SPRINGFIELD — A Rantoul man whose attorney apparently didn't understand the nuances of felony murder charges will get a new trial.
The Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield ruled Wednesday that Juvon Mays, 32, received ineffective assistance from Jacksonville attorney Ronald Kesinger in 2009, resulting in his conviction for the first-degree murder of Corinthian Spinks, 32, and subsequent sentence of 60 years in prison.
Mays was also convicted of home invasion for forcing his way into Mr. Spinks' apartment in the 1400 block of Hobson Drive, Rantoul, on Dec. 20, 2008. Mr. Spinks died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.
The appeals court found that Presiding Judge Tom Difanis erred by not granting Mays a new trial based on Kesinger's ineffective assistance. The case has been sent back to Champaign County for a new trial.
Attorneys for Mays argued on appeal that Kesinger wrongfully shared confidential client information with former Champaign County prosecutor Duke Harris just days before trial that resulted in Harris filing new charges on the day of trial.
They also argued that Kesinger failed to explain the felony murder rule to Mays before he took the stand and essentially confessed to the offenses.
The appellate justices agreed that Kesinger did both those things to the detriment of his client.
Kesigner's sharing of that confidential information in Mays' case and his handling of another client's case resulted in the Illinois Supreme Court suspending his license to practice law for six months in 2013. Kesinger has been licensed to practice since 1973 and frequently appears in Champaign County criminal cases.
According to the appellate ruling, Harris filed three new charges against Mays on the day of trial in August 2009. Two were for felony murder alleging he was accountable for the actions of the shooter, and one was for home invasion.
Harris filed them because five days earlier he had received a letter from Kesinger, which Harris characterized as "tantamount to a confession to felony murder."
In the letter, Kesinger said that Mays, who had initially denied having anything to do with the shooting, changed his story to say that the shooting was accidental. Mays claimed that his cousin, Brian Shaw, had the gun and that it accidentally fired as Mays and Shaw stood outside Mr. Spinks' apartment, where they had gone to recover property they believed Mr. Spinks had stolen earlier from Mays' apartment across the hall.
Kesinger further told the prosecutor that after the gun discharged, both Mays and Shaw went in and asked Mr. Spinks' wife where the property was.
Kesinger said his purpose in telling that to Harris was to request the prosecutor reinterview the witnesses and offer immunity 'in order to obtain the truth.'"
At a May 2013 hearing before Difanis to determine if Kesinger was ineffective, Mays testified that he took the stand at his original trial on the advice of Kesinger, who had talked to him about involuntary manslaughter and second degree murder but never about the possibility of being held accountable for the actions of another.
Difanis said at that hearing that Kesinger's letter to Harris had no effect on the outcome of the trial and that had the state stuck with its original murder charge, the jury still would have been instructed about felony murder. Difanis said there was other circumstantial evidence to show Mays had entered the apartment.
In his proceedings before the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Kesinger said he sent the letter to Harris hoping for a plea offer to a lesser-included offense.
The appeals court opinion was written by Justice Thomas Appleton, who said Kesinger denied his client the right to have a jury decide his guilt or innocence.
"The fact that Kesinger, throughout the trial, blatantly tried to convince the jury defendant committed involuntary manslaughter, not murder, by promoting the fact that defendant and Shaw tried to enter Spinks' apartment when the gun accidentally discharged, effectively constitutes no representation at all for defendant. Kesinger, by his letter to the State, not only prompted it to file the additional charges of which defendant was convicted, but he repeatedly and unequivocally conceded defendant's guilt," Appleton wrote.
Appleton also included in his opinion a reference to a letter that a juror had sent to Difanis after the trial, complaining of Kesinger's performance.
"I could easily look back on the trial and the testimony and see some instances where further questioning of witnesses would have possibly provided reasonable doubt," the juror wrote. "It is unfortunate that I am left with the feeling of rendering the correct verdict based on the evidence presented to me but being unsettled that the result for (Mays) could have been different with a more adequate defense."
Mays was the only person charged with Mr. Spinks' murder.