Thursday, May 11, 2006 09:50 pm
Convict claims SPD detectives tampered with evidence in his case
When a Sangamon County jury ruled last fall that Adetokunbo “Philip” Fayemi had poisoned his fiancée and seven other people, the only question left was what punishment the court would impose. Seven months later, however, Fayemi remains in jail as his new attorney tries to get the verdict set aside, alleging that two Springfield Police detectives now under investigation may have tampered with the evidence. Fayemi, 56, was convicted in September of attempted murder after his fiancée, Alice Minter, was found to have thallium poisoning. Minter, 45, survived, but now uses a wheelchair and has blurred vision, neurological problems, and other ailments. The poisonings of Minter’s three sons and four other close associates, never alleged to be intentional, earned Fayemi seven aggravated-battery convictions. He faces a maximum sentence of 30 years for the attempted murder and as much as five years for each of the aggravated-battery convictions. Fayemi’s trial attorney, John Rogers of St. Louis, withdrew from the case soon after the verdict. Fayemi is now represented by Springfield attorney Patricia Hayes, who last month filed a motion requesting a hearing regarding police misconduct. In a separate motion, she asked the court for a judgment of acquittal “notwithstanding the verdict,” or a new trial, arguing that Rogers provided ineffective counsel. A hearing on both motions is scheduled for May 25 before Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Leo Zappa. Much of the evidence in the case was discovered by SPD officers Paul Carpenter and Jim Graham, detectives who were assigned to what was then known as the major-case unit. Carpenter and Graham have been on administrative leave since Oct. 4 and Jan. 17 respectively, while the Illinois State Police investigates allegations that they violated department policies. Chuck Colburn, who handled the Fayemi case for the state appellate prosecutor’s office, declined to comment on Hayes’ tactics, but first assistant state’s attorney Steve Weinhoeft, who was involved in the earliest stages of the case, says that Hayes’ motion regarding Carpenter and Graham is symptomatic of a trend sweeping the courthouse. “It’s obviously an attempt to pile on the allegation bandwagon,” he says. He has declined to comment further because the same motion accuses him of prosecutorial misconduct. “Since I’m a potential witness, it probably wouldn’t be very appropriate for me to comment on the substance of it, other than to say I categorically deny any knowledge of any wrongdoing on anyone’s part,” Weinhoeft says. Hayes, though, says she is working pro bono to free Fayemi because she believes he is innocent. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t,” she says. She became involved in the case only after the verdict, when she saw Fayemi in jail. He asked her to explore some civil-rights issues related to the jail, and she entered her appearance as co-counsel. Rogers’ withdrawal left her with the posttrial case, she says. She had represented Fayemi years earlier, in a 1997 discrimination lawsuit against a former employer, the Illinois Board of Education, and had won a $204,000 settlement for him. That experience, she says, gave her a different perspective on the poisoning case. “I had some prior experience with his previous girlfriends when I represented him in this other matter, and the more I’ve gotten into it, the more strongly I believe that he needs to get a new trial,” she says. Hayes claims another inspiration for defending Fayemi. “I do know what it’s like to be accused of things I haven’t done, so I’m sort of passionate about that,” she says, referring to a complaint filed against her in July by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. She was given a 30-month suspension, but it was stayed pending certain conditions. She has appealed that ruling, asking instead that her punishment be reduced to censure.