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Alan Beaman seeks recusal of judge in civil case against former Normal Police officers

Alan Beaman and mother
Daisy Contreras
NPR Illinois
Alan Beaman is not seeking a judge who aligns with a particular political view, his lawyers argued.

Alan Beaman has asked the judge who dismissed his civil lawsuit against three former Normal police officers to recuse himself from proceedings leading up to a jury trial on Beaman’s claims that the officers conspired to convict him of a murder he did not commit.

Beaman will be in court Thursday in Douglas County for his first hearing since the Illinois Supreme Court reversed an appellate court decision dismissing the lawsuit. The case was moved outside the 11th Judicial Circuit because of judicial conflicts with Beaman’s 1993 murder case in which he was convicted of killing his former girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller.

A decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2008 reversed the murder conviction and returned the case to McLean County for a new trial. The state dismissed the charges and Beaman went on to be awarded a certificate of innocence from the state and clemency from then-Gov. Pat Quinn.

Beaman’s Chicago lawyers, Locke Bowman with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, and Jeffrey Urdangen with Riley Safer Holmes and Cancilla, filed a request in December asking that Judge Richard L. Broch recuse himself from hearing the lawsuit case.

The request drew a fiery response from lawyers for the Town of Normal and retired detectives Tim Freesmeyer, Dave Warner and Frank Zayas.

In a segment of the defendant’s response titled “Public Pressure from Media and Political Movements Should Play No Further Role in This Case,” lawyers for the former officers accuse Beaman’s legal team of taking advantage of an anti-police atmosphere in the country to keep his civil case alive.

“What plaintiff is telling this court is that no judge who had ruled in favor of a police officer would be seen by the public as being impartial,” wrote lawyer Thomas G. DiCianni with Angel Glink, of Chicago.

Normal’s lawyer argued the target of the lawsuit “will not be the individual defendants, but 'law enforcement,' to ride the anti-police wave underway.”

The latest favorable ruling for Beaman by the Supreme Court followed a change in the make-up of the court after the failed retention of Justice Thomas Kilbride, who previously agreed that Beaman’s case should be sent back to the Fourth District Appellate Court for review. The shift in court membership favored Beaman when the case was returned for a second look after the election, DiCianni agreed.

In an equally blunt tone, Beaman’s lawyers denied accusations that the request for recusal is disrespectful to the court. Claims that the Supreme Court was swayed by political influences are “inflammatory, unsupported and inappropriate,” Beaman’s lawyers argued.

Calling the tone of the defense comments uncivil, Bowman cited several portions of motions filed on the issue of recusal, including a characterization of Beaman’s request as “attempts to manipulate our judicial system in a case already stained in judicial manipulation.”

Broch’s dismissal of Beaman’s lawsuit could be problematic as the judge rules on pre-trial motions, argued Beaman’s lawyers. The law prohibits not only actual bias by a judge, but the appearance of bias, Bowman said

According to Bowman, the judge will consider evidence that Beaman “was framed by investigators who acted in bad faith, cheated, distorted evidence, and lied.”

Beaman is not seeking a judge who aligns with a particular political view, his lawyers argued.

Beaman’s “cause” is not different from that of any other plaintiff in litigation: He seeks to demonstrate that he suffered injury as a result of the defendants’ violations of law and to be awarded just compensation for that injury.”

If Broch grants the motion and recuses himself from the case, the matter will be referred to 11th Judicial Circuit Judge Mark Fellheimer for assignment. If the judge decides to remain on the case, Beaman’s lawyers may file for a substitution of judge, a request that requires specific claims of prejudice to the defendant. A judge other than Broch would hear those arguments.

The lawsuit filed in McLean County in 2014 accuses the former officers of ignoring other viable suspects and focusing their attention on Beaman, a senior at Illinois Wesleyan University at the time. He was charged with strangling Lockmiller at her apartment near the ISU campus.

In its 2008 ruling, the Supreme Court found that Beaman’s trial was tainted by the state’s withholding of four pieces of evidence from the defense. The court also expressed skepticism about the state’s theory that Beaman killed Lockmiller weeks after the two ended their rocky dating relationship.

Beaman lives in Rockford with his wife and two children.

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Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.
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