Benz is being charged with multiple counts of criminal sexual
assault and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He was arrested by
Lincoln police on March 22 in a hotel in Springfield.
Benz allegedly was involved in acts of misconduct with a minor
student at Lincoln Community High School, where he was an English
teacher, freshman football coach and assistant coach for track and
field and wrestling.
The Thursday appearance was on the docket as a pretrial hearing, with
the trial to begin the week after next.
When the judge asked if the attorneys had anything to discuss,
Benz's attorney, James Elmore, asked for a continuance until December. He said discovery was still under way in the case. With no
objections from Assistant State's Attorney Jonathan Wright, Harris
scheduled a status hearing according to Elmore's request.
On Friday morning the judge was back in the courtroom to hear
from prosecution and defense attorneys in regard to the cases
against brothers Christopher and Jason Harris.
The Harris brothers were arrested in October of 2009 following the
brutal deaths of five members of the Raymond Gee family of Beason.
Both brothers face a long line of charges in relation to the murders,
including multiple counts of first-degree murder, criminal sexual
assault, home invasion and robbery.
The two are being tried separately.
Jason Harris was the first to appear before Judge Harris Friday
afternoon. He was represented by attorney Steven Skelton, as
appointed by the court.
Jason Harris is currently being held without bond in the McLean
Christopher Harris was the second to appear before Judge Harris and
was represented by his appointed public defenders, James Elmore and
Christopher Harris is also being held without bond in Logan County.
Much of what was said in the courtroom in the first hearing was
repeated in the second.
Judge Harris began by following up on orders he had issued at the
last hearing, in June. At that time, he had learned that
attorneys were still awaiting forensic results from the Illinois
State Police crime lab. He issued a deadline of Sept.1 for all
evidence to be processed and reports issued to the attorneys in the
He asked if this requirement had been met and was assured by Skelton
and Elmore respectively that they had the reports.
Skelton noted in his answer that he has not had sufficient time to review
all the reports issued, saying he was about one-third of the way
Skelton also mentioned the enormity of the case, saying there are
more than 11,000 pages of discovery and over 200 interviews that
have to be conducted.
In both hearings Judge Harris then addressed changes on a state
level that are going to have an effect on the eventual trials of the
He noted that since the last status hearing in June, the state of
Illinois has abolished the death penalty. He said this would
influence the procedures to be followed in the two cases and would
also affect funding, specifically in payments for the public
defenders and expert witnesses.
[to top of second column]
During the hearing for Christopher Harris, Rogers said the changes
in the death penalty had little effect on how the attorneys would
prepare for the trials ahead, but the big question was whether the
defendants would have attorneys.
When the death penalty was abolished in July, it also
did away with the state's Capital Litigation Trust Fund. These are
the dollars that pay for public defenders, as well as other expenses
such as fees to expert witnesses.
Rogers said he
couldn't say whether or not he would be able to continue as
Christopher Harris' attorney, due to the funding issue. He also noted
that without doubt, "experts won't work with or for us until they know
they are going to be paid."
Judge Harris also weighed in on the situation, saying it was leaving
the court in limbo.
directed the attorneys for both defenses as well as the state to
continue moving forward in their work.
He acknowledged the massive amount of evidence that has to be
reviewed and advised the attorneys to meet outside the courtroom
and devise a means of streamlining the discovery process.
He noted the court-appointed defenders do their work in addition to
their own private practices and caseloads, and he acknowledged
they are working at full capacity to accomplish all they have to do.
During the hearing the prosecution was represented by
Attorney General Michael Atterberry with Logan County Assistant
State's Attorney Jonathan Wright.
Atterberry told Judge Harris there was a meeting planned in
Springfield with all the attorneys, where they would work to
streamline the discovery process.
In both cases, Judge Harris ruled for a continuance, with a case
management hearing for each defendant scheduled for Dec. 16 at 11
[By NILA SMITH]