This commentary is about two cases in which the State's Attorney’s office entered into a criminal plea agreement with individuals and then brought them before the DUI court of Judge Richard Klaus for sentencing. The first involved Katheryn Daly, a 24-year-old white woman from the Philo area, who was sentenced on May 16th of this year to three and a half years in prison for reckless homicide. The second involved Willie Craft, an African American man from C-U who was given the same sentence for the death of one person and “great bodily injury” to another.

The Katheryn Daly Case

The facts of the Daly case are that she had been at a party on the family farm near Philo. She and other members of her family had been drinking and her alcohol blood level was over the 0.08 level at which the state determines that a driver is intoxicated. At about 3 a.m. she took her cousin on a ride on a Gator, which is a small farm utility vehicle made by John Deere. The Gator tipped over as she turned the corner from a paved country road onto a smaller gravel road. Her cousin suffered fatal injuries. Daely was arrested and charged with reckless homicide. In this case, States Attorney Julia Reitz joined with Daly’s attorney in asking Judge Kraus to grant her probation with no prison time. Despite leniency pleas from her aunt and uncle, who were the parents of the deceased cousin, Judge Klaus gave the harsh 3 ½-year sentence. Daly is a nurse, and several medical personnel at Carle, as well as a Parkland instructor, testified as to her character. She has a 20-month-old son. She has had no prior criminal or DUI record.

The Willie Craft Case

The facts of the Craft case are quite different. Willie Craft, a 59-year-old retiree from the University of Illinois, is a diabetic. He had not driven for three years. For some reason, he decided to drive on October 9th, 2013, without eating anything beforehand. When he was driving his truck southbound on Lincoln Avenue, he lost control of the vehicle, which went up on the sidewalk near Illini Grove and killed U of I student Mimi Liu and seriously injured another student, Spandana Mantravadi. The presumed cause of the accident was his going into a diabetic coma caused by not having eaten. He was charged by the States Attorney with reckless homicide. Rather than pleading for probation or other leniency as she did in the Daly case, the State's Attorney simply asked for no more than three and a half years prison time. Judge Klaus, making the claim that Craft had used his vehicle as a weapon, said that the maximum three and a half year sentence was necessary to deter others from doing what Craft did, i.e., “employing a vehicle as a lethal weapon.” Like Daly, Craft had no prior criminal record. While Daly shared child care with her husband, Craft was the sole care-giver of a granddaughter whom he had adopted.

Willie Craft, Jr., who was in the courtroom, was obviously stunned by the severity of the sentence given to his father, who had already been sitting in the county jail for six months awaiting trial. After yelling an explicative at the judge and being taken out of the courtroom by deputies, the judge ordered that he be returned to the courtroom. Upon his reentry, he protested to the judge “That man had an accident! Do you know that? This isn’t justice!” The judge thereupon gave him 6 months in the county jail for his outburst.

Belden Fields

Photo credit: News-Gazette

Detrimental Effects

The major issue that I want to raise is whether the criminal justice system is benefiting the community and the individuals most involved in these cases, or whether it is causing more harm to people who have already been suffering. I believe it is doing the latter. The Daly family now has to grieve not only the accidental death of one family member, but also the imprisonment of another. Their impact statements were testaments of how much they loved Katheryn, considering her more as another daughter than a niece, and wanted her to remain with them. Instead, they lose Katheryn to incarceration after losing their daughter forever. Kathryn’s son is now deprived of the loving presence and care of his mother at a crucial developmental stage in his life. An already tragic accident is made even more tragic by criminalization and disregard of the further devastating impact on the day-to-day lives of this family.

In the Craft case, the judge apparently took little or no account of the testimony of professional witnesses, who pointed out that when people are ill they don’t always think as clearly as people who are physically well. For the judge to say that Craft should have known that he should not be driving before he ate, and should have reflected that students were likely to have been walking on the sidewalk next to the street on which he might be driving (if he even had any idea of where he was going), and nonetheless criminally went on to use his vehicle as a “weapon,” does not take into account the limited reflective ability of many people who have serious physical illnesses. It has to be granted that the ill man was not “thinking right.” But was the cause under his control? It also has to be granted that there was no intentionality to harm anyone else. So now, Mr. Craft’s adopted granddaughter is deprived of his care and Mr. Craft is consigned to a prison which, from the perspective of both the afflicted Mr. Craft and the overburdened institution, is a terrible place for an ill person to be. In addition, his son, stunned by hearing such a sentence, cries out in anguish and anger against it and winds up being sent to jail himself.

How much longer will people of this county tolerate a system that, with the stated intention of “protecting” the community, refuses to understand that prosecution and imprisonment is not always the best way to deal with terribly tragic accidents, and in the process compounds the suffering of good and caring people and their families?

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The above was published in the summer 2014 issue of the Public i, the newspaper of the Independent Media Center. It was rejected by the News-Gazette. On November 10th, Judge Klaus once again handed down a sentence that exceeded what even the States Attorney had requested. He gave farmer Timothy Bretz eight years for a traffic fatality because there were still metabolites in his blood from when he had smoked cannabis two weeks prior to the accident. The doubtfulness that such traces going back that far can impair driving aside, the states attorney asked for 5 years. Klaus gave him 8 years.

Ten days later, on November 20th, after Katheryn Daly appealed her case, the
State Appellate Prosecutor “conceded that Klaus abused his discretion by rejecting probation for Daly.”  On the basis of this concession, Daly was released from the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln pending a ruling on her appeal, after having spent 6 months there.  On December 1st, the Appellate Court overruled Judge Klaus stating that his “rejection of the original plea [probation] points to a predisposition against probation.  The court’s [Klaus’s] comments at sentencing also imply if an offender drinks and kills someone, the offender will not receive probation regardless of how the offence is charged and without regard for the specific facts of the case. Such a position results in an arbitrary denial of probation and frustrates the intent of the legislature to provide for a range of sentencing possibilities under the Unified Code.” 

This is a stinging rebuke to Judge Klaus. But it did not save Katheryn Daly from spending six months in prison, and it does nothing for Willie Craft and Timothy Bretz or who knows how many other people that Judge Klaus has treated in such a cruelly disproportionate way.

Judge Klaus must be removed from the bench before he distributes more injudicious misery to other defendants, people who might not be able to afford a skilled criminal lawyer like Daly’s to appeal Klaus’s decisions.

Finally, States’s Attorney Julia Reitz is not above blame either. Her office did not have to prosecute these cases, and certainly did not have to seek hard prison time for Willie Craft and Timothy Bretz. Nothing positive, and a lot of harm, comes from imprisoning people in such tragic but accidental circumstances. Justice should not be that blind.