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Overturned conviction threatens cold cases
Kane County Prosecutors pause after Appellate reversal
August 30, 2007
Aurora Beacon News 
An appellate court decision on a somewhat obscure Aurora attempted murder case has sent ripples through the Kane County Courthouse as prosecutors try to gauge whether it will affect dozens of cold-case homicides.

On Friday, the Second District Appellate Court took the rare step of overturning Ian Washington's 2005 conviction. Reversing the case was distressing enough, but prosecutors were surprised by the reasoning. The court ruled that conflicting testimony from three people who were in the van with Washington invalidated the jury's decision. "If we set aside the inconsistent, incredible testimony regarding the defendant as the driver or the shooter, we have nothing evidencing his intentional aiding or abetting of the crime," the affirming justice, Thomas Callum, wrote. "(W)e are left with no idea as to defendant's role in, let alone his intent to encourage or aid, the July 4, 2004, shooting."

After Aurora police brought charges in 22 old murders earlier this summer, prosecutors acknowledged many of the cases use the same foundation -- little physical evidence and witnesses with baggage. Naturally, overturning a jury's decision for those reasons raised some eyebrows.

"I think that causes a problem in my mind," said Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti. "I think that changes the way you try the cases." The decision caught the attention of defense attorneys as well. Kathleen Colton is working on an appeal of the first cold case to go to trial. Jose Salinas was convicted of first-degree murder earlier this month, although a murder weapon was never produced. Colton plans to file a post-trial motion today based on the Washington case. "It sent a chill down my spine when I was reading it because there's so many similarities," she said. "It seems to be a shot over the bow by the appellate court."

Prosecutors were expecting Washington's appeal to center on a juror who was dismissed. Instead, they were left scratching heads, trying to see how -- or if -- this case will affect other prosecutions. "We'll always take a look, but these are things we thought about before," said Assistant State's Attorney Sal LoPiccolo, who originally prosecuted Washington's case and is assigned to several cold cases. "I really don't know why they chose to do what they did." Barsanti said his office will appeal the case to the state Supreme Court with the hope that the dissenting opinion written by Justice John Bowman will be persuasive. "This court will not substitute its judgment for that of the jury on questions involving the weight of the evidence or the credibility of the witnesses," Bowman wrote. "The testimony of an accomplice witness, whether corroborated or not, is sufficient to sustain a criminal conviction if it convinces the jury." (Kathleen Colton was the trial attorney in the Ian Washington case)