Remember the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case from Sanford, Florida? Who could forget? Well, it looks like our own state of Illinois will host a similar legal battle in the coming months. The shooting death of Xavier Hartman in western Illinois has inflamed passions and left residents divided and confused.
During a confrontation in rural Galva, a 59-year-old white farmer named James Love shot the unarmed, mixed-race 19-year-old twice in the leg. One of the rounds ruptured Hartman's femoral artery. Minutes later, the teen died.
Last week, we shared some details of the case, along with a word of warning. In this day and age, prosecutors nationwide seem increasingly inclined to allow political expediency to enter into charging decisions in self-defense cases and let a jury sort it out. Especially when a good guy uses deadly force against an "unarmed" attacker.
In this case, Mr. Hartman's mother, Melissa Hartman, wants justice in her son's death. She's posting sentimental photos on her Facebook page. She's also carefully moderating comments, as is her right. Frankly, Ms. Hartman has crafted a very sympathetic case in her quest for the farmer's prosecution.
Meanwhile, the farmer claims self-defense. The farmer, James Love, pictured below, has retained the Johnson Law Group, a well-respected law firm to represent him.
On Monday afternoon at the Knox County Courthouse in Galesburg, the defense will make their case in front of Judge Cavanaugh, a former State's Attorney himself. Cavanaugh is a jurist with a law and order mindset. At that preliminary hearing, the defense will offer details and information showing support for their claim of self-defense. No doubt a gaggle of media will attend.
As GSL's President Steve Davis says, "It could prove interesting." We invite GSL members to attend the hearing at 2pm Monday, August 6th to listen to the facts of the case, and if so moved, to support Mr. Love.
Following one of the earlier court dates, Love's attorney Todd Ringel expressed confidence that the evidence will show the farmer acted in self-defense. The Galesburg Register-Mail reported it:
Ringel said he is “very confident Jim is going to be exonerated … I think we’re going to try to bring a lot out” at the preliminary hearing.
On the other side, Brian Kerr, the assistant state's attorney, has taken very unusual steps to pursue a murder charge despite a grand jury rejecting a murder indictment. Kerr wants 45 years to natural life for Love.
Some also say Kerr also wants to run for Knox County State's Attorney when his boss retires at the end of this term.
At the same time, the case has local media enjoying increased circulation and viewership. The Peoria Journal-Star served up the latest, describing how the Hartman's death has split the community.
Galva is a town divided in wake of fatal shooting
“You have to understand something right off the bat,” Sherry’s cook for the last six years said. “This town is pretty divided over what happened.
“And I don’t think a lot of people want to talk about what happened. First, they don’t want to been seen as taking sides in this. Second, there are so many rumors around now that people don’t know what to think.
“I’ve heard so many stories, I just hope all us can know exactly what happened that night. I think that might help a lot of people.”
…The court proceedings have only added to the confusion, according to a number of Galva residents.On July 17, a Knox County grand jury declined to hand up an indictment of Love for first-degree murder, instead settling on charges of reckless homicide, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and aggravated discharge of a firearm.
In a rare move, the Knox County State’s Attorney’s office has again filed a first-degree murder charge against the defendant.
The murder charge, if Love is convicted, carries a mandatory prison sentence of 45 years to natural life in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Much of this case mirrors the George Zimmerman prosecution from Seminole County, Florida. No doubt stand-your-ground considerations will come into play from people who don't know Illinois law. Hopefully Spike Lee will stay off of Twitter and Jay-Z won't grace us with his presence or make another Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story feature series.
And the media's treatment of the two cases also shows remarkable similarities right out of the gate.
The top photo comes from ABC News, the bottom from the Peoria Journal-Star.
The defense's law firm has told me, "This will be a monumental case."
It surely seems that way. Stay tuned to Guns Save Life (and The Truth About Guns) for more as the case develops.