Attempted murder trial of Waukegan man on hold for appeal over evidence
Prosecutors in the case of a 53-year-old Waukegan man accused of attempted murder filed a rare mid-trial appeal that a Lake County judge said could delay the case for at least another year.
Varghese Philip faces two attempted murder charges stemming from a June 21, 2018, attack on a woman. He has pleaded not guilty.
During a hearing Tuesday over which evidence would be allowed at trial, and before jury selection was set to begin, Assistant State's Attorneys Scott Hoffert and Lauren Kalcheim Rothenberg argued that the trial should include statements from medical professionals about the extent of the woman's injuries.
Lake County Judge George D. Strickland ruled that evidence not be included in the trial because it would unduly prejudice the jury.
In explaining his decision, Strickland said Wednesday the evidence the state wished to present included how the attack was "extremely violent" and resulted in the victim's suffering a concussion, falling into a coma and facing potentially permanent brain damage.
"Any decent human being would have extreme sympathy," Strickland said. "Jurors would have had the natural inclination to not let the defendant get away with it."
After Strickland ruled against allowing the evidence Tuesday, Hoffert and Rothenberg filed the appeal, putting the trial on hold until an appellate court decides whether to uphold or overturn Strickland's decision.
Strickland said Wednesday the prosecutors' decision to file the appeal resulted in "an egregious violation of due process" and said he believed the appellate court would side with him.
Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said his office respects due process.
"We seek only to introduce evidence admissible for the attempted murder charge which we are prosecuting," Nerheim said in a statement. "We feel our case is substantially impaired because of his ruling."
Nerheim said filing an appeal of Strickland's decision is an "extreme measure" that the office rarely uses.
"Our appeal addresses what we believe to be the judge's misapprehension of the law," Nerheim said.
Philip's public defenders, Evan Atwood and Sarah Raisch, declined to comment after the hearing.
Philip initially was charged with three counts of aggravated battery as well, but those charges were dropped Tuesday before discussion of which evidence would be allowed at the trial. The aggravated battery charges were each felonies and would have carried lighter sentences than attempted murder, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Strickland ruled Wednesday to maintain Philip's $500,000 bail, which means he likely will remain in the Lake County jail until the appellate court rules, which Strickland said could take a year or more.
Strickland ordered both sides back to court on March 20 for a status hearing.