wasn’t out to ruin any lives if possible but if the evidence showed Judge Christ died of a cocaine overdose and he provided it there could be a real issue.
“I inference that both of them were referring to Drug Induced Homicide.
“Judge Cook stated there were several people like him within the judicial system in his area that were a part of this activity.
“Judge Cook advised that Judge Christ received the drug paraphernalia as a gift for becoming judge.”
He wrote that Cook believed it was given to Christ by another attorney.
Around 10 that evening, at a family event in Pittsfield, Petty took a call from a man who identified himself as an attorney from the Belleville area representing Cook.
Petty wrote that the man advised him he was to have no more contact with Cook and that he was getting him help.
“I was extremely brief and short with the caller and concluded without confirming the person’s name,” Petty wrote.
He wrote that he returned the call as he had the number, and the man advised he was an attorney and counselor for Cook.
He wrote that the man assured him Cook would get help in the upcoming days.
He wrote that the man indicated he hoped for a good finding, but if cocaine was a factor, that would need to be dealt with.
In April, pathologist Amanda Youmans submitted a report finding cocaine intoxication as immediate cause of death.
“Adjacent to the body within the body bag is a clear and red colored plastic container containing abundant white powder crystalline substance,” Youmans wrote.
“Cocaine is a stimulant that can cause sudden death by induction of a cardiac arrhythmia, leading to cardiopulmonary arrest.
“Cocaine related deaths are not dose dependent.
“He has underlying heart disease, thus his heart is more susceptible to the toxic effects of cocaine.”
Petty’s statement that death appeared to be from natural causes held up until drug agents arrested Cook and Fogarty in May 2013.
At the same time they arrested Cook’s heroin supplier, Sean McGilvery of Belleville.