When a 20-year old woman failed to appear as a witness for a pretrial hearing in the Tyshawn Lee murder case last month, Cook County Circuit Judge Thaddeus Wilson ordered her sent to jail without bail.
And when the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Wilson, finding his ruling unreasonable, Wilson ordered her held on $100,000 cash — far beyond what the young woman could afford as a grocery store employee.
Again, the appellate court reversed Wilson, and she ultimately was let out of jail. But not before she spent two weeks behind bars and missed work.
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The witness, whose name is being withheld at the request of authorities who cited her safety, had no appreciable criminal record according to the state prosecutor. After she failed to appear for an August 22 hearing despite a subpoena calling for her to do so, Wilson held her in contempt of court. She was then arrested on August 26 with a no-bail order.
She allegedly saw one of the defendants at the scene of the crime where, prosecutors contend, nine-year-old Tyshawn Lee was fatally shot in November, 2015, in an execution-style murder.
Lee’s death is thought to be the result of an escalating gang feud involving as many as 15 shootings over an 18-month period.
Days after her arrest, the witness’s lawyer, Michael Jarard, filed a motion on August 30 to set bail. A hearing was held on September 4, and Judge Wilson denied the motion, ordering her to continue to be held without bail. Jarard subsequently filed an emergency motion to the Illinois Appellate Court that same day, seeking a reasonable bail to be set.
The appellate court swiftly ruled that the circuit court and Wilson must issue a reasonable bond and conditions of release within 24 hours. Wilson instead set her bail to $100,000 in cash on September 5 — a figure equivalent to a defendant facing the highest of felony charges.
“My client can afford to pay $300, that is all she has,” said Jarard in court before Wilson’s decision, according to a transcript. “She has not been to work obviously since she has been in custody.”
In court, Wilson cited the witness’s vital role in the state’s case, his prior warning regarding the consequences of failing to appear, and the state’s “frantic” attempts to communicate with her and her family to have her appear in court voluntarily as reasons he issued the no-bail order. The witness contended, without success, she had not tried to intentionally dodge the state.
“It is clear that no conditions of bond or release, including the possibility of electronic home monitoring would be sufficient to guarantee her return to court to testify at the trial as scheduled,” Wilson said to justify the $100,000 bail decision.
Jarard filed a second emergency motion to the Appellate Court on September 6.
The state, in a response to Jarard’s second emergency filing, agreed with Wilson’s decision to set the second bail at $100,000 cash because he exercised his “broad discretion to determine a bond which was appropriate under the circumstances.”
The state added, “The risk that she would flee or otherwise make herself unavailable for the upcoming trial is great and could lead to a public safety concern.”
According to the second emergency motion filed, the witness claimed that the state’s investigator told her she was not needed on August 22 and she was apologetic for the miscommunication, asserting her willingness to testify on any day ordered. The motion mentioned the “irreparable harm” that would occur if the witness stayed in jail, including the potential loss of her job.
The Appellate Court once again aligned with Jarard and ordered Wilson to offer a reasonable bond. It was set to $750, which was posted and she finally was released on Monday. A hearing on whether she was in contempt is scheduled for September 20.
The trial for the Tyshawn Lee murder case is expected to start Friday.