McLean County's Longest Pending Criminal Case Inches Forward
The rape and child pornography cases against Jeffrey Martin took a baby step forward on Tuesday after a judge gave Martin 45 days to continue his search for a new lawyer in McLean County’s longest pending criminal case.
Martin, 56, was charged in January 2016 with sexually assaulting an elderly woman with whom he had been staying in Normal. A search of his computer by police during the investigation turned up illegal images of children, according to child pornography charges.
In April, Bloomington attorney Steve Skelton withdrew as Martin’s most recent lawyer, telling the judge his relationship with his client was “beyond unfruitful.” Six private lawyers and several public defenders have worked on the cases, but were allowed by a judge to walk away after disputes with Martin.
Martin acted as his own lawyer for a good portion of the past five years. Little progress was made toward a trial date during years of hearings in which Martin sparred verbally with former Judge Scott Drazewski.
Judge William Yoder was assigned the case after Drazewski’s retirement in December.
On Tuesday, Martin claimed efforts by his brother to hire an attorney in McLean County have been unsuccessful. He refused Yoder’s offer of a public defender.
“I’ve had six attorneys in the last six years withdraw from my case for unknown reasons. I’m being stonewalled,” Martin told the judge.
Prosecutor Mary Lawson asked that Martin’s request of 60 days to find a lawyer be reduced to 45 days.
“It’s insufficient,” Martin said of the shorter time frame, but Yoder supported Lawson’s recommendation and set a July 16 hearing to review the status of the lawyer issue.
Martin is accused of sexually assaulting a woman for more than two years, starting in August 2014, when he stayed at her home after she hired him to work on electronics at her residence. The child pornography case followed.
Yoder noted Tuesday that the appellate court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for Martin on aggravated battery charges unrelated to his pending felonies. Martin acted as his own legal counsel during a three-day trial in 2017. Before the trial opened, he fired his public defender. The appellate court ruled that Martin’s seven-year sentence was handed down by Drazewski without a complete admonishment of his right to a lawyer at the sentencing hearing.
In its ruling, the Fourth District Appellate Court opined that “the record reflects the defendant was abrasive, disruptive, and insolent at almost every proceeding, and yet the court made an admirable effort to accommodate him.” Martin’s disruptive behavior resulted in his brief removal from the courtroom during routine hearings that took hours, the court noted.
Long delays in sexual assault cases can be difficult for victims, said Jenn Golliday, coordinator of court advocacy for YWCA Stepping Stones, a local sexual assault program. Speaking in general about the impact of lengthy proceedings, Golliday cited several areas of concern.
The lack of closure for victims, along with renewed trauma during hearings and the fear of safety if an alleged perpetrator is free on bond, are potential consequences of delayed trial dates, said Golliday.
“They live in this constant state of anxiety,” said the victim advocate.
Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said officers continue to stay in contact with victims to share information and support them during the court process. Long delays can be frustrating, he said, for victims, prosecutors and witnesses.
For victims, a resolution of the case means closure, said Bleichner.
“We don’t want victims to feel they’ve been forgotten,” said the police chief.