Animal Cruelty Case Gets New Presiding Judge
Judge Christopher Donnelly bowed out in light of an anonymous letter he received that tried to persuade his judgment. Dawn Hamill was charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty and owner's neglect following a police raid on her property last year.
That number depends on whether Judge Anna Demacopoulos grants Dawn Hamill, the owner of Dazzle’s Painted Pastures Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, a jury trial.
Judge Christopher Donnelly, who has presided over the case since Hamill’s arrest in February 2011, recused himself from the case on Wednesday, moving the matter and its complexities to Demacopoulos’ courtroom.
Citing an anonymous letter he recently received invoking the testimony of one of the state's witnesses, Donnelly said he did not want to give the impression that his judgment had been influenced by an outside source.
At a hearing last month, Donnelly’s demeanor and voice suggested a worn patience for this enduring battle.
Hamill signed a jury waiver earlier this year and a bench trial commenced. Days after the state presented its evidence to Donnelly its key witness was arrested on charges of extortion. A federal indictment alleged that Cook County investigator Larry Draus had been under investigation for taking bribes at the time he was testifying against Hamill.
Donnelly declared a mistrial on grounds that Hamill was not able to properly cross-exam Draus and therefore unable to get a fair trial.
Although the case has started over again, Demacopoulos gave the courtroom the impression that a jury, rather than a bench, trial would have to be motioned and then argued for.
Hamill’s attorney, Purav Bhatt, plans to do as much on May 29.
There has been no word from prosecutors on whether Draus will be recalled to tesify. The state’s evidence against Hamill is not limited to eye witness testimony but relies heavily on photographs and video Draus took at Painted Pastures.
Bhatt could make light of this fact in front of a jury and attack the officer's credibility, even though other witnesses—volunteers from the Animal Welfare League—testified the first time around that they were by the officer’s side, and in some cases in front of the camera, when he took them.
“It’s a circus … It was messy from the moment (Draus) got involved,” Bhatt said of the officer’s handling of the search warrant and raid that led to more than 100 of Hamill’s animals being hauled away.
A jury should be aware of the federal charges facing Draus, Bhatt said, but it’s one more issue that now falls on Demacopoulos' head.
“I’d like to move this along as quickly as possible,” she told the court.
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