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Judge orders Coles jury bribery case to go forward
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Judge orders Coles jury bribery case to go forward

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CHARLESTON — A man used his friendship with a jury member to help relay a bribe offer from a man convicted of DUI who wanted it overturned, according to a police officer's court testimony Thursday.

The man told the woman who was part of the jury in the DUI case against Christopher K. Whitley that she'd receive money and a job offer if she made claims that would lead to a mistrial, the officer said.

While Whitley's attorney questioned the officer about what indication there was that Whitley was behind the offer, a judge said the testimony was enough to order Whitley's case to move forward.

Whitley, Christopher

Whitley

Whitley, 41, of Mattoon faces bribery charges accusing him of making offers to the juror and to the man for relaying the offers to her. His attorney entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf during Thursday's hearing.

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The case follows the guilty verdict a jury reached in April on a charge that accused Whitley of driving under the influence in May 2015. A judge ordered a new trial in August but there's a pending motion from the prosecution seeking to reinstate the verdict because of the bribery allegations.

On Thursday, Coles County Assistant State's Attorney Joy Wolf called Mattoon police Sgt. John Hedges to testify about the investigation. Hedges said it began after the juror told police she "thought it was strange that people reached out to her."

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The only direct contact from Whitley was a message asking the woman to meet with him and his attorney, Hedges related.

However, he added, after the man who allegedly made the offer was identified, he was interviewed and said he "reached out" to the juror at Whitley's request. He said Whitley made the request after learning that the two were friends, Hedges said.

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The man said Whitley wanted the woman to say she looked up information about him online while the DUI trial was taking place, which would have amounted to jury misconduct and could have brought a mistrial, Hedges continued.

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He said the man relayed an offer of $5,000 and a job to the woman, and the man was offered a discount on a vehicle at the Pilson automotive dealership, where Whitley works.

Hedges also said the man agreed to allow police to search his phone and messages between him and Whitley supported the account.

The phone messages were the biggest target of defense attorney Stephen Friedel's cross examination, as Hedges said he didn't have copies with him and couldn't recall some details.

Hedges also said the man "beat around the bush a lot" during most of his interview with police. He incriminated Whitley during the last minutes after he was told he could be charged with a crime himself, Hedges said.

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Friedel then argued that the officer's testimony didn't show any "quid pro quo" involving Whitley or that anyone made an offer on his behalf.

In response, Wolf noted the man's saying Whitley offered him the vehicle discount, adding that Hedges' account of the phone messages gave some indication that Whitley was involved.

Circuit Judge James Glenn said there was "no question" that the evidence was sufficient to order the case to continue.

The judge said the status of the bribery case would be reviewed during a hearing on Oct. 18, which is set for the prosecution's motion to have the DUI guilty verdict reinstated.

Asked after the hearing if charges were being considered against the man who allegedly relayed the offers, Wolf said no decision on that has been made yet.

Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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