Illini basketball

Ruling is good news for Jaylon Tate

On Friday, Champaign County Judge John Kennedy allowed the prosecution’s motion in limine admitting hearsay testimony from Illini wrestler André Lee and softball player Kate Giddens, and denied the state’s motion to admit hearsay from Hailey Pieruccini’s roommate Nicole Evans.
That’s good news for Jaylon Tate because it means his case will go to trial. Only a trial can legally vindicate Tate. Had the motions been denied in full, the case would likely be dismissed for lack of evidence. A dismissal doesn’t say “not guilty” the way a verdict does.
The hearsay testimony, when and if provided by Lee and Giddens, must match the state’s profer (description & characterization of their words)  to be deemed admissible under Friday’s ruling.
Lee would be well-advised against testifying, to avoid opening himself to cross-examination.  Team Bruno will almost certainly seek to explore the theory that Lee punched Pieruccini. Lee’s own testimony demonstrates that he was alone with the victim between the time she was last seen uninjured and the time she arrived at her apartment, battered. Furthermore, it seems that Lee is already uncooperative. A brief bit of dialog between Kennedy and attorney Evan Bruno suggested that Lee’s phone is no longer expected to be introduced as a defense exhibit, or as one person phrased it “André’s phone has magically become unavailable.”
The implication is that Bruno would use data from Lee’s phone to show that Lee and Pieruccini are involved in a relationship. Bruno would likely suggest that Lee was angry with Pieruccini for attending a party at Tate’s apartment.
Judge Kennedy grilled Champaign County assistant state’s attorney Stephanie Hall about the profer regarding Lee’s testimony. Hall sought to introduce a line in which Lee says Pieruccini told him, over the phone & presumably while walking toward his apartment, that her boyfriend had punched her. Kennedy was adamant that Lee could not, as a matter of law more so than a matter of fact, know who was being characterized by that statement.
Hall did not describe Tate as the victim’s “boyfriend’ but instead said that the two had had a “sexual relationship,” popularly known as a Friends with Benefits situation.

Hall cited People v. Enoch [545 N.E.2d 429 (1989)] and People v. House [566 N.E.2d 259 (1990)] as precedents favoring the introduction of “excited utterance” hearsay in Illinois.

The state needs this hearsay evidence because it doesn’t have any other evidence which would indicate that Jaylon Tate punched Hailey Pieruccini. Bruno pointed out that Pieruccini has not vacillated from her account of events, which is that Jaylon Tate did not hit her.

Bruno offered for submission into evidence a surveillance video showing the sidewalk & street outside West Quad, Tate’s apartment building.  Hall objected and was overruled,  Kennedy finding that Bruno’s offer of the video was relevant to the state’s motion in limine. Kennedy then left the bench to sit in front of a big screen TV, and watch the video via Windows Media Player. After admitting it into evidence, Kennedy asked whether Bruno had a DVD copy of the video. Bruno said he had the video on a flash drive, which he then held in the air. Kennedy asked whether he should know what a flash drive is. Bruno replied that he would make a DVD for the court. Sotto voce chuckling briefly ensued.

Much of the audience got up from the gallery, and walked the five or six paces to the right side of the room, to better see the big screen. Not much happened in the video, but Kennedy asked Bruno to pause it twice. At the first pause Kennedy asked if it were the defense’s contention that a particular figure seen in the video was Pieruccini. Bruno affirmed. Kennedy asked Hall whether the people disagreed with that contention. Hall said no.

That means the video evidence is in, establishing that Pieruccini left West Quad at 11:24 p.m. That’s more than half an hour before any other events in the case.

Kennedy also accepted Bruno’s profer of six affidavits from witnesses who will testify that they were in Jaylon Tate’s presence throughout the evening, and that all six witnessed no violence at any time. One of those witnesses, Brandon Edwards, attended the proceeding with the Tate family. Edwards was the person sitting closest to the door of Tate’s apartment when a drunk Pieruccini departed, according  to his testimony, unscathed.

