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Looting Suspect Wants New Judge To Hear His Case

Looters exit Target
Charlie Schlenker
Looters exit the Target store in Normal early Monday, June 1, 2020.

One of the more than 40 defendants charged with looting in Bloomington and Normal this summer has asked that a new judge handle his case, based on an alleged bias by the judge currently assigned to hear a majority of the cases.

In an affidavit filed with his motion for substitution of judge on Monday, Travis Blake cited Judge William Yoder’s Oct. 5 decision to reject a fully negotiated plea agreement to resolve Blake’s looting case.    

Blake, 23, stated that he still wants to negotiate with the state to settle his case, but “it is my belief that Judge William Yoder is so prejudicial against me that I will be unable to receive a fair trial if he is the presiding judge.”

Defendants are allowed to request a new judge for their case if the request comes before any substantive decisions have been made by the judge. Yoder clarified that Blake’s motion is not such a routine request.

Yoder will refer Blake’s motion to 11th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer for assignment to a new judge who will hear Blake’s allegations of bias.

After the hearing, assistant public defender Jonathan McEldowney said similar motions may be filed in other looting cases handled by the office.

Blake also has a pending charge of failure to report an address change as a sex offender.

Lawyers for those charged in connection with looting incidents at several Twin City businesses were put on notice in September by Yoder that he would not accept plea agreements that included a sentence for the defendants. Instead, the judge whose docket includes the majority of the looting cases, said he will consider open plea agreements where all sentencing options from probation to prison are on the table.

The first plea deal rejected Sept. 1 by Yoder involved felony mob action charges against Anthony Crose, who also faces a pending aggravated DUI charge.

The judge’s ruling requires a pre-sentence investigation report on each defendant, a document that will provide Yoder with extensive background information on each person before a sentence is imposed.

Yoder’s position has sparked concern among defense lawyers who would normally ask for Second Chance probation, a program that removes a felony record for a defendant after completion of probation. Defendants in the looting cases range in age from 18 to 37; most are under 25 and five are under 18.

For most of the defendants, the looting, burglary and mob action charges are their first felonies. 

Plea agreements are presented to a judge after the state and defense agree on how the case can be resolved, including the potential dismissal of some charges in return for a guilty plea to others. A proposed sentence often accompanies the plea deal that must be approved by the judge.

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