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updated: 10/23/2012 3:26 PM

Man guilty in 1996 killing Aurora boy denied new trial

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  • Mark A. Downs

    Mark A. Downs

  • Nicholas "Nico" Contreras

    Nicholas "Nico" Contreras


A judge has denied a new trial for a man convicted of the November 1996 murder of 6-year-old Nicholas "Nico" Contreras of Aurora.

Mark A. Downs, 36, formerly of Montgomery, is serving a 70-year prison sentence for the boy's slaying.

Earlier this year, Downs successfully argued to an appellate court panel that it was inherently unfair he did not have an attorney present nor representing him when he argued against his defense attorney and prosecutors that he did not receive a fair trial.

The panel cited this procedural error and sent the case back to court in Kane County.

Friday, Downs got his chance with attorney Don Haskell advocating on his behalf, to push for a new trial arguing that he did not receive effective counsel.

Kane County Judge Timothy Sheldon, citing previous case law, denied Downs' request, according to court records.

In addition to case law, Sheldon also noted that he presided over a bench trial of one of Downs' co-defendants who also was found guilty of Contreras' murder, and Sheldon noted that David Kliment -- then the Kane County public defender -- avoided some of the pitfalls in the other case.

Haskell said Downs has now been appointed an attorney from the Illinois Appellate Defender's Office, who can still appeal the case on other grounds, which still includes the claim that Kliment was ineffective in the 2009 trial.

"It will be up to (Downs) and his appellate counsel (to decide what else to appeal)," Haskell said. "It really goes back to the first appeal, except for the finding that the procedural error has now been corrected."

Downs has until Dec. 21 to file another appeal, records show.

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