Crime & Courts

Drug evidence allowed despite informant's charges about cop

WOODSTOCK – The evidence seized in a drug case is admissible in court despite the informant – who is the defendant’s fiancée – allegedly having a sexual relationship with a detective in the case, a judge ruled Thursday.

In a hearing about consent to search, Christopher L. Branham’s fiancée testified that she contacted the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office in March 2011 about narcotics in the home she and Branham shared on Thomasville Lane in Crystal Lake.

She was put in contact with then-Detective Jason Novak, who reportedly told her that if she arranged it so that the items could be confiscated, no charges would be filed against her and her identity would be secret.

The fiancée said Novak continued to communicate with her, texting every day and calling every other day, with the interaction becoming more personal and, she felt, inappropriate.

Novak and two other officers eventually went to her home while Branham, 42, wasn’t there, and she consented to a search of the house.

That consent was based on the officer’s deception and therefore inadmissible, said Branham’s attorney, Hal Stinespring.

“They cannot gain access to home evidence by invoking trust, later to betray that trust,” he said.

According to the criminal complaint filed by Novak, police found drugs, including morphine, oxycodone and methadone.

The fiancée said the officers “ransacked” her home, threatened that she would be arrested if she didn’t tell the truth, and made jokes about her personal items.

On cross-examination, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs asked her at what point detectives held a gun to her head and made her sign the consent to search.

“They didn’t,” she said.

Combs also showed her thank you notes dated June 2011 and sent to detectives. In them, the fiancée said they made “a horrible situation as pleasant as possible.” She said they were “courteous and compassionate.”   

The fiancée acknowledged sending the notes but said they were sent at Novak’s direction. He had given her a choice, she said.

“I could either write the cards or pay what I owed,” she said. What she “owed” was a sexual act, she said.

Because the hearing was about the consent to the search, Judge Sharon Prather did not allow Stinespring to ask the fiancée about things that happened later, and she quickly denied Stinespring’s motion to suppress the evidence.

“The court, to put it plain and simple, does not believe anything that [the fiancée] had to say here,” Prather said.

Branham was arrested the day after the search and, according to court documents, Novak began texting the fiancée as she worked to raise the bail money for Branham’s release.

During the early morning hours, she allegedly went to Novak’s house and performed a sex act on him. At one point in her testimony Thursday, she said she felt she had been sexually assaulted.

Novak, hired in 2007, was demoted from detective to the patrol unit. He also was suspended for 10 days without pay.

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