CROWN POINT — A judge said Thursday prosecutors have made every reasonable effort to quickly bring a man to trial before granting their request to delay the trial until January on charges he murdered a Gary woman and dumped her body in a Cook County forest preserve.
James E. McGhee, 38, of Gary, is accused of beating 27-year-old Sidne-Nichole Buchanan to death inside his apartment after they attended a Wiz Khalifa concert July 27 in Tinley Park, Illinois.
Police found Buchanan's body Aug. 12 at the Thornton-Lansing Road Nature Preserve in unincorporated Cook County after they were led there by McGhee's friend, court records say. McGhee told the friend he "lost it" and beat Buchanan to death, documents allege.
Lake County Supervisory Deputy Prosecutor Eric Randall said Buchanan's body was so badly decomposed the Cook County medical examiner's office hired a forensic anthropologist to assist in determining a final cause and manner of death.
The medical examiner's final report was not expected to be completed before Monday, the day on which McGhee's trial initially was scheduled.
Without a final report, the state would be in a "bad position" to prove the murder charge beyond a reasonable doubt, Randall said.
McGhee's attorney, Jamise Perkins, filed a motion for a speedy trial in October. Lake Criminal Court Judge Clarence Murray granted the motion during a hearing Oct. 10, leading to a requirement that prosecutors bring the case to trial within 70 days.
Randall said that deadline is Dec. 10. He initially suggested Murray could reschedule McGhee's trial to begin Dec. 9, but he said a key witness — a DNA analyst at an Indiana State Police lab — will be on medical leave in December and unavailable to testify.
Case law allows for the speedy trial deadline to be extended if the state has made all reasonable efforts to gather evidence, Randall said.
Perkins objected to any continuance, saying the issue was whether prosecutors could obtain all evidence within the 70-day time frame.
Authorities were aware of the condition of Buchanan's body and the likelihood that a specialist would be needed, she said. There is no statute of limitations for murder charges.
"They could have obtained all the evidence they needed before they filed the charges," she said.
Randall rejected that argument, saying the idea of waiting to file charges until all evidence is gathered isn't practical. Cases often are filed based on probable cause and worked up while they're pending, he said.
Murray granted Randall's request to continue the trial, but said he did not want to reschedule it again. He refused to set a December date, partly because of the unavailability of the DNA analyst.
Murray declined to grant Perkins' request that McGhee be released from jail on his own recognizance pending trial.
The judge set a pretrial hearing for Dec. 20 and scheduled McGhee's trial to begin Jan. 13. The trial is expected to take two weeks, attorneys said.
In this Series
This week in local crime news: Bloody man found with possible bone protruding from head after bar fight, police say
- 43 updates
Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter
Get the latest in local public safety news with this weekly email.