Drazewski is a McLean County circuit judge who has been appointed to
the Harris cases after the departure of Logan County Circuit Judge
In December it was announced that the Illinois
Supreme Court and Justice Rita B. Garman had appointed Harris to
fill a position in the 4th District Appellate Court, effective Jan.
Prior to the Christopher Harris venue hearing, Jason Harris also
appeared before Drazewski. Very little was discussed in that
hearing. Jason Harris' attorney Steven Skelton requested that his
client have a status hearing on Feb. 8. Drazewski granted the
request and set the time for 1:30 p.m.
Jason Harris is being housed in the McLean County Jail, and
Christopher Harris is being held in Logan County. It has been the
practice of the courts and law enforcement that the two brothers
have not been in the Logan County Courthouse at the same time.
After Jason Harris was dismissed from the courtroom, there was
approximately a 10-minute break before Christopher Harris was
brought in. During that time, defense attorney Dan Fultz verified
that Drazewski had received and reviewed all the documentation
pertaining to the change of venue motion. Drazewski said he had
documentation from Dec. 3 and 17 and Jan. 4 and 9. Fultz confirmed
that was all the documentation.
When Christopher Harris was brought into the courtroom, Drazewski
invited defense attorney Peter Naylor to present his case for a
change of venue.
Naylor told the judge that the motion for a change of venue was
based on a legal standard that has been in place for 120 years.
Naylor said that standard says that when there are reasonable
grounds to believe prejudice exists, then a change of venue is
Naylor said that the heavy news coverage of the murders of the
Raymond Gee family had an influence on the public perception of this
case, and that because the case was so well known in Logan County,
his client could not get a fair trial in Lincoln.
He cited statistics from a survey that had been taken of 450
Logan County residents. In that survey 50 percent of those polled
said they believed Harris was guilty of the crimes he's charged
with. He said 46 percent of those polled said they didn't know if he
was guilty, but not one person said they believed he was not guilty.
In addition, of those polled, 90 percent recalled the Gee murders
and 1 in 5 people said they had a direct connection with either
Harris or members of the Gee family.
Drazewski asked Naylor how long ago the survey had been
conducted, saying it was his understanding this took place
approximately 18 months ago. Naylor confirmed that was correct.
However, he also told Drazewski that Logan County was unlike
other counties where such crimes have been committed. He noted that
the population of the county is only approximately 30,000, while the
population in Peoria County is 183,000 and in Sangamon County
188,000. He said in addition, Logan County is not a "come and go
community." He said people who lived here in 2009 still live here
Naylor further argued that the loss of capital litigation funds
on the state level will also have an influence on citizens of Logan
County. He said this was a different kind of issue that hasn't
really been addressed before. There is no case law regarding public
sentiment on this, but he said the people of Logan County area are
aware through the media that they are paying for this trial, and
they are not happy about it. Naylor contended this would further
prejudice potential jury pools.
Naylor told Drazewski that since 2009, 490 articles have been
published in a variety of news sources regarding the Gee murders and
the Harris brothers, as well as regarding the loss of capital
Naylor also indicated that these articles are staying in the
forefront due primarily to the Internet. He said that stories are
being published online, and in the stories there are links to all
the past stories. He told Drazewski that after the Monday hearing,
stories would appear in the media, and they would all connect back
to the full history of media coverage.
Naylor said, based on the size of the county and the nature of
the alleged crimes, there is reasonable grounds to believe that
prejudice does exist. He said the public has acquired enough
information to form a preconceived notion about the case.
Drazewski spoke about a case in Cook County where there was much
publicity, yet the trial was held in that county. He asked what the
difference would be, and Naylor responded that Logan County is not
Cook County. He told Drazewski: "Here there is only one case to talk
about in the coffee shops." Naylor told Drazewski this case was
unprecedented in Logan County.
When Naylor was finished, State's Attorney Jonathan Wright spoke
on behalf of the prosecution. Wright said that the defense had a
burden to establish there was reasonable apprehension that jurors
would be prejudiced. He told Drazewski that had not been proven. He
said it had to be more than mere knowledge of the case to prove the
public was prejudiced. He said that in reality, 90 percent of those
polled "recalled" the murders, but the defense had failed to prove
that there is a preconceived notion of guilt.
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Naylor had also earlier mentioned blogs and comments made in
online published articles, and the negativity they contained. Wright
addressed this, saying that no one knew who those bloggers where or
if they even lived in Logan County.
Drazewski spoke up on this, saying that it was unfortunate that
these bloggers were not required to register using their real names
and where they lived, and Wright said he could not disagree with
Wright said in regard to the 490 articles that have been
published, one question was, were the articles inflammatory or were
they news accounts? He said he has seen nothing inflammatory in
local media coverage.
Drazewski then said that could be true of the media, but could it
be true of the bloggers?
Wright further said that he was taking some issue with the survey
that is being cited as proof of prejudice. He said that in the
survey, the questions all pertained to the guilt of the defendant
and that there was no question posed as to whether the public
believed that Christopher Harris was innocent.
Wright told the judge that 46 percent of those polled had no
opinion in the matter and 4.2 percent voluntarily said they believe
Harris was innocent.
He added that there was another percentage of the polled who said
they had an open mind in the case. He concluded then that
approximately two-thirds of those polled could be prospective
After Wright finished, Naylor was afforded another opportunity to
comment. He told the judge that the survey was conducted prior to
the affirmative defense motion charging that Harris killed teenager
Dillen Constant in self-defense and that Constant killed the rest of
In addition, the survey was done before it was announced that
Logan County would bear the cost of the trial. Naylor said these two
incidents, also highly publicized, would further prejudice potential
Naylor also said that there had been one inflammatory article
written in a local print paper. He said the article involved the
lone survivor of the murders, Tabitha Gee, and quoted a police
officer who was assigned to guard the child's hospital room in
When Drazewski delivered his ruling, he said there was much to
consider. He said the number of articles published on the case was
not in itself sufficient for the ruling. He said that in the matter
of the articles, it would have to be determined whether or not they
were accurate or inaccurate. He said another thing to consider was
the online bloggers. He noted that the impact of the Internet in
this case would not be limited to only Logan County.
He said what was important was what the jurors would remember of
what they have read and heard. He noted, as Wright had, that 47
percent of those polled didn't know if Harris was guilty, and that
zero percent answered that he was not guilty.
He said he, too, was concerned about the articles that discussed
the cost of the trial falling on the county, and he noted that in
this case there will be over 100 witnesses, all of whom are
connected to Logan County in some way.
He finished off by saying: "Is it possible (to have a fair
trial)? Of course it is. But if I'm wrong, it will be challenging
Drazewski therefore ruled in favor of the defense and granted the
change of venue.
He added afterward that the cost factor of the trial is not what
is most important. What is most important is that it will be a fair
In choosing a new location, Drazewski said it needed to be
somewhere far enough away for the defendant to get a fair trial, but
not so far as to burden those involved in the case, and it needed to
be a county that wanted the trial.
Judge Harris had begun the search and Drazewski finished it up.
He said that the counties of Macon, Sangamon, Tazewell, McLean and
Champaign had been contacted, but in the end it appeared that the
most appropriate place for the trial would be Peoria County.
According to Drazewski, this decision affects only the actual
trial and jury selection. All the currently scheduled and future
scheduled hearings up to that time will be conducted in Logan
The next hearing for Christopher Harris is set to occur on Feb. 8
at 1:30 p.m. There are also further motion dates set. The deadline
to file new motions in the case is set for Feb. 15, with the
deadline to file responses being set for Feb. 22.