By Bob Uphues
The Illinois Appellate Court last month reversed the conviction of a Westchester man accused of a 2010 Riverside burglary and remanded the case back to the Cook County Circuit Court for a new trial because of improper jury instructions.
Judge Noreen Love sentenced Martin J. Canonico, 58 at the time, to 20 years in prison after a jury deliberated about 15 minutes before finding him guilty of residential burglary.
At the trial, Canonico's attorney didn't dispute that his client had entered the Riverside home without permission but argued that, at most, Canonico was guilty of criminal trespassing. Canonico, who didn't take anything from the house, was chased from the house by a woman who lived there.
Canonico had a long criminal history, with convictions for burglary stretching back to 1986. Prosecutors said his method of operation was posing as a handyman or painter, gaining access to the homes of the elderly and burglarizing them.
But the appeals court overturned the verdict, agreeing with Canonico's lawyer that Love failed to give jurors a complete list of options to consider. Love gave the jury three possible verdicts to consider: Not guilty of residential burglary, guilty of residential burglary or guilty of criminal trespassing.
By not giving jurors the option to find Canonico not guilty of criminal trespassing, said the appeals court, Love committed an error that "creates a serious risk that the jurors incorrectly convicted the defendant because they did not understand the applicable law, so as to severely threaten the fairness of the trial."
The appeals court made that ruling, even though the appellate court judges quoted in their opinion Canonico's lawyer stating on the record that Canonico entered the Riverside house without permission.
"We're not saying he didn't enter," Canonico's lawyer is quoted as stating during the trial. "This isn't a who-done-it. They got the right guy."
Canonico remains in custody at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, which is located southeast of St. Louis.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, whose department collected evidence, took witness statements, and had seven officers testify at the trial, said he's unsure what he'll be asked to do for the re-trial.
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, confirmed that the case had been remanded back to the county and that Chief Judge Timothy Evans will determine which judge will preside over the case.
No date has been set for the re-trial at this time, Simonton said.