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Judge refuses to leave Alan Beaman's civil case against former Normal Police officers

WGLT courts

A Douglas County judge refused to recuse himself on Tuesday in the civil case filed by Alan Beaman, who accuses three now-retired Normal police officers of framing him in the 1993 murder of his former girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller.

Beaman was released from prison in 2008 after the Illinois Supreme Court reversed his murder conviction. He served about a dozen years of a 50-year sentence. The state dropped all charges and Beaman later received a state certificate of innocence and a governor’s pardon.

Judge Richard Broch denied Beaman’s request for the judge to step aside from hearing the lawsuit that names former NPD detectives Frank Zayas, Tim Freesmeyer and Davie Warner and the Town of Normal. The 6th Judicial Circuit judge was assigned the case because of judicial conflicts with McLean County judges.

In a lengthy oral ruling delivered in Tuscola, Broch noted several times that the 4th District Appellate Court twice affirmed his dismissal of the lawsuit. In a tone that grew terse at times, the judge told Beaman’s lawyers he was “surprised by some of the language used” in their motion. The judge highlighted specific phrases, including the “short shrift” and “indifference” the judge allegedly showed toward Beaman’s claims.

Broch wondered aloud if the lawyers were baiting him to answer the allegations. “You’re not going to get that out of this court,” he said.

Alan Beaman and mother
Daisy Contreras
/
NPR Illinois, file
Alan Beaman and his mother outside a courthouse in 2018.

The length of the judge’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit is not a reflection of a hastily-made judgment, said Broch.

“I applied the facts in this case to the law,” said Broch, adding that his ruling amounted to seven pages “because that’s all it took.” He assured lawyers he had read the lengthy court record of the case.

Broch acknowledged “this is an interesting case,” and that he knew from the outset the lawsuit was “a big case, and a complex case.”

Beaman’s lawyer, Locke Bowman with Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, opened his argument by asking Broch about a comment the judge made during a phone conference indicating retirement may be in the judge’s future. Broch said he has not finalized those plans and the decision would not impact a trial.

Bowman said Beaman has concerns about the “public’s perception of fairness” when decisions are made by a judge who has ruled “that our claim of wrongful prosecution was entirely baseless.”

“A 180-degree shift of perspective” may be required by Broch, Bowman suggested.

The hearing Tuesday followed heated verbiage exchanged in court filings between the two sides.

Lawyers for the police officers accused Beaman’s legal team of using the media and political pressure to secure favorable rulings that have kept the nearly eight-year-old case alive.

Defense lawyer Thomas DiCianni revisited what he considers to be the “strange path” Beaman’s civil lawsuit has taken.

“The last few years of this case have looked strange to a lot of people,” said DiCianni, citing comments from the law enforcement, risk management, and legal communities.

In his opposition to Beaman’s efforts to secure a new judge, DiCianni said “we disagree that the ruling reflects any type of impartiality.”

In comments to WGLT after the ruling, DiCianni said the ruling provides “more certainty,” adding that having a judge who is familiar with a case “is an advantage to both sides.”

Beaman’s lawyers declined to comment.

A phone conference is set for April 13 to discuss the next steps. Beaman’s lawyers have the option of filing a motion for substitution of judge for cause. Such a motion would be heard by a judge assigned by 11th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer. Motions for recusal based on specific accusations are rare and require a defendant to spell out reasons why a judge is disqualified to hear a case.

Beaman was convicted of strangling Lockmiller in her apartment near ISU. The two had ended their relationship and he had moved back home to Rockford. Investigators believed Beaman, a theater major at nearby Illinois Wesleyan University, left his parents’ home in Rockford for a high-speed drive to Normal, where he killed Lockmiller and made it back to Rockford before his mother returned from a round of errands.

Beaman, now married and the father of two, did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.

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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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