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New trial awaits former NIU student charged in 2010 shooting

SYCAMORE – A former Northern Illinois University student will get another opportunity to convince a judge or jury that he was justified in shooting a fellow student in the leg in February 2010.

Zachary Isaacman was sentenced in May 2011 to 10 years in prison for shooting Brian Mulder of Marengo outside Stevenson North residence hall on the DeKalb-based NIU campus. But appellate justices overturned his December 2010 conviction after finding his trial defense attorney, John Paul Carroll, was ineffective.

Isaacman, 25, is being held in DeKalb County Jail on charges of aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon; the first charge is punishable by between six and 30 years in prison. He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to ask a judge to reduce his $500,000 bond, which requires posting $50,000 bail while the case is pending.

A three-judge panel on Illinois’ 2nd District Appellate Court, based in Elgin, found that Isaacman didn’t receive a fair trial because Carroll ignored Isaacman’s requests to interview witnesses who said Mulder was the aggressor in the altercation about 3 a.m. outside the residence hall.

“Had the defense presented evidence supporting Mulder as the aggressor, it would have bolstered the credibility of the defendant’s explanation as to why he drew the gun in warning,” the decision states.

At trial in December 2010, Isaacman testified that an intoxicated Mulder stormed up to him after overhearing Isaacman swearing because his phone battery had died.

Isaacman testified that Mulder mentioned a knife while threatening him, so Isaacman told him he had a handgun and would defend himself. When he pulled the gun, Mulder grabbed the barrel and pulled down, and the gun discharged.

Mulder claimed that he declined to let Isaacman into the residence hall, which so frustrated Isaacman that he pulled a gun, according to the appellate decision. Mulder testified that he consumed about 10 alcoholic drinks and smoked marijuana in the five hours before the shooting, the decision states.

The appellate court also faulted Carroll for not discussing the facts of the case with Isaacman or Isaacman’s mother, despite Isaacman writing him more than 20 letters and his mother leaving him more than three dozen phone messages while the case was pending, according to the appellate decision.

The appellate court also criticized Carroll for claiming in his opening statement at trial that Isaacman would testify that Mulder made a sweeping gesture with a knife when Isaacman never saw a knife, according to the appellate decision.

When reached for comment Monday, Carroll declined to comment because he hadn’t read the appellate court decision.

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