MONTICELLO – Trial dates are set for two of the three suspects in the murder of a Hammond man, while the third person accused, a male juvenile, continues his fight to keep his trial closed to the public and media.
At separate pre-trial hearings last week, Blayton Cota, 20, of Granite City and Jerome Schmidt, 18, of Springfield, appeared with their previously-appointed public defenders. Previously, they had told the court they had intended to hire their own attorneys, but neither were able to. Judge Dana Rhoades approved the reappointments of Public Defender Tara Grabarczyk to represent Cota. Public Defender George Vargas will represent Schmidt.
Cota, Schmidt, and the juvenile, are accused of being involved in the fatal shooting of 64-year-old Michael Brown of Hammond. Prosecutors say Brown caught them breaking into his garage in the early morning hours of Jan. 26. He confronted them and one of the suspects shot Brown, according to court documents.
Both have pre-trial dates on Dec. 5. The trials are expected to start in January.
A motion filed by prosecutors to move the juvenile suspect from juvenile court to adult court was denied by the judge, but the court did grant the State’s motion to designate the case as an Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile proceeding. That means the hearings will be open to the public, unless the judge finds the hearings should be closed for the protection of any party, victim or witness.
But the juvenile’s lawyer, Dan Clifton, submitted a motion to reconsider that ruling. That hearing is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19 at 1:30 p.m.
The EJJ statute applies to any child at least 13 years old who is a suspect in a felony offense. The child has a right to a jury trial, and the jury is open to the public. If the trial results in a plea, finding, or guilty verdict, the court imposes sentences under the Juvenile Court Act and the Unified Code of Corrections, but the criminal sentence is stayed. If the child successfully finishes the juvenile sentence, the adult sentence is vacated.
When the judge asked the defense if they would like the trial to be open to the public, the juvenile shook his head no several times.