Status of witness, special prosecutor undecided in Vermilion double-murder trial

Status of witness, special prosecutor undecided in Vermilion double-murder trial

DANVILLE — Court proceedings in a nearly 3-year-old double-homicide case in Vermilion County focused Tuesday on wrangling over a witness — and a defense push to have the special prosecutor handling the case disqualified.

Defense attorneys want to bar the testimony of Marquis Robinson, while prosecutors want to offer him immunity to ensure his cooperation in the case against 30-year-old Glen T. Torres Jr. of Indianapolis.

Torres was arrested in October 2015 for the shooting deaths of Theodore "Teddy" Hill, 27, and his girlfriend, Zarra Strickland, 28, both of Danville, whose bodies were found dumped Aug. 3, 2015, in a rural area west of the city and north of U.S. 150.

Investigators with the Vermilion County Sheriff's Department said that, according to eyewitnesses, the victims were shot in a car on Logan Avenue in Danville and their bodies driven to and dumped at a site on Western Avenue — a property to which Torres had a prior connection.

Mr. Hill's murder was allegedly in retaliation for a series of robberies and burglaries in Danville, according to the investigators.

In 2015, it was former Vermilion County State's Attorney Randy Brinegar who filed the eight counts of first-degree murder against Torres, who was being represented at that time by the office of Vermilion County Public Defender Jacqueline Lacy.

However, Lacy has since been elected state's attorney, so a special prosecutor — Jonathan McKay with the Illinois Attorney General's office — was appointed to prosecute Torres.

But on July 31, Torres' defense attorney, Leon Parker, filed a motion asking the court to disqualify McKay, arguing that Lacy is still involved in the prosecution because her office has agreed to offer Robinson "use immunity," protecting him from the state using his testimony if he is prosecuted.

According to court documents, Robinson is a witness the prosecution plans to call at trial, and his prior statements to investigators and a grand jury implicate Torres but also "give rise to potential criminal liability for his own admitted actions."

Robinson has never been charged in the case, but jurisdictional power to do so remains with the state's attorney's office.

Parker's motion was the subject of a hearing Tuesday before Vermilion County Circuit Judge Nancy Fahey. In his motion, Parker argues there has been "apparent communication and coordination" between Lacy and McKay that violates state rules of professional conduct and attorney-client privilege, and he states that to ensure a fair trial for his client, the AG's office should be recused from this case and Lacy ordered to have no further communication with any attorney prosecuting it.

Fahey said during Tuesday's short hearing that the question is who has the ability, in this case, to grant immunity. She also said she has concerns whether the state's attorney granting a material witness use immunity is helping McKay with his prosecution.

In documents submitted in response to the defense motion, McKay argued that Robinson is expected to be a witness in the murder trial and has admitted — in his grand jury testimony — to a level of involvement in the deaths of Mr. Hill and Ms. Strickland that could open himself up to criminal liability under the theory of accountability.

So, McKay continued, the AG inquired whether the state's attorney would agree to provide Robinson immunity and a proffer agreement (a written agreement permitting individuals to talk about their knowledge of crimes with supposed assurance statements will not be used against them in later proceedings) regarding Robinson. The state's attorneys office indicated it would honor a request, if made, according to McKay.

"No issues of trial strategy or issues of substance were discussed," McKay said in his response.

And no one has made a motion for Robinson to receive use immunity yet, as the trial has not yet started, McKay said.

"But ultimately, if the court determines that the AG, as special prosecutor, has authority to make the motion for use immunity at trial as opposed to the state's attorney, the AG is perfectly willing to do so," McKay said in his response. "However, because ... there is potential ambiguity in the law as to the appropriate party, in this particular case, to make such a motion, the AG needed to ensure that if needed, the state's attorney would be amenable to providing for the use immunity at trial if requested by the AG."

Fahey did not hear arguments or take the motion under consideration at Tuesday's hearing, and instead, instructed both attorneys to meet with Lacy about the matter. She continued the hearing on the motion to disqualify McKay to Sept. 12 and said that Lacy needs to be at that hearing as well.

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