Kane County holds first jury trial since COVID-19 outbreak

Kane County began its first jury trial Monday - a case of a St. Charles man accused of punching a police officer in April 2019 during a warrant arrest - since the COVID-19 pandemic ground operations almost to a halt in mid-March.

Judge D.J. Tegeler presided over the trial of Eric E. Ericson, 63, of the 1400 block of South Fourth Street, who is charged with felony aggravated battery to a police officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest.

Officials used the largest courtroom at the Kane County Judicial Center in St. Charles for the trial.

Twelve jurors and two alternates were selected in the morning and were seated in the benches normally reserved for audience members.

The general public was not allowed into the courtroom; rather, a closed-circuit TV showed the courtroom proceedings in the lower level of the judicial center.

"We are very happy to report that we held our first criminal jury trial since the COVID outbreak," said Clint Hull, chief judge for the 16th Judicial Circuit. "The measures that were implemented for the protection of the jurors, litigants and staff worked as planned. We are very appreciative of the cooperation we have received from all our judicial partners and look forward to holding criminal trials on a weekly basis."

Kane, along with other counties, has had to restrict the number of jurors summoned to potentially serve to about 46 instead of the 150 to 160 normally called. Hull said he was "pleased with the high number" of jurors who reported for duty, although he could not immediately provide an exact tally.

McHenry County courts were the first in the state to hold a jury trial on June 1. DuPage County resumed trials the week of July 20. No timeline has been set for Cook and Lake counties to resume jury trials.

Audio issues occurred during morning jury selection, but by afternoon and testimony of St. Charles police officer Rick Murkowski, everyone came through loud and clear.

Murkowski said he was on patrol and in full uniform the night of Aug. 30, 2019, when he learned of an arrest warrant for Ericson. The officer went to the residence on South Fourth Street, where Ericson's tenants said he was fixing a washing machine in the basement.

Ericson yelled that he wanted police out of his house and left through a rear door before Murkowski could call for backup officers.

Murkowski testified that he was punched in the left eye area by Ericson in the backyard and Ericson tried to run off but was caught and cuffed. Ericson yelled obscenities at officers and said, "I hope you die before you get your pensions," on the way to the station.

Ericson, who acted as his own attorney, was combative when cross-examining Murkowski, and drew several admonishments from Tegeler to stop editorializing and to ask questions.

During a 15-minute recess, two courthouse workers, clad in masks and gloves, entered the courtroom and sprayed and wiped down the witness stand, lectern for attorneys, and other areas.

Masks are required at the courthouse, but Tegeler told witnesses they may remove their masks when testifying. A bailiff cleaned the witness stand with a sanitizing wipe after each new witness was called.

Attorneys and judges popped in and out of the basement room to check out the courtroom layout as shown on the closed circuit TV. The trial will resume Tuesday and court officials expect a full docket for trials next week.

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