Accused murderer Rodney Adkins moved a little closer to standing trial last week. Flanked by two Cook County Jail guards, Adkins watched quietly as public defender Preston Jones Jr. argued two motions regarding the constitutionality of Illinois' death penalty in court last Wednesday before Circuit Court Judge Thomas Tucker.
Adkins, who is accused of the July 2003 murder of Catherine McAvinchey in her Oak Park condominium, is charged with First Degree Murder, Home Invasion, Armed Robbery and Residential Burglary.
Arguing his first motion, Jones told Tucker that the current moratorium signed by former Gov. George Ryan precludes the imposition of the death penalty in Illinois. Tucker seemed skeptical, saying that the law is clear on that subject.
"The death penalty is still available and viable," he told Jones.
But Jones' attacked the application of the death penalty in Illinois as "arbitrary and capricious." Arguing that "there are over a dozen ways to apply the death penalty," Jones also criticized the manner in which decisions were made as to whether the death penalty would be applied in a specific case, calling the process secretive and not open to either the court or the defense.
"There is no set standard," said Jones, arguing that that denies his client equal protection under the law. "We have to know why one person gets it and another doesn't."
Assistant state's attorney Maureen O'Brien scoffed at Jones' contention of arbitrariness, and denied that Adkins' 8th or 14th amendment rights were being violated.
"The victim was killed in the course of another felony," she told Tucker. "There's a thing called discretion. We can reduce [charges], or not. There's nothing capricious about it."
Tucker clearly agreed with O'Brien. Finding that the decision on Adkins' prosecution fell within the bounds of proper prosecutorial discretion, he denied Jones' motion.
Jones then presented his second motion, arguing that the state statute concerning the death penalty unfairly shifts the burden of proof onto a defendant.
"The burden of proof shifts onto the defendant to prove why his life should be spared," Jones argued.
"But isn't that true in all these cases?" replied Tucker.
When Jones criticized the language in the sentence portion of the hearing as vague, O'Brien countered, saying, "The Illinois Supreme Court has found the language constitutional."
Again, Tucker concurred. Saying, "State law and statutes have been reviewed time and time again and have been found to be valid," he denied the second motion as well.
After the prosecution filed a motion for capital case discovery, Jones informed the judge that he was filing two new motions, one to dismiss the case due to prosecutorial and police misconduct, and a second to suppress statements made by Adkins around the time of his arrest.
O'Brien said that she wasn't yet ready to respond to the motions due to a delay in receiving transcripts from previous hearings. She did ask that the defense counsel be more specific in his motion to suppress Adkins' statements to police.
"He doesn't indicate the specific nature of violations that would suppress the statement," O'Brien said of Jones' motion.
Citing professional ethics, O'Brien declined to comment further on the case outside of court. The next hearing is scheduled for March 29.