SPRINGFIELD — A reputed Chicago gang member who’s serving a 30-year prison sentence for the 1998 shooting death of a Bloomington man will get a new trial after a Springfield judge overturned his conviction last week.
Eric Drew, 35, was convicted of first-degree murder for gunning down Reginald Thornton on June 21, 1998, during a party at the Machinists Lodge 1000 on Bloomington’s southwest side.
In ordering the new trial, Circuit Judge Robert Eggers said prosecutors erred when they failed to tell the defense about charges filed in Champaign County against their key witness, Antoine Drew, the defendant’s cousin.
Antoine Drew told jurors his cousin calmly walked up to Thornton and shot him in the stomach following a fight between Thornton and one of Eric Drew’s fellow gang members.
McLean County prosecutors argue the Champaign County charges were not part of any agreement reached in exchange for Antoine Drew testifying against his cousin.
Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Messman said Antoine Drew was charged with domestic battery and obstruction of justice in Champaign County, but the charges were dismissed before he ever testified during Eric Drew’s trial.
Had prosecutors even been aware the charges were dismissed, they had no duty to disclose them to the defense because they wouldn’t have been admissible during Eric Drew’s trial, Messman said.
Judge Eggers disagreed.
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“The State argues that nothing about these cases was admissible at trial,” Eggers wrote in his three-page ruling. “In my judgment, the State is flat out wrong on these issues, and the defense should have been able to cross-examine Antoine Drew on these charges, their outcome, and the assistance he received.”
During the trial in 1999, prosecutors did tell jurors police paid Antoine Drew $4,000 so he would wear a wire to record a conversation in which his cousin admitted shooting Thornton.
Prosecutors also told jurors that Antoine Drew had two unrelated weapons charges pending against him in McLean County, but that they had made no promises to him to get him to testify.
Robert Freitag, who prosecuted Drew, testified during a recent appeals hearing that there was no link between the Champaign County cases and Antoine Drew’s decision to testify.
Freitag, now an associate judge, could not be reached to comment on Eggers’ ruling because he’s serving as a judge advocate general lawyer with the U.S. Army Reserve in Iraq.
Messman said he was somewhat confused by the ruling because in no part does Eggers ever explain why prosecutors had the burden of disclosing the Champaign County cases.
“I don’t understand the basis of his ruling,” Messman said. “He said I’m flat out wrong. I don’t understand how I’m flat out wrong. If he’s satisfied there’s a link between the dismissal of this guy’s cases and his cooperation, I would understand. He doesn’t say that.”
Messman said he’ll now have to choose whether to ask Eggers to reconsider his ruling, appeal the decision to the 4th District Appellate Court or simply start the process of retrying Drew.
Right now he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. But Messman did note that appealing the ruling will take time and that’s something that will only work against him if he ultimately ends up having to ask witnesses to recall a shooting from 1998.
Eric Drew remains in prison pending the decision on whether to retry him.