Crime & Courts

Local news coverage won't hinder former McHenry man's chance of fair trial, judge says

Mike Braun of McHenry leaves the McHenry County Courthouse after a hearing on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges Dec. 7.
Mike Braun of McHenry leaves the McHenry County Courthouse after a hearing on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges Dec. 7.

Two Northwest Herald articles won’t prevent former McHenry resident Michael Braun from receiving a fair trial on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Attached to Braun’s request to move his case to another county was a printout of the front page of the newspaper’s Dec. 24 issue. A quote overlayed on a closeup of Braun as he entered the McHenry County Courthouse read “why is he not in jail?”

McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt pointed out that the headline featured on the cover page was a direct quote from the story, and not the paper’s “editorial opinion.”

The quote came from Moraine Hills State Park Superintendent Greg Kelly, who claimed to have regularly witnessed Braun’s dogs running alone through the park.

The superintendent wondered how Braun continued to own dogs, despite years of complaints, police calls and unpaid fines, which the Dec. 24 article chronicled in detail.

That history, however, “has nothing to do” with the charges Braun’s up against now, he said. Braun fears news coverage surrounding his previous run-ins with law enforcement and continued reporting on the most recent charges have already helped inform opinions of potential jurors.

“The fact of the matter is I’m not going to get a fair trial in McHenry County,” Braun said in court Wednesday.

Braun doesn’t want Wilbrandt to preside over the trial, he said. He has until Aug. 8 to file a request for a new judge. Wilbrandt also denied Braun’s request to bar testimony from the woman who reported seeing the man beat his dog with a garbage can lid in April 2017.

Braun has been steadfast in claims he was targeted by an anti-Trump Facebook group that reported what he called false reports of animal abuse. Braun has argued the female witness who called police that day was never even outside his home.

“One dog was trying to kill another dog and I stopped it,” Braun said Wednesday. “That’s not a crime.”

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