The Illinois Supreme Court said there is sufficient evidence to convict a McDonough County man of killing a young child.
The high court said in a ruling issued Thursday the evidence is strong enough to overcome a mistake made in the trial courts.
Daniel Belknap was twice convicted of First Degree Murder in the September, 2006 death of Silven Yocum. The five-year old was the daughter of Erin Yocum, who Belknap was dating at the time. Investigators have said the adults were meth abusers at the time.
The Third District Appellate Court threw out both convictions because the trial court failed to strictly comply with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431 (b).
Appellate justices said even though the four principles of the rule were explained to jurors, it did not ask jurors if they understood.
Rule 431 (b) states:
- Defendants are presumed innocent
- The state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
- Defendants are not required to offer evidence on their own behalf
- If a defendant chooses not to testify, jurors cannot hold that against him/her
The Supreme Court agreed the trial courts made a mistake. But the high court justices added, “We also hold that the evidence in this case was not closely balanced and, thus, plain error review is unwarranted. We further hold that the evidence was sufficient to convict the defendant.”
McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker said common sense prevailed. He did not look forward to going through a third trial.
“It’s just an amazing amount of work and stress for everybody,” he said, adding it would have been stressful not just for his office but also for the families involved.
Reporter Nathan Woodside covered the second trial and the appellate proceedings. He does not know if Belknap is innocent or guilty and he feels no one can say with certainty who committed the crime.
“There’s no physical evidence against the man. The only evidence we have are the two jailhouse snitches and their credibility is certainly in question,” said Woodside.
Woodside is now city editor of the Alton Telegraph but he continued to follow the Belknap case. He said there is room for reasonable doubt and he believes Belknap should get a third trial.
After his second trial, Belknap was sentenced to 24 years in prison.