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Jurors screened for details about manhunt for accused killer Michael Bakana

Michael Bakana failed to show up for his murder trial Monday morning. Bloomington Police say he's wanted and considered armed and dangerous.
Bloomington Police
Michael Bakana failed to show up for his murder trial Monday morning. Bloomington Police say he's wanted and considered armed and dangerous.

Social media and news accounts of a manhunt for a man missing from his jury trial on murder charges made it into the courtroom Tuesday as several potential jurors disclosed what they had heard about the search before coming to court.

A no-cash arrest warrant was issued for Michael Bakana after he failed to show up Monday for his trial on murder charges involving the shooting death of Mariah Petracca. The January 2021 incident outside a Bloomington bar left a second woman wounded. Bakana, 44, faces attempted murder and aggravated battery charges related to the survivor.

As part of their efforts to locate Bakana, Bloomington Police issued an alert on social media with a description of the suspect as armed and dangerous. Several schools in Normal were placed on a heightened security status Monday as police searched the area surrounding Bakana’s home.

During his questioning as a potential juror, the father of a Normal Community West High School student read two text messages he received from the school at 10:32 a.m. notifying parents of the lockdown and the decision to reopen the school to the public 20 minutes later.

The messages were read in response to questions from defense lawyer Clyde Guilamo after the other jury candidates were taken from the courtroom to limit outside information about the case.

The father acknowledged that he had read news reports about the missing man, including allegations that Bakana cut off an ankle bracelet and left his home at the time he was due in court. Bakana was free on $200,000 bond, money that has since been forfeited.

“If somebody cuts off a bracelet and runs, it causes you to wonder if they ran because they’re guilty,” the parent told Guilamo. The individual may be fleeing “a dire situation,” said the would-be juror, who was later excused because of his prior knowledge of the case.

A second man also knew about the school lockdowns and the circumstances of Bakana’s disappearance.

“To my mind, he looked guilty, based on his actions,” the man said in his reply to Guilamo’s questions.

The man, along with a woman who had seen a headline about the case, were also excused from service.

The disclosures by three of 14 jurors screened Tuesday morning caused Guilamo to ask twice that the trial be moved outside McLean County. Thousands of students, parents and staff knew about the case after the lockdown, he said.

“Looking at the population of McLean County, we are now hitting a significant portion of the population that’s been impacted by this case one way or another,” said Guilamo.

Judge Casey Costigan denied the motion for change of venue. During his hour of questioning, Costigan pointedly asked potential jurors about their exposure to information and whether they could set aside any opinions or knowledge about the case. All 14 said they could do it.

During the trial, the jury is expected to see police video from outside the bar showing Bakana arguing with the victim and another woman. After he leaves the area, he is seen returning for another round of argument. After one of the women shoves Bakana against a wall, he pulls a gun from his waistband behind his back and fires at the women, according to a video shown during an April pre-trial hearing.

Starting the trial without the defendant

Costigan ordered jury selection to begin Tuesday without Bakana in the courtroom.

Defense lawyer Sean Brown argued Tuesday that the trial should be delayed until court officials send a certified letter to Bakana notifying him of his trial date.

Prosecutor Jeff Horve opposed the defense effort to delay the trial. Case law cited by the defense was dissimilar to Bakana’s case, the case argued.

The judge noted that Bakana was in court for a final pre-trial hearing last Thursday where details of the May 8 trial date were confirmed. Costigan also noted information from court services staff that Bakana cut off his ankle monitoring device on Monday, nine minutes ahead of the issuance of a warrant for his arrest when he failed to report to the courtroom.

“He knew what was going to happen should he not show up in court,” said Costigan.

The right to be present for all hearings, a trial and sentencing proceedings is a defendant’s constitutional right, said Costigan, “but the right is not absolute.” Costigan said he has handled cases during his 16 years on the bench where defendants were no-shows but he did not move forward with their trials.

The woman who survived the shooting incident also has rights, said Costigan, under state crime victims laws. The case has been pending for 27 months, through 18 status hearings and multiple changes in defense attorneys, said Costigan.

“In this court’s view, that’s long enough,” Costigan told the defense team.

Opening statements are scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. for the trial that's expected to last a week.

Edith Brady-Lunny was a correspondent at WGLT, joining the station in 2019. She left the station in 2024.