CROWN POINT -- Presiding over his second murder trial as a Lake County Criminal Court judge, Salvador Vasquez declared a mistrial Tuesday.
The defendant, Allen Williams Jr., also spoke to the judge directly, asking to be released from jail and for another prosecutor to be assigned to the case.
While Vasquez denied Williams' unusual, open-court pleas, he did order the prosecution and defense lawyers not to talk about the case to anyone, blaming the mistrial on pretrial publicity.
Williams, 24, dressed in a royal blue, satin-striped suit and blue suede shoes, sat accused of shooting to death Anthony Batey, 17, on Dec. 21, 2001, in a Hammond apartment. Police found Batey on the apartment's kitchen floor with a single gunshot wound to the head.
According to papers filed in the case, Batey, who lived in Dolton, Ill, was visiting a friend's apartment with his girlfriend when Williams and another man arrived looking for a gun. The girlfriend saw a gun in the closet and ran. When she heard shots, she thought they were directed at her, according to the affidavit.
After more than five hours Monday, a jury was selected and opening remarks were to begin Tuesday. Before the jury entered the courtroom Tuesday morning, Defense Attorney Lemuel Stigler asked Vasquez to declare a mistrial, because there were newspaper articles on the case in the morning papers.
Vasquez reminded Stigler of his admonition to the jury not to read anything about the case, but offered to poll the jury. One juror admitted reading a short story, and three others read headlines. Three of the jurors remembered details of the charges and the victim.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Urbanski said he was concerned the jurors might expect certain evidence to be presented based on what they read. He did not oppose a mistrial if the judge attached no blame for the action on the prosecutor's office.
Without asking the jurors if they could still be fair despite having read something about the crime, Vasquez granted the mistrial and imposed a gag order.
"Sometimes newspapers print articles they deem newsworthy," Vasquez told the jury, explaining his ruling. "They may not be newsworthy to you or to any of us in the court, and sometimes the articles are inaccurate."
Vasquez said the articles might state things about the case that the prosecution or defense will not present as evidence.
"Then consciously or unconsciously you will make a decision based on other things than the evidence presented in trial. That's part of a tainted jury," he said.
After the jury left, Stigler said Williams didn't want to go back to jail, even though Stigler told him there is no bail for murder defendants. Vasquez denied the request. Stigler said Williams wanted to say something, and even though Vasquez told him questions needed to go through his attorney, Williams began speaking.
"I've been incarcerated for 22 months," Williams said. "I'm alleged to do something I had no part of. That's not fair to me. I hear the state offered the culprit a deal, but I've been working with the Crown Point sheriff's department as a c.o (confidential informant) trying to prove my innocence. Mr. Urbanski is doing something wrong. ... I'm not asking for the case not to be tried, I'm asking for Mr. Urbanski not to be the prosecuting attorney."
This is the second time Williams faced a jury in this case. In February, both the prosecution and defense presented evidence and gave closing arguments during the six-day trial. On Feb. 11, the jury was deadlocked, and a new trial date was set.
Vasquez set a new trial date for Oct. 27.
Ruthann Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 219-662-5331.