An Illinois judicial drug scandal has led to the granting of retrials for two convicted killers in less than a month. Gregory Muse, found guilty of first-degree murder in March of this year, was granted a retrial on the grounds that the presiding judge, who now faces federal heroin charges, may have been drug impaired during Muse’s trial.
Saint Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook was arrested in May on charges of heroin possession and possessing a gun while using illegal controlled substances. Former Judge Cook, who pleaded not guilty, attended a drug rehabilitation center in Minnesota after his arrest and was released on his own recognizance after posting $10,000 bond. His release came with stipulations; he was to seek drug treatment if deemed necessary, avoid firearms, avoid non-prescribed drugs, and he had to relinquish his passport.
Cook’s troubles began months before his arrest by federal authorities on heroin charges. He and a colleague, Judge Joseph Christ, were on a hunting trip together when Christ overdosed on cocaine at Cook’s family’s hunting cabin. According to police reports, a drug dealer who now faces charges of possession and distribution of cocaine, sold the cocaine to the pair before the hunting trip.
The former judge’s trial was set to begin on October 1, but two judges in the Southern District of Illinois, Judge David Herndon and William Stiehl, recused themselves and his trial is now set for December 9.
In the retrial request of convicted murderer Gregory Muse, his public defender stated that former Judge Cook slurred his words while reading the jury instructions and also said that the prosecution failed to inform the defense that Cook was being investigated by the federal government on drug and gun charges.
Circuit Judge Robert Haida who agreed to Muse’s retrial, said that he couldn’t know what former Judge Cook did or the reasons for his actions, but he did say he had “little choice but to order Muse retried in the interest of justice…and that Gregory Muse needed a fair trial.”
Judge Haida also granted a new trial for convicted killer William Cosby on October 2 after Cosby challenged the fairness of his trial due to the allegations of Cook’s drug abuse.
As it now stands, only two defendants have come forward to request new trials. However, Illinois State Attorney Brendan Kelly, stated that more defendants of cases overseen by former Judge Cook may come forward to request new trials in the future. “We may not know every challenge we’ll face for some time,” Kelly said. “It could be many. It could be only these few.”