A Woodstock man previously convicted of hitting a McHenry County sheriff's officer who he says choked him during a 2015 traffic stop will receive a new trial in October.
Based on an error in jury instruction regarding 50-year-old David Magnuson's self-defense claim, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court reversed Magnuson's conviction of aggravated battery to a peace officer and sent the case back to McHenry County for a re-trial.
On Wednesday, McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt rescheduled the case for an Oct. 19 jury trial on the aggravated battery charge. Magnuson, citing several health problems, said he has concerns about attending the trial in person amid the spread of COVID-19.
Wary of entering the courthouse on Wednesday, Magnuson asked his attorney William Bligh whether he could wave to the prosecutor from his car as proof of his attendance. Wilbrandt rejected the idea and shortly after, Magnuson entered the courtroom in a pink and yellow gas mask.
"It seems ironic to me that they’re letting out child molesters and actual people with violent histories out on the street and they’re forcing me into a courtroom, when I avoid indoor spaces at all costs, as much as I can," Magnuson said.
Seating in McHenry County's courtrooms has been taped off to enforce social distancing, and visitors are required to wear masks inside the building.
Magnuson's case dates back to April 10, 2015, when a McHenry County sheriff’s officer stopped the man for allegedly speeding 31 miles over the speed limit. The situation escalated when backup officers arrived and Magnuson refused to exit his vehicle.
McHenry County Sheriff's Lt. William Lutz called for backup when Magnuson allegedly became argumentative. The situation further escalated when Magnuson repeatedly refused to exit his vehicle. Another officer, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Edward Zeman, eventually reached inside the car to remove the keys from the ignition while Sheriff's Deputy Keith Sosnowski attempted to restrain Magnuson.
That’s when police allege Magnuson struck Zeman and drove off before crashing into a culvert. Magnuson denied hitting the officer and claimed self defense, in that he only tried to pull away an officer's arm that he claimed was pressed against his neck.
"I was being choked by an officer and being placed under arrest by an invalid claim," Magnuson said Friday.
During their testimony at Magnuson's April 2016 jury trial, Zeman and Sosnowski each denied choking the man. Lutz, however, testified that although he didn't see either deputy place their arm on Magnuson's neck during the stop, he did see it in video footage played at trial.
Jurors ultimately acquitted Magnuson of speeding, but found him guilty of aggravated battery to a peace officer, fleeing, and transportation of alcohol. He was sentenced to two years of probation and 90 days in jail. He additionally was required to attend counseling and write an apology letter to the officers.
On appeal, Magnuson only contested the aggravated battery charge. He, in part, alleged that although jurors were allowed to consider whether he was acting in self defense, they weren't informed that prosecutors had to prove Magnuson’s actions were unjustified.
Reached by phone on Friday, Magnuson said it was "upsetting that there’s been a trial at all."
"Sometimes the law fails the good people of your community," he said.
At Magnuson's first trial, jurors were shown a fragmented video of the traffic stop. The video contained three parts of the interaction, two of which appeared to be the same footage, according to the appellate ruling.
Matthew Losey, the passenger who recorded the video, testified in 2016 that he called Magnuson and asked him to pick him up from a tavern where he had been drinking.
When police stopped them for speeding on the way home, Magnuson asked to see the officer's radar reading. Lutz told Magnuson he could review it in the police squad car, but Magnuson requested to instead see a photo of the reading, which Lutz did not provide.
As the interaction continued and two backup officers arrived, Magnuson refused multiple times to get out of his car, and at one point drove away from the stop altogether.
“Defendant testified that he was scared so he put the car into drive and hit the gas pedal," Appellate Justice Anne Burke wrote in the 2019 ruling. "Defendant lost control of his car on the wet road, hit a curb, and crashed.”
At trial, Magnuson admitted his behavior was “not his finest hour” but he felt the stop was unjustified.
"They could have deescalated this whole situation," Magnuson said. "They didn’t need to do what they did.
The McHenry County State's Attorney's office could not immediately be reached to comment.
Magnuson is due back in court Oct. 15 for a final court appearance before the start of his new trial.