Special Report: questions being asked after state’s attorney declines to pursue a felony charge

By Ryne Turke on August 11, 2015 at 8:43am

From left to right: Chris Reif, Bobby Bonjean, Chad Slater

Morgan County State’s Attorney Bobby Bonjean has admitted to WLDS-WEAI News that he could have been “more aggressive” in filing charges against a previously convicted felon.

Forty-six-year-old Chad Slater of the 100 block of East Independence was sentenced to 364 days in jail for domestic battery on August 4th. Charges were filed against Slater on June 7th and the defendant entered an open plea a month later.

After a “back and forth” discussion between his office and the victim, Bonjean declined to enhance Slater’s charge to a felony and it was kept as a misdemeanor.

Although the Court imposed the maximum sentence for the misdemeanor offense, Slater could have received significantly more time behind bars if the State had chosen to enhance the charges to a felony.

Assistant State’s Attorney Chad Turner, who represented the State during the sentencing hearing, admitted that he was “torn” when delivering the sentence recommendation for Slater.

The formal recommendation from the State was 364 days in jail, but on behalf of the victim, a sentence of 180 days in jail and a term of probation was also presented.

Slater’s criminal history records in Morgan County date back to 1989 and include multiple sentences to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Convictions against Slater include a 2002 battery conviction, resulting in 24 days served in jail.

In 2006, Slater received three separate convictions. The first was for domestic battery, which resulted in a term of probation. Slater violated terms of that probation and was re-sentenced to 90 days in jail.

During that same time he was placed on probation for violation of an order of protection. Slater received probation and a 36 days sentence in jail. Terms of probation were revoked again and Slater was re-sentenced to 90 days in jail, running concurrently with the previous revocation.

Slater’s third conviction, involving domestic battery, also resulted in a 90 day jail sentence.

In 2007, a domestic battery charge was enhanced from a misdemeanor to a felony, resulting in an 18 month sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Slater received another felony conviction in 2011 for misuse of a credit card, which resulted in a two year sentence in the IDOC.

Circuit Judge Chris Reif, who served as the Morgan County State’s Attorney for nine years before Bonjean took over the position in 2013, presided over the sentencing hearing for Slater last week.

With extensive knowledge of Slater’s criminal history in mind, Reif addressed the defendant before handing down his official sentencing.

According to official Morgan County Court excerpts, Reif stated,

Mr. Slater, I’m going to tell you you’re probably very, very fortunate and lucky today that I can only sentence you on a misdemeanor, because there’s no question in my mind a domestic battery with three prior convictions, this being your fourth, should be a Class 2 Felony.”

When we spoke with Reif post-sentencing, he corrected a statement he made in court. Reif noted that in actuality, Slater could have received a Class 3 felony, punishable by two to ten years in the IDOC, not a Class 2 felony.

Bonjean says he didn’t disagree with Reif’s comments and even acknowledged that Slater could have received a felony charge and a larger sentence.

“My job is not only to seek convictions, but to seek justice. There is always a fine line as to not being the hammer all the time. Obviously I think I may have leaned too far on not being the hammer. Someone with Mr. Slater’s criminal history deserved more of a hammer than any opportunity to correct his behavior,” said Bonjean.

“I probably should have been more steadfast and said criminal history is more important in this case and filing the felony and sending him to the Department of Corrections. I probably leaned or relied too much, in terms of my decision making, on perhaps the wishes of the victim.”

During the sentencing, Reif added that an opportunity to put Slater behind bars was presented to the State’s Attorney’s office in March, after Slater was arrested for theft.

Reif stated,

“You received a misdemeanor theft that again your prior one to that was enhanced and you got two years DOC (Illinois Department of Corrections), probably could been — should have been put in prison in March of this year and perhaps we would have prevented this.”

Bonjean couldn’t give WLDS-WEAI News a straight answer as to why Slater’s charges remained a misdemeanor, instead of being enhanced to a felony.

“At the time it was a filing decision, trying to determine how strong of a case we had. You look at criminal history and strength of the case and try to get a situation where you get a guilty conviction,” says Bonjean.

Reporter: “Do you feel like you didn’t have enough evidence in that case?”

“Potentially,” noted Bonjean.

According to Reif, the abuse inflicted by Slater on the victim “could have very easily been charged as an aggravated domestic battery with a penalty” and with Slater’s previous criminal history could have led to “no less than seven or eight years at 85 percent.”

Bonjean says the victim suffered “severe bruising on the face and arms and a bite mark on the finger”, but Reif went into more details in court last week after reviewing the victim impact statement.

“You held someone for six to seven hours. You beat someone terribly. You bit her finger. The reports say you strangled her until she passed out… That itself is automatically a Class 2 Aggravated Domestic Battery, where again you would be looking at three to 14 years. Quite frankly, I think we’re fortunate this didn’t end a lot worse. We might be looking at something in the excess of 20 years.”

Reif says injuries like this bring up a safety concern for the public and noted,

“Some of what our obligation to do is to protect society. We understand victims of domestic violence sometimes want to see the best in somebody, and that’s our obligation to make sure this doesn’t happen to them or the next person. You’ve done it four times now.”

Bonjean told us that the State’s Attorney’s office needs to send a message that anything related to domestic battery and drugs “will not be tolerated.”

“We’re going to evaluate those criminal histories, elevate the charges and try to work with the Department to have all the evidence necessary to prove the elements of the offense,” says Bonjean.

“We are always looking at drugs. With the meth and heroin that is creeping into our community, we are trying to push back and send a message that we don’t want the meth and heroin in our community.”

To hear the complete interview with Bonjean click below.