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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 03:32 pm

Get out of jail free – again and again

After years of delay, prosecutors say it’s time for justice

Jesse Myers is, by all appearances, a one-man crime wave.

His first scrape with law enforcement as an adult came in 2008, when he was arrested on suspicion of theft and trespassing one month before his 18th birthday. He pled guilty to misdemeanor charges. In the spring of 2009, he pleaded guilty to five felony counts of burglary and received two years of probation.

It has been a steady stream ever since, with four felony cases pending in Sangamon County Circuit Court, not to mention misdemeanor charges of driving while intoxicated and damage to property for kicking in an apartment door.

Myers’ latest run-in with police came on Veterans Day, when he was arrested by Southern View police who found him inside a home with a suspected burglar and an estimated $13,000 in stolen goods taken during a half-dozen break-ins that morning.

Police chief Kurt Taraba sees a rock-solid case. After all, he notes, one of his officers who happened to be in the area saw Cory E. Smith, Myers’ sidekick, running after a homeowner confronted a prowler on a porch and called 911.  The officer gave chase, losing sight of Smith momentarily when the suspected thief ran around the side of a house where he had been staying, then went inside and locked the door. The officer looked through a window and saw Smith lying on the floor, according to police who entered the home and arrested him and Myers. Both men were jailed after giving confessions, Taraba says.

Four days later, Myers and Smith, 24, were released with no charges filed. Taraba says that an assistant state’s attorney told him that prosecutors didn’t think the charges would stick because police didn’t get a search warrant before seizing a computer, stereo gear, a camera and other stolen property.

Taraba points to a U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing that police have a right to conduct warrantless searches if searches come about in the course of officers chasing suspects.

“If this isn’t hot pursuit, I don’ t know what is,” Taraba says.

Despite what Taraba was told, prosecutors filed felony charges against both men on Nov. 18, after reporters questioned state’s attorney John Milhiser about the case.

Under terms of his probation for burglary, Myers cannot violate any laws, including traffic statutes, nor can he possess or use drugs. Just two months after being placed on probation, he was charged with felony counts of theft and destroying property in July 2009, prompting the state’s attorney to initiate probation revocation proceedings that summer which remain pending.

Court records show that Myers received nine continuances in his 2009 felony case before agreeing to plead guilty last May. In the meantime, he was charged last year with robbery and battery for allegedly stealing a woman’s purse and knocking her down. In March of this year, he was charged with attempted burglary, cocaine possession and two counts of obstructing justice – Springfield police say that he provided two false names after being caught trying to break into a car. In June, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of destroying property after he kicked in someone’s apartment door. In September, he was charged with driving under the influence after a one-vehicle accident, and the case is pending.

In addition to new criminal charges, court files show that Myers has twice tested positive for marijuana while on probation and admitted using pot on four other occasions. He has also missed three appointments with probation officers.

Jon Gray Noll, a criminal defense attorney, says that revoking probation is a straightforward matter. The standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence,” not “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said, meaning that prosecutors must show that a defendant more likely than not violated a probation condition.

“It’s relatively easy to do,” Noll said.

Prosecutors often combine cases when a defendant on probation commits new crimes, Noll said, and that’s what happened in Myers’ case, according to court files showing that the motion to revoke probation first filed in the summer of 2009 has been continued pending the outcome of new felony charges. There is no indication that prosecutors objected to a string of continuances in any of the pending cases against Myers.

Milhiser said that prosecutors last spring negotiated a deal to put Myers in prison, but agreed to postpone formal guilty pleas in the three pending felony cases so that the defendant would be free when his child was born.

The deal is now off the table, the state’s attorney said, and Myers was arrested by Springfield police last Friday and booked. In addition to his three other felony cases and misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence, he is facing new charges of theft, marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.

“This individual needs to be incarcerated, and we’re going to proceed on each and every case and prosecute him to the full extent of the law,” Milhiser said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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