A Lake County judge said Friday he did not believe it was necessary to have a judge from outside the county decide if a woman serving a 30-year prison sentence was tricked into admitting her role in the crime.
The question of bias on the part of local judges was raised in the case of Sandra Rogers, 54, because the people she is accusing of deceiving her as prosecutors are now both on the bench.
Rogers was convicted in the 2003 sledgehammer attack on her ex-husband and his wife as they slept in their Lincolnshire home. Both victims survived the attack.
Rogers now claims she admitted there was enough evidence in the case to convict her only because prosecutors George Strickland and Christopher Stride lied to her attorney about evidence they intended to present at her trial.
Her current attorney, Ralph Strathmann of Waukegan, argued Friday that no Lake County judge should rule on Rogers' request for a trial in the case because both Strickland and Stride have since been appointed judges.
"Because our petition involves allegations of misconduct on the part of people who are now judges, we feel it would be inappropriate for a fellow Lake County judge to pass judgment on their credibility," Strathmann said. "It is important for judges to avoid any conflicts of interest or appearance of impropriety."
Assistant State's Attorney George Pappas said there was no need for a judge from another county to be assigned the case, because similar situations arise frequently in the court system.
"Judges are frequently asked to rule in cases where current judges have been counsel for one side or the other in the past," Pappas said. "Judges are sworn to rule on the law and the facts of a case, not on prejudice or personal bias."
At issue in the case is Rogers' claim her attorney was told a Lake County corrections officer was prepared to testify Rogers gave her a note to be delivered to Rogers' co-defendant Jonathan McMeekin.
McMeekin, now 24, had already pleaded guilty in the case and was prepared to testify Rogers accompanied him and assisted in the attack on Richard Rogers and Angela Gloria.
Richard and Sandra Rogers were in a bitter custody dispute over their 14-year-old daughter, with whom McMeekin had a romantic relationship.
Rogers claims she was told the corrections officer was going to testify the note for McMeekin read "I'm sorry," which her attorney told her was sure to be interpreted by the jury as an admission of guilt.
But Rogers claims the note actually read "How are you and I love you," which would have not been seen as an admission of culpability in the crime.
In her request to have her conviction thrown out and proceed to trial in the case, the corrections officer claims she never told Strickland and Stride the note said "I'm sorry."
Circuit Judge John Phillips rejected Strathmann's request for a judge from outside Lake County saying he was confident he could weigh the evidence and judge credibility independent of personalities.
"I do not see any conflict or appearance of impropriety," Phillips said. "I would in no way be prejudiced for or against them (Strickland and Stride), nor would I be prejudiced for or against Ms. Rogers."
He gave Pappas until Oct. 7 to prepare a written response to Rogers' motion and said he would schedule a hearing on the matter on that date.