Oral arguments have begun for both sides of a wrongful death suit in the Fifth District Appellate Court at the Southern Illinois University School of Law. In their arguments, counsel for the defendant, William R. Barham, made an appeal for the court to overturn a ruling granting the plaintiffs one million dollars for the family of Jeremy Isom. In 2010, a Saline county court made the award regarding a wreck that led to Isom’s death.
The initial judgment was based on the assertion that Barham was driving the vehicle that struck Isom. Barham had received both aggravated DUI and reckless homicide convictions in 2001.
However, Barham argues that these charges were overturned in 2003, with a judge ruling that it was unclear that Barham was either driving his state-owned vehicle at the time, or that he was intoxicated. Further, Barham’s defense team argued that certain statements Barham had made to officials and hospital workers following the accident were invalid, because at the time he had requested and not yet received an attorney. By allowing testimony from these statements into the record, the Saline county decision prejudiced the case against Barham.
The attorney representing the plaintiffs dismissed these claims as nonsense, asserting firmly that there was no error in the facts presented, and certainly no prejudice in bringing up the statements that Barham had made. The issue at stake is partially due to the fact that civil and criminal courts have very different standards of admissible evidence. Civil cases often accept more information into evidence than criminal trials, a circumstance that, for example, led to OJ Simpson’s acquittal in his criminal case, but a judgment against him in the civil case regarding the same murder.
Judges at the circuit court listened to a total of 40 minutes of testimony from each side in the case. The court said it would retire to consider the matter under advisement, and did not give any timeline for themselves to reach a decision.