MOUNT VERNON – Former 20th Circuit chief judge John Baricevic improperly denied a prisoner’s petition due to a trivial error, Fifth District appellate judges ruled on April 1.
The appellate court ordered a hearing in circuit court for Lason Elliott, a Menard inmate seeking to overturn a murder conviction from 2011.
Justices found that a difference between a date he wrote on a certificate and a date his notary wrote on the petition was of no consequence.
“Either the petitioner’s date on his certificate of service or the notary’s date on his pro se petition is an error,” Justice Thomas Welch wrote. “We find that, based on the evidence before us, it was a trivial one.”
Justices Judy Cates and John Barberis concurred.
Baricevic brought Elliott to trial on a charge that he shot Martin Lampe to death behind the Route 3 Liquor Store in Sauget in 2010.
Cathy MacElroy represented Elliott and the late Joe Christ represented the state.
No witness positively identified Elliott, but jurors found him guilty.
Baricevic sentenced him for 40 years, and Elliott appealed.
Appellate defender Ellen Curry argued that MacElroy should have objected to hearsay testimony from detective John Parisi.
Parisi told jurors that Kiewauna Williams, a second passenger in the getaway car, identified Elliott in an interview.
At trial, Williams testified that she didn’t see the other passenger in the room.
Fifth District judges affirmed the verdict in 2013.
“Parisi’s testimony was proper because it was offered to show the steps taken in his investigation of the crime and how he learned of the defendant, not to identify the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime,” Welch wrote.
Elliott petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for review, and the Justices denied review on Jan. 29, 2014.
His option to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court expired on April 29 that year, which meant that a deadline for further action in state court would fall on Oct. 29.
On Nov. 5, the circuit clerk filed a petition to vacate the conviction.
Menard notary Jennifer Clendenin signed it and dated it Oct. 21.
Elliott signed a certificate of service and dated it Oct. 20.
He claimed neither trial counsel nor appellate counsel did a proper job.
His petition stated that sergeant Thomas Trice admitted he mentioned Elliott’s nickname, Doughboy, to Williams in her interview; that witness Nicholas Bentmann implicated him on the night he was arrested for driving under the influence; and that Bentmann admitted he wasn’t charged for DUI.
Elliott quoted a series of witnesses who could not identify him, including a friend of the victim who said he saw a picture in the Evening Whirl newspaper.
He claimed Baricevic violated his right to a public trial by excluding his family from jury selection.
He claimed that Christ, who by then had died, used the proceedings to prevent selection of jurors who might hold the state to its highest burden of proof.
“By the time the defense counsel voiced her feeble objection, the state’s damage was already done,” Elliott wrote.
He wrote that jurors who had an issue with a weak case were excluded and the rest were indoctrinated to view circumstantial evidence in a more favorable light.
Baricevic found Elliott stated the gist of a constitutional claim, and he appointed Preston Johnson to represent Elliott at a hearing.
Johnson amended the complaint in 2015, and assistant state’s attorney John Trippi moved to dismiss it for lack of timeliness.
Trippi wrote that the date of mailing from Menard could not be accurately determined.
Baricevic held a hearing in August 2015, and dismissed the petition in September.
He wrote that Elliott didn’t comply with Supreme Court rules for filing.
“With the above ruling I need not rule on the merits of his claim,” he wrote.
Elliott appealed and succeeded, with the help of appellate defender Sonthonax SaintGermain of Springfield.
Welch wrote that the certificate of service complied with the Supreme Court rule and was facially valid, and that the trial court must now determine whether Elliott made a substantial showing of a constitutional violation.
On April 4, Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson assigned Elliott’s petition to associate judge Julie Katz.