Brown County Murder Trial Goes Through Cycle of Pre-Trial Motions

By Benjamin Cox on July 25, 2021 at 11:42am

A murder trial in Brown County went through several pre-trial motions yesterday afternoon.

42 year old John M. Dean appeared before Judge Charles H.W. Burch in Brown County on several motions, including a motion to reconsider a ruling in May that Dean had violated terms of his bond set the previous year where he was on ankle monitoring and staying at his parents’ residence prior to trial. Dean sent social media messages to an acquaintance named Jeremy Houston, which violated the terms of no social media use while on home confinement.

Defense Attorney John Leonard argued through both U.S. And Illinois Supreme Court Case law that the court’s decision to prohibit Dean’s usage of social media on home confinement was a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Brown County State’s Attorney Michael Hill explained that Leonard’s argument was incorrect because the two instances in the case law pertain to mandatory supervised release or probation and not someone on bond pending a jury trial: “The ones that [Mr. Leonard] cited stand for the proposition that a condition of probation or mandatory supervised release that prohibit people from using social media is a violation of the First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. It’s my position that those cases and those rulings are inapplicable here because we are not dealing with probation or MSR, we’re dealing with bond conditions. Bond conditions, as the court said, the court has a lot of latitude as to what conditions they can impose because there are several reasons for bond. One is the protection of the public. One is to ensure the defendant comes to court. And as the court said today, there is another one out there, and that is to protect the integrity of the process. That gives a lot of latitude to a judge as to what they can do for bond.”

Judge Burch subsequently denied the motion to reconsider bond and Dean was remanded back to the custody to the Brown County Sheriff’s Office after the hearing.

A second motion to reconsider the court’s ruling on expert fees also posed intriguing requests from Defense Attorney Leonard. Leonard motioned to the court to ask for reimbursement of upcoming and current fees to hire expert witnesses for the case. The court granted on March 23rd authorization of $10,000 for the hiring of expert forensic analysts Dr. George Nichols and Investigator Larry Hood to be hired in advance of the trial as well as outside analysis of both DNA and firearm residue. Judge Burch granted $2,500 bail bonds posted by Dean’s family to be placed into the defense’s account trust to hire a third expert Daniel Krane of Ohio. Leonard has previously argued a back at the Illinois State Police’s crime laboratory as a reason for hiring outside experts. Former Brown County State’s Attorney Mark Vincent did not order DNA evidence when the case originally started in 2019.

Krane’s hiring is interesting because he may be refuting or re-analyzing DNA from the defense’s already hired experts. Hill says such situations aren’t without precedent: “Usually, like in this case, I can’t speak to why my predecessor didn’t want the DNA [analysis] done. Maybe there is a reason. Maybe it was a backlog. I don’t know. Typically, if there is evidence like that or gunshot residue, or fingerprint analysis, something like that – the state does that as a part of their case in chief. Then, the defense wants an expert to counter the state’s expert witnesses. That’s pretty normal. In this case, you have the defense saying they wanted an expert in the first place and now they don’t intend to use that evidence for whatever reason but the state wants to use it. Now, the defense says I need an expert to help me argue against that first expert that presented the report.”

The case returns to Brown County Court on competing motions to compel in discovery release of witness lists in the case, as both sides revealed in court yesterday new witnesses will be subpoenaed to potentially testify. Judge Burch will also rule on at least further outstanding motion as well on Thursday, July 29th at 9:30AM.

Dean is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of 44 year old Rebecca L. Niewohner on the evening of June 14th at a residence in Mt. Sterling. If convicted, Dean faces 45 years to life in prison.