August 20, 2015

Ex Fox Valley man freed after court cites trial delay in murder case

Hal Dardick

A man convicted three years ago of stabbing his girlfriend to death has been set free from prison based on an Appellate Court determination that he was denied his right to a speedy trial, authorities confirmed Tuesday.

Zakii Wahiid, 44, formerly of Aurora, who was convicted of first degree murder in December 1996 and later sentenced to 38 years in prison, was released from Stateville Correctional center on Nov. 5, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.

Wahiid in November 1995 allegedly stabbed to death Mona Lee Vaughn, 39, in her Aurora apartment, a day after he allegedly attacked her twice, slashing her wrist and threatening her with a knife, authorities said. When the slaying occurred, police said they were looking for Wahiid to arrest him in the prior incidents.

Vaughn’s death came amid efforts by the Aurora Police Department to initiate an intensive domestic violence reduction program and became rallying cry for those efforts.

That atmosphere, and Wahiid’s release under the speedy trial statute, have overshadowed defense claims that there was a pattern of mutual violence between Wahiid and Vaughn.

First Assistant Kane County State’s Atty. John Barsanti said he received notice Monday that the state Supreme Court declined to reconsider a 2-1 opinion issued by the 2nd District Appellate Court in July.

The Appellate Court found that Wahiid had been denied his right to a trial within 120 days, as guaranteed under the state law, and reversed his conviction. A trial may be held beyond that period if delays are requested or explicitly agreed to by the defendant.

Wahiid was tried 397 days after his arrest, and the trial came after a four-month delay following an Aug. 2, 1994 hearing. It’s that delay that violated his right to a speedy trial, the Appellate court found.

Amid some discussion, Hudson set a Dec. 2 trial date. Barsanti and Hudson then talked about whether it was a death penalty case “OK.”

In its July opinion, the Appellate Court was upholding a similar opinion it issued late last year. The state’s attorney appealed that opinion to the state Supreme Court, which sent it back to the Appellate Court, ordering it to reconsider the matter while considering additional case law, Barsanti said.

After the second Appellate Court decision, the state’s attorney once again appealed to the Supreme Court, leading to the recent refusal to again consider the case.

Barsanti noted that under a speedy trial law amendment approved by the General Assembly that went into effect Jan. 1, any “delay shall be considered to be agreed to by the defendant unless he or she objects…on the record.”

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