Facing re-election, Glasgow takes national stage
BY JON SEIDEL firstname.lastname@example.org July 22, 2012 5:50PM
Retired Bolingbrook Police Sgt. Drew Peterson arrives at the Will County Courthouse in Joliet on May 8, 2009, for arraignment on charges of first-degree murder in the death of his former wife, Kathleen Savio. | M. Spencer Green~AP file photo
Updated: November 30, 2012 10:18AM
The fates of Will County’s two most notorious murder defendants — Drew Peterson and Christopher Vaughn — could be in jurors’ hands this summer.
Each man faces serious accusations. Prosecutors claim both killed their wives. They said Vaughn also gunned down his three young children in a cold, calculated murder.
So no one involved in either trial is eager to talk about politics. But the results of both trials could loom large this fall when voters cast their ballots for Will County state’s attorney.
Democrat Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Peterson’s lead prosecutor and the man who originally sought the death penalty for Vaughn, will ask local voters Nov. 6 to keep him on the job for another four years. He’s being challenged by Republican Dave Carlson, a Joliet defense attorney.
The high-profile verdicts will be fresh in voters’ minds. And neither camp seems thrilled with the timing.
“At the end of the day, truly, you’re talking about lives,” Carlson said.
Vaughn’s been waiting for his trial since June 2007. Glasgow originally said he’d try to have him executed if convicted, slowing down pre-trial proceedings. But Illinois abolished the death penalty last year. So new attorneys took the case and his judge set an Aug. 13 trial date in February.
That means Glasgow and Carlson knew by spring Will County would see a high-profile trial shortly before November.
But Vaughn, accused of a heinous crime, doesn’t draw the same sensational media interest as Peterson.
The former Bolingbrook cop’s long appeal ended in April, and suddenly lawyers were sprinting toward a July 23 trial date. Reporters from as far as Japan said they’d be there to watch.
Now the trials of Peterson and Vaughn are likely to overlap. They could be prosecuted at the same time, in neighboring courtrooms. And Glasgow will be under intense pressure on a national stage less than four months before ballots are cast.
“No one could have anticipated the timing on either of these cases,” said Chuck Pelkie, a spokesman for Glasgow’s office.
It’s hardly the first awkward intersection of justice and campaign politics in Will County. Former State’s Attorney Jeff Tomczak famously announced in fall 2004 he’d seek the death penalty for Kevin Fox for the brutal rape and murder of Fox’s 3-year-old daughter, Riley. Days later voters replaced him with Glasgow.
Glasgow cleared Fox of the charges in 2005 when DNA evidence didn’t match up. Scott Eby later pleaded guilty to Riley’s murder. But Tomczak became a target of a federal lawsuit. Fox’s lawyer accused him of prying a bogus confession from Fox in a last-ditch bid to win re-election.
Tomczak said he didn’t time the charges to coincide with the election. He said he filed them when investigators brought the case to his office. Nevertheless, the story is now part of Will County’s political lore.
Carlson, meanwhile, said he’s not interested in talking about the evidence against Peterson. He doesn’t hesitate to criticize the way Glasgow manages his office, though. One prosecutor might have to temporarily leave the Vaughn case, for example, thanks to the timing of the two trials. He’ll be replaced by two more. Other lower-profile cases at the courthouse could be affected too, including one of Carlson’s.
“When you’re talking about taking a prosecutor out of a pending trial where there’s a real victim, that’s disturbing to me,” Carlson said.
But Pelkie said that’s the reality of the job Carlson is seeking — the state’s attorney must manage limited resources so they’ll be most effective. And he said Carlson insults Glasgow’s entire staff when he suggests the Vaughn case will be handicapped by new prosecutors.
“They’re going to do everything that they need and so much more to come up to speed on this case,” Pelkie said.
Glasgow is personally prosecuting Peterson, possibly the most high-profile defendant in Will County’s history, and Pelkie said it’s because Glasgow has been involved in the case from the beginning.
“It’s a case that he felt compelled to prosecute,” Pelkie said.
But Carlson second-guessed that decision too. He said it’s been too long since Glasgow prosecuted a case.
“We’re all licensed to drive a car,” Carlson said. “If you haven’t driven a car in 15 years you’re not ready to go to the Indy 500.”
Judge Joe Birkett, the former Republican DuPage County state’s attorney, said it’s important for elected prosecutors to keep politics out of their decision-making. When he had the job, he said he wouldn’t campaign and prosecute cases if he didn’t think he could do both.
Pelkie said politics plays “literally no role” in the decision-making on the Peterson case. Birkett said he knows Glasgow feels strongly about it, and he said “you have to respect his decision” to lead the prosecution.
But he said no matter how much an elected prosecutor tries to ignore the politics of a case, someone will accuse him of doing the opposite.
“If you’re afraid of being attacked, then you shouldn’t do the job,” Birkett said.