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Crime & Courts

Judge delivers harsh words for lawyer who prosecuted Bianchi

ROCKFORD – A Winnebago County judge acquitted the special prosecutor in Lou Bianchi's criminal trials, but not before blasting the man and apologizing to the State's Attorney.

Bianchi defense attorney turned prosecutor in this case, Terry Ekl, was seeking to hold Thomas McQueen in criminal contempt, alleging that McQueen withheld discovery materials that would have been beneficial to Bianchi's defense.

McQueen was appointed as special prosecutor in Bianchi's two corruption trials. In both – first in 2010 and again in 2011 – the State's Attorney was acquitted before presenting a defense.

Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw lambasted McQueen saying he believed McQueen ignored his legal duty by withholding emails and witness statements from the Bianchi prosecution.

Ultimately, though, McGraw ruled that there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that McQueen had willfully violated court orders.

But the judge called the McQueen's actions "repugnant."

"This should in no way be construed as an exoneration or approval of his behavior," the judge said. "The special prosecutors and their investigators abused their office and authority … to wrongfully prosecute innocent people based on evidence they knew was deeply flawed or did not exist."

McGraw then looked directly at Bianchi and apologized, saying a not guilty verdict for McQueen "cannot give you back what you've lost and gone through."

"This prosecution was intended to embarrass Mr. Bianchi and his staff, to subject him to scorn and ridicule," McGraw said. "... What you and your staff went through is beyond the pale."

Bianchi showed not reaction in court, but became overwhelmed outside the courtroom.

"Rather than seek the truth, Thomas McQueen chose to follow his 'marching orders,' " Bianchi said in a written statement. "… By withholding evidence, altering reports and using faulty evidence to procure and indictment, he flagrantly disregarded our legal process. In so doing, he put a knife through the foundation of our legal system."

The first word out of Ekl's mouth after the judge's tongue lashing was, simply, "wow." Ekl, who represented Bianchi during his criminal trials, has called the prosecution a farce, "a political witch hunt."

"What McQueen did is absolutely abhorrent," Ekl said.

McQueen had declined to comment after the verdict, saying he'd never talk about pending litigation.

The contempt case centered on emails between McQueen and investigators from Quest Consultants.

The emails surfaced when more than 17,000 documents were turned over to Ekl during a still pending federal civil-rights case against McQueen.

Another special prosecutor, also was subject to the civil-rights case, but since settled. Tonigan agreed to pay $157,500 but not admit any fault. He was not named in the criminal contempt complaint.

Ekl said not naming Tonigan in the criminal contempt case had "nothing to do" with the settlement, as McQueen defense attorney's argued during the two-day bench trial in Rockford last month.

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