PEORIA — A Peoria murder trial was delayed this week after the Illinois Department of Corrections said it was short of gas money.
This week, an official at Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling sent an email to the Peoria County State's Attorney's Office saying it couldn't bring an inmate, who was slated to be a witness in a murder trial, because it was "having difficulties with making fuel purchases at the current time."
The official then asked the state's attorney's office to push the trial back later in May "when the probability is more likely that we will be able to obtain fuel while on the road if needed."
Samuel T. Clay Jr., 23, was to go on trial Tuesday in Peoria. He is charged with the October 2015 shooting of 14-year-old Tommie T. Forest III after a home invasion, but when the prison said it couldn't deliver a witness — who had previously pleaded guilty to aggravated battery — the trial was delayed.
An emailed request for more information, including the policy on buying gas and how many prisoners were affected, was not immediately answered by a DOC spokeswoman.
The delay is significant because Clay has been in custody since the fatal shooting and has only days left before the 120-day limit for the Speedy Trial Act. While he’s been in custody for well more than that, the clock is stopped when he asks for or agrees to continue the proceedings.
His attorney Maureen Williams had initially agreed to the continuance Monday but then vigorously opposed it on Tuesday, saying it was within the power of the state’s attorney’s office to get the prisoner to Peoria — a notion that both Judge John Vespa and prosecutor David Gast contested.
In addition, the judge said there were no jurors to hear the case, as all had been dismissed after another trial started and after Vespa told the commissioner the jury pool wasn’t needed.
On Oct. 10, 2015, Clay and four others allegedly barged into a house in the 2400 block of North Flora Avenue in an attempted robbery. Tommie Forest III died as a result of being shot. Three teens who had been playing video games with Forest inside the house also were struck by gunfire, according to police. Furthermore, a woman was shot at.
Five people have been charged with Forest’s death and for the other shootings. One man, Kiangelo G. Marshall, 20, of 604 E. Maywood Ave., was sentenced to 65 years in prison in May after pleading guilty to first-degree murder. The others — Alex F. Collins, 22; Samuel T. Clay Jr., 21; and Dontarius N. Berdin, 21 — all face identical charges: counts of first-degree murder in connection with Forest’s death and counts of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery for the shooting of the other teens.
Andy Kravetz is the Journal Star public safety reporter. He can be reached at 686-3283 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.