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'Back off:' Tempers flare at McLean County child pornography trial

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Updated: November 14, 2022 at 6:11 PM CST
Jeffrey Martin's trial was interrupted Monday afternoon by the child pornography defendant's repeated violations of court rules.

Tempers flared Monday afternoon after Jeffrey Martin rambled and railed during four hours of cross-examination as he served as his own attorney on child pornography charges.

McLean County Judge Bill Yoder's long-running patience appeared to run thin as Martin repeatedly ignored orders to stop talking and follow court rules.

After an hour of Martin's questioning of Normal Police officer Brad Parks, prosecutor Kirk Schoenbein barked at Martin to “back off” when the defendant approached him with a document aimed at the prosecutor's face.

The state’s anticipated list of four witnesses for Monday shrunk to two as Martin’s cross examination stretched to fill most of the afternoon.

The trial continues Tuesday with testimony from more police officers and a woman who has accused Martin of sexually assaulting her during the 18 months he stayed at her Normal home. The computer containing the alleged child pornography was found during a search of her home after Martin’s arrest.

In 2016, Martin was charged with sexual assault of the elderly woman. He was later accused of possession of child pornography in connection with images found on a computer seized by police from the woman’s home.

Martin is serving as his own lawyer and will have a chance to cross examine state witnesses.

Jury selection

Earlier in the day, during two hours of questioning of potential jurors by the judge, prosecutor and Martin, the defendant asked several questions of would-be jurors on their relationship with any government employee and their familiarity with computers.

A panel of eight men and four women were chosen to hear the case.

Before jury selection, the judge granted the prosecutor’s request that any evidence Martin seeks to admit during the defense case be reviewed by the judge ahead of it being seen by jurors. Schoenbein complained that Martin is attempting to conflate the rape and child pornography cases by bringing evidence relevant to his relationship with the woman into the current trial.

At a final pre-trial hearing on Thursday, Yoder warned Martin that he would be removed from the courtroom during the trial if he continued his pattern of interrupting proceedings and hurling insults at the court and prosecutor. Martin’s focus on the opening day of the trial was the pile of papers he brought to the courtroom from the jail.

In response to Yoder’s denial of Martin’s oral motion to continue the trial on Thursday, Martin said, “You are hanging me — you are all terminating me.”

The judge called the motion to postpone the trial a deliberate attempt “to delay this case so it never goes to trial.”

An announcement by Schoenbein on Thursday that the state had lowered the potential prison term faced by Martin drew a positive response from the defendant. The 300-plus maximum term the state initially calculated is now 98 years if Martin is convicted.

Schoenbein said a review of the alleged offenses showed Martin is not eligible for Class X sentencing, a classification that carries a mandatory sentence of six to 30 years.

“It’s about time,” Martin said of the sentencing decision.

Schoenbien confirmed to the judge the state had made no plea offers to Martin and was not interested in any new negotiations.

Yoder granted a request by the prosecutor to move the defense table so that Martin’s back is not to the gallery in the courtroom. The move should keep any pornographic images handed to Martin as evidence at the trial from being seen my courtroom spectators.

Martin became agitated when the judge told him defense subpoenas had not been processed because of an error by Martin in requesting the documents. Martin listed a dozen witnesses he intended to call during the trial, including the woman in the sexual assault case — a woman he referred to as “my significant other.”

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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