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Illinois Jail Guards Acquitted in Killings; California Jail Guard Acquitted in Beating

Sgt. Patricia Pultz and deputies Lawrence Koscianski and William Spatz of the Cook County, Ill. sheriff's dept. were acquitted on March 12, 2002 in the murder of Louis Schmude. Prosecutors allege Schmude's death on May 7, 2000, was the result of a beating by the guards on May 5th in a holding cell at the Bridgeview courthouse.

Defense attorneys claim Schmude died from a fall he suffered in the jail infirmary, where he was transferred after the May 5 beating. They cite as evidence Schmude's death certificate that lists the cause of death as a beating sustained on May 7th. Deputy medical examiner Mitra Kalelkar, who supervised the autopsy, testified that Schmude's death was a direct result of the beating he received May 5th. After the trial, Cook County Medical Examiner Edmond Donoghue said the date on the death certificate "was a mistake."

Judge Ronald Himel apparently disregarded Kalelkar's testimony and took just four minutes to acquit the guards, even though he admitted some of the testimony was "consistent with the defendant's being guilty." Prosecutors say he was biased from the beginning.

On April 11, 2002, in an unrelated incident, El Dorado County Jail guard, Charles David Copeland, 21, was acquitted in the June 21, 2001 beating of EDCJ prisoner Eric Quinn Beeghley, 44.

Authorities claim Copeland punched and kicked Beeghley numerous times. Guard Gayla Wilbur testified that she saw Copeland slam Beeghley against a cell wall, bounce him off a bunk bed ladder and punch him "two or three times," and kick him "five or six times" even though he wasn't resisting.

Copeland's lawyer, Paul Goyette, said Wilbur just misperceived the situation. He contends Beeghley was trying to get weapons hidden in the cell, including a plastic spoon and a three foot rope made from toilet paper.

Two other guards testified Beeghley told them he provoked Copeland and that he got what he deserved. Prosecutor Trish Lelliher characterized the testimony of one of the guards, a close friend of Copeland's, as "absolutely unbelievable."

Sources: Chicago Tribune & The Sacramento Bee

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