A different judge will hear the majority of the criminal cases pending against more than 40 defendants charged with looting last summer that left several local businesses heavily damaged and injured police officers called to quell the civil unrest.
Associate Judge Bill Workman handled four cases Wednesday that were previously on the docket of Judge William Yoder. The recent retirement of judge Scott Drazewski created a shift in assignments and caseloads among judges.
Defense lawyers for the accused looters expressed concern in September over Yoder's refusal to consider fully negotiated pleas. Yoder insisted instead on plea proposals that allowed him to consider a defendant’s background before making the final decision on a sentence.
Yoder referred to the incidents as anarchy that put Bloomington-Normal residents on edge. Efforts by the defense to remove Yoder from hearing two of the cases because of alleged bias failed.
Yoder also insisted that looters who pleaded guilty be held financially responsible for damages to at least three businesses and police vehicles from both cities.
At a hearing on Wednesday for Maya Pizano, defense lawyer Stephanie Wong asked Workman to participate in a conference in which the terms of a proposed plea would be outlined.
Pizano approved of the conference that will include a prosecutor who will provide Workman with details of the charges. The judge told Pizano he may offer a recommendation for how the case should be resolved, a suggestion she will be free to accept or reject. The conference is set for Feb. 17.
At least one other conference has been requested by the public defense’s office for another defendant.
More than 40 people faced felony looting, burglary and mob action charges. Arrests were made days after the crowds stormed Target, Kohl’s and Walmart following peaceful protests of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.
Two people were sentenced by Yoder before cases were shifted to Workman. One defendant with a pending aggravated DUI received 4 ½ years in prison. A second looter without a criminal record was given probation.
Defense lawyers previously stated they would like to see their clients receive Second Chance probation, a sentence that those with a clean record to remove a felony conviction if they successfully complete probation. A number of the initial plea deals included such a resolution.
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