A St. Clair County judge vacated the conviction of a man who was not told by prosecutors that the judge presiding over his trial was under investigation.  The first-degree murder jury trial of Gregory Muse, 55, was presided over by former St. Clair County Judge Michael Cook.  Muse was convicted in March of first-degree murder.  Circuit Judge Robert Haida granted the defense’s motion.  Cook resigned from the bench in May and faces federal heroin and weapons charges.  Cook has pled not guilty.

Muse’s motion to vacate his guilty verdict based upon the prosecution’s failure to disclose an ongoing criminal investigation against the judge stated,

“Cook had an opportunity to recuse himself and prosecutors had the opportunity to ask for a substitute judge…”

Erin Connor, Muse’s attorney, also argued that prosecutors should have disclosed the knowledge they had of the ongoing investigation and by failing to disclose the knowledge impeded the ability of Muse to receive his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial.  Conner also argued that Cook had an ethical obligation to recuse himself and didn’t do so.

Assistant District Attorney Deborah Phillips argued that there was no evidence and the defense never claimed that Cook made inappropriate rulings or errors during the trial, “That’s the bottom line.”  Phillips also unsuccessfully argued that Cook’s speech, which was slurred during jury instructions, was due to the jury instructions being 29 pages long. 

Haida overturned Muse’s conviction, explaining that he did so “in the interest of justice.  My ruling in no way is based on criticism of the prosecutor’s office for failure to disclose. As I sit here now, reviewing this matter, I can say with certainty that Gregory Muse needs a new trial.”

District Attorney Brendan Kelly previously claimed that his office could share the information about the federal investigation into the judge with the defense because those involved were under a nondisclosure agreement.  If prosecutors asked for a continuance or a substitution of judge, Kelly said, they would have violated the nondisclosure agreement.

According to police, Muse and Correy Ransom held up a pawnshop at gunpoint in the summer of 2011.  Allegedly, as the two left the store with a plastic shopping bag and a pillowcase filled with jewelry, the owner, who possessed a gun, shot Ransom.  Ransom was killed and Muse escaped.  Muse was arrested a block from the scene.  He was charged with the murder of Ransom under felony murder laws.  The week of Muse’s trial, Judge Cook met with the Sheriff Paul Petty, who interviewed him about the death of Joe Christ, a longtime assistant state attorney.  Christ died at a hunting cabin owned by Cook’s family.  It was later revealed that Christ died from cocaine toxicity.

William Cosby was previously granted a new trial citing the same reasons as Muse.  He had been convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Antwan “Twix” Thomas, who was shot and killed in a bar in 2012.  Muse’s next court appearance is a status conference set for December 11th.

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