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updated: 9/29/2011 7:15 PM

Judge grants delay in giving defense new details in 1994 Waukegan murder

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A Lake County judge said Thursday that prosecutors do not yet have to tell James Edwards' attorney all they have learned about another man whose blood was found at the scene of a 1994 murder for which Edwards was convicted.

But Circuit Judge John Phillips said "it will be pretty tough" to convince him to allow investigators to keep the information secret past the Dec. 1 date he set for the disclosure on Thursday.

Edwards, 62, is serving life in prison for the beating death of Fred Reckling, owner of the Grand Appliance store chain, inside the chain's Waukegan store.

During Edwards' 1996 trial, the jury that convicted him was told drops of blood on the store carpet and inside Reckling's car that was stolen from the crime scene did not match Edwards.

Although defense attorneys argued the blood was proof Edwards was not the killer, store employees testified they frequently cut themselves at work and at times drove Reckling's car on errands.

But in June, prosecutors revealed the blood had been matched to a man whose DNA is in the national database of convicted felons.

Since that time, Assistant State's Attorney Michael Mermel said Thursday, police have been reinvestigating the crime and have even brought one witness connected to the case before a grand jury.

Defense attorney Paul DeLuca, who was previously granted access to the man's name and identification information, asked Phillips to order that he be given copies of all police reports generated in the new investigation of the case.

DeLuca said he wanted to have all the current information about the investigation before filing a motion asking Phillips to reopen the case against Edwards based on the DNA match.

Mermel objected to immediate disclosure, saying any dissemination of what is known about the new lead in the case could jeopardize the ongoing investigation.

He argued that another 60 days of delay would not have significant impact on Edwards, who is also serving a 60-year sentence for the armed robbery of a Waukegan motel. He also has been sentenced to life in prison for a 1974 murder in Ohio.

"We ask the court to balance the defense right to know with the state's right to investigate," Mermel said. "It is not a situation where the defendant will walk out of prison if it is established some other person is responsible for this crime."

Phillips said he would grant the extension, but warned it would likely be the last time he would rule the information can be kept secret.