St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert Haida denied a motion to drop the State's case against David E. Fields, who is alleged to have killed Carl Silas at his Belleville apartment on Dec. 30, 2016.
Fields' attorney Brittany Kimble of Chicago argued on Friday that special prosecutor Charles Colburn specifically "goaded" the defense into calling for a mistrial by asking a witness a question that was barred from evidence, and for that mistake, the State should not have the opportunity to retry him.
Haida granted mistrial on July 26 - on the third day of testimony - after State's witness Michael Taylor, then 16, stated he had overheard a conversation between Fields and Silas the day before the murder in which Fields was asking for a gun.
Several weeks before trial started, Haida ruled certain testimony was off limits, including mention of Fields asking for a gun or having had a gun before the murder.
That ruling relates to one of the State's star witnesses, Silas's girlfriend Jamie Lott, who told police Fields had a shotgun she identified as the murder weapon. But Silas was not killed with a shotgun. A state police evidence officer testified that the bullets that killed Silas came from a weapon in the family of AK-47s. The weapon that was used in the murder has not been recovered.
"It is apparent that the State asked his witness this line of questioning on purpose because he supported his position when the defense asked for a mistrial," states the motion to dismiss. "The State specifically indicated that his witness did nothing wrong because the motion in limine did not cover Michael Taylor and Michael Taylor was free to testify abut the conversation which allegedly occurred between Carl Silas and Mr. Fields."
The motion further states that once Haida indicated that Taylor's testimony was disqualified under his pre-trial ruling, "the State changed its argument to indicate that he didn't know what Mr. Taylor was going to say."
"Which is indeed disingenuous to say the least," the motion states. "It was clear that Mr. Taylor was going into forbidden territory, and the defense objected for that purpose. Further, the State has an affirmative obligation to prepare their witness abut what they can and cannot testify to. It is clear, that did not occur."
Kimble said at the hearing that she objected to Colburn's line of questioning from the time Taylor took the stand and stated he had overhead a conversation between Fields and Silas.
"I objected at the time because I knew where the line of questioning was going," she said.
The motion to dismiss states that her objections were sustained and then, "The State asked the question again and Michael Taylor stated that Mr. Fields was asking Carl Silas for a gun."
Colburn objected to Kimble's characterization of his statements at trial. He countered that Taylor's responses were not direct violations of Haida's order regarding testimony. He also argued that he did not intentionally elicit testimony that would cause a mistrial.
"I prepared Mr. Taylor as best as I could," he said, having spent hours with the witness before trial. He made the point that the State asked Haida to reconsider granting a mistrial.
"The State strongly denies" having purposely caused a mistrial, Colburn said.
Kimble argued to dismiss under the double jeopardy clause, in part citing People v. Walker, which holds that a prosecution witness's "intentional reference to evidence that the trial court has excluded should be imputed to the State, for purposes of determining whether 'prosecutorial overreaching' occurred."
She further argued that because of the high level of media attention the case has attracted, the jury pool has been prejudiced by the State's "error."
"Because of the State's error and the media, the prospective jurors know about the conversation between Mr. Fields and Carl Silas," the motion states. "However, because of our motion in limine, the prospective jurors are still not privy to the entire story of what allegedly happened on that day. The prospective jurors are only left knowing that Mr. Fields allegedly asked for a firearm from Carl Silas and then supposedly killed him hours later with a gun."
But, Haida was not persuaded, relying on a 2000 supreme court decision in "Nelson" and a 2013 appellate court decision in "Bennett."
He said that in order for him to grant the defense motion, "I would have to find that Mr. Colburn intentionally and purposefully" caused the mistrial.
"I can't find that," he said.
Ineffective pre-trial preparation or "inartful" questions do not amount to intentional violations of court rulings on forbidden testimony, he indicated.
Haida said he remembered the witness was "scared and shaking."
"I know there was fear and apprehension," he said. He attributed Taylor's mistake to his age, inexperience and "high level of anxiety."
Re-trial has been set for Dec. 3 with a Nov. 2 pre-trial conference. If the sides cannot align witnesses for trial in December, an alternative trial date was set for Feb. 25 with a Jan. 11 pre-trial conference.