GALESBURG — In a rare move, the Knox County State’s Attorney’s office has again filed a first-degree murder charge against James Love in the June 19 shooting death of Xavier Hartman.
According to Knox County court files, prosecutors filed the same charges as they initially sought in a new case July 18. The charges are: first-degree murder with a mandatory firearm enhancement; Class X felony aggravated battery with a firearm; and felony aggravated discharge of a firearm.
The murder charge, if Love is convicted, carries a mandatory prison sentence of between 45 years to natural life in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
The new case was filed a day after Love, 59, of Galva, pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial in the initial case, in which a Knox County grand jury returned a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter against Love.
In a grand jury proceeding, prosecutors present evidence, whether through testimony or physical evidence, before a panel of citizens, which then renders a bill of indictment, charges, or no true bill, which is essentially an acquittal.
But the charges returned by the Knox County grand jury in the first case are somewhat contradictory in that the involuntary manslaughter charge alleges Love was “acting in a reckless manner” while the shooting charges both allege that Love “knowingly discharged a firearm,” court documents said.
According to Knox County court records, the initial case is still pending as both prosecutors and Love’s private counsel, attorney Todd Ringel, are in the midst of the discovery process, exchanging evidence ahead of the Aug. 6 pretrial hearing in the first case.
But how that case proceeds is unknown at this point with a first appearance set for Love in the new case Wednesday with a preliminary hearing likely to follow.
Ringel previously told The Register-Mail he was ready to go forward with a preliminary hearing last week, but prosecutors elected to present the case to a grand jury beforehand.
Knox County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Kerr, who filed the new case, told The Register-Mail late Monday morning the move was researched before the second case was filed.
“I have never seen this happen in any jurisdiction I have been prosecuting in,” he said.
Kerr has been an assistant state's attorney in Knox for about three years following several years working as an assistant state's attorney in Henry County.
The new filing seems to indicate that prosecutors are likely not to take the new case before the same grand jury, which has been seated for a few months and heard a range of cases.
Love is charged with shooting Hartman in his left thigh during an altercation June 19. That bullet struck Hartman’s femoral artery, which resulted in his death. The altercation between the two Galva men occurred after Hartman crashed a vehicle he was driving about 300 yards away from Love’s property.
Love responded to the scene after hearing the crash and subsequent yelling. Two shots were fired by Love while Hartman was unarmed.
While Galva is mostly in Henry County, north of Knox County, the incident happened less than a half-mile inside the Knox County line.
While the autopsy was performed in Peoria County, the records of that are in the custody of the Henry County Coroner’s office, as Hartman was pronounced dead in the emergency room of OSF HealthCare St. Luke Medical Center, Kewanee.
Henry County Coroner Melissa Watkins said Monday morning that toxicology reports on Hartman are still pending. She reiterated that the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to Hartman’s left thigh, which struck the femoral artery. That is the leg’s main artery.
While authorities have said two shots were fired during the incident, Watkins said Monday that Hartman was struck once in the lower leg as well as the shot to his thigh that ultimately killed him.
Procedurally, a preliminary hearing date for the new case will be set at Love’s court hearing Wednesday, but whether that will occur before the Aug. 6 pretrial hearing in the initial case remains unknown.
A preliminary hearing allows the presiding judge to listen to an outline of the state’s case to decide whether or not there is probable cause to continue prosecution of the defendant.
Kerr said Monday that both cases will remain pending and the preliminary hearing for the new case could be heard as early as July 30.
Ringel and his law firm, the Johnson Law Firm, issued a news release Monday regarding the murder charge filed in the second case.
“Surprised by the State’s Attorney’s conduct in re-filing charges, that the Grand Jury obviously felt were unsupported by the evidence, Johnson Law Group Attorney Todd Ringel spoke with an Assistant with the State’s Attorney’s Office assigned to Mr. Love’s case,” the news release said.
“No specific details were provided to Mr. Love’s attorney for the reason for the re-filing other than the State disagreed with the Grand Jury’s decision and that the State felt they would be fine with the Judge determining whether probable cause existed” at a preliminary hearing.
Robert Connelly: (309) 343-7181, ext. 266; firstname.lastname@example.org; @RConnelly_