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McCann trial delayed another day as he cancels plan to represent himself

Former state Sen. Sam McCann's jail mugshot
Courthouse photo by Peter Hancock at Capitol News Illinois
booking photo from Macon County Sheriff’s Office
Former state Sen. Sam McCann is pictured in a mugshot after being arrested last week for violating his conditions of pretrial release. McCann checked himself into a Missouri hospital on the eve of his corruption trial and allegedly failed to notify his probation officer of his release. His trial was again delayed until Tuesday, Feb. 13 after he terminated his plan to represent himself and agreed to let his standby attorney take over his defense.

The federal corruption trial of former Republican state Sen. Sam McCann was delayed again on Monday, but this time for only one day to allow a court-appointed standby attorney time to take over his defense.

McCann’s trial has been delayed numerous times since his February 2021 indictment on fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion charges.

At one point it was set to begin Nov. 27, 2023, but it was delayed when he showed up to court that day and announced he’d fired his court appointed attorney and would instead represent himself. Lawless agreed then to postpone the trial for 10 weeks, until Feb. 5, to allow him time to prepare.

Read more: Former GOP senator, third-party governor candidate to represent himself in corruption trial

When that day arrived, however, McCann, who now lives near Carlinville, did not show up. It was eventually learned that he had checked himself in to the hospital in St. Louis.

McCann was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday, Feb. 7. But after failing to contact his probation officer after his release, he was taken into custody on Friday, Feb. 9, and placed under arrest. Since then, he has been held in the Macon County Jail in Decatur.

Read more: Former lawmaker taken into custody amid delays to his corruption trial after sudden hospitalization

McCann appeared in court Monday in a wheelchair and dressed in black-and-grey striped jail clothing.

Appearing groggy, he sat in the defense chair with his elbow on the table, resting his head in his hand and claiming to suffer from confusion and memory loss, allegedly due to not receiving some of his medication for several days – a claim prosecutors disputed.

“I do not feel medically or psychologically ready to proceed,” McCann told Judge Colleen Lawless.

Lawless – who had previously accused McCann of making “excuses” – appeared skeptical of the claim, saying his description of his symptoms was inconsistent with his medical records. And Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Bass said McCann’s most recent claims, coupled with his previous efforts to delay the trial, amounted to “malingering” and urged Lawless to proceed.

Lawless postponed the trial one day to allow Jason Vincent, a court-appointed attorney who had previously been serving as McCann’s standby counsel, to take over the case. McCann verbally agreed to that outcome.

Bass had previously accused McCann of “lying” to the court and creating a “manufactured crisis” by checking himself into the hospital on the eve of his already-delayed trial. Bass had also previously read from McCann’s sealed medical records, which the court subpoenaed, noting doctors recorded him in “no pain or distress” and “well-nourished” upon checking into Missouri Baptist Hospital.

The prosecution alleges that over a five-year period, from May 2015 to June 2020, McCann used more than $200,000 in campaign contributions to pay himself and to make personal purchases such as a pickup truck, an SUV, and recreational vehicles.

Read more: Former GOP state Senator, Conservative Party candidate for governor indicted

McCann served eight years in the General Assembly beginning in 2011 as a Republican from Jacksonville. But he left the GOP in 2018 amid a dispute with then-Gov. Bruce Rauner and launched a third-party bid for governor under the banner of the “Conservative Party.” He received less than 5 percent of the vote in that race.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Peter Hancock joined the Capitol News Illinois team as a reporter in January 2019.