Kennedy adjourned the hearings with the announcement that the trial date in People v Jaylon Tate is set for June 7.  Bruno, Tate, Tate’s mother Arisa Johnson, grandmother Bonnie Johnson, uncle Steven Johnson, sister Joryin and Edwards then convened in the front hall of the Champaign County Courthouse, and addressed the media.

Illini basketball

Surveillance video will clear Jaylon Tate

Last month’s column, regarding the delay in dismissing charges against Jaylon Tate, relied on a critical piece of information: Two sources indicated that N (the primary witness and only person regarded as having no direct knowledge of events) had been persuaded to meet with state’s attorney Julia Rietz, on or about the day that first column published.  The implication was that N would change or clarify her statement.

Saturday’s News-Gazette‘s update on the case revealed N to be Nicole Evans. Consequently, Illini Report will move forward using the real names of all involved.

Evans’s statement could not be dispositive, because she had no direct knowledge of events. But certain aspects of her statement were thought to be crucial in determining the overall chain of events, and especially the timeline.

More importantly, the C from that first story no longer stands for “culpable,” but rather “composite.” It’s two people, not one. The person who arrived at the apartment shared by Evans and Hailey Pieruccini (the victim) was Kate Giddens.  The person who was alone with Pieruccini between the party and her bloodied arrival was Illini wrestler Andre Lee.

The News-Gazette story features a quizzical line, reported as hearsay from Pieruccini: “She also told Giddens that Tate was upset with her for being at Lee’s apartment.”  This is the key line from the story.

The timeline, which no one disputes, is this:

  • Tate’s apartment
  • Lee’s apartment
  • Pieruccini & Evans’s apartment

The disputed aspect is when Pieruccini was battered (and of course, by whom).

A key piece of electronic evidence in this series of events is the West Quad surveillance video that shows Pieruccini leaving Tate’s apartment, by herself, in the direction of Lee’s apartment. The video shows Pieruccini walking away while making a phone call at 11:24 p.m.  Video quality, according to sources, is not sufficiently clear to demonstrably show that Pieruccini was uninjured at 11:24 p.m.

The same surveillance video later shows Tate and three friends hanging around outside the apartment, and eventually climbing into an Uber ride to the Red Lion. According to multiple sources, the Uber car arrived/departed West Quad after all Pieruccini-oriented events had completed. i.e. Pieruccini had left the party and arrived at home, battered, before Tate and friends left West Quad for the Red Lion.

So, back to the key line from the News-Gazette story. “She also told Giddens that Tate was upset with her for being at Lee’s apartment.”

Why would Tate be upset that the victim was at Lee’s apartment before she went to Lee’s apartment?

Or did Giddens conflate who with whom? That’s understandable, because the victim was both intoxicated and possibly concussed.

For Jaylon Tate’s purposes, the combination of testimonial & electronic evidence should be enough to win a verdict, but is it enough to force a dismissal of charges?

The testimonial evidence will show not only that Tate was never alone with the victim, but that Tate was never alone. Multiple witnesses, including basketball teammates, attended the West Quad gathering. Three of those people accompanied Tate to the Red Lion in an Uber car. If Tate punched Hailey Pieruccini, a lot of people saw it.

So far, there’s only one acknowledged eyewitness to the battery, and she’s adamant that Tate did not punch her. That’s Hailey Pieruccini.

Champaign Police confiscated Tate’s phone. Any correspondence between Tate and Pieruccini might be used to indicate a “dating relationship,” some degree of friendship, or even a state of enmity between them. Tate’s attorneys have subpoenaed Pieruccini’s phone records to demonstrate communications between Pieruccini and Lee.

It’s by no means impossible that an unknown,  unnamed person is also a subject of interest. The original source for Part 1 regarded C as a single person, not a composite. It’s possible that the original C is responsible for the battery, but did not accompany the victim to her apartment.

But that trail has gone cold. it’s clear where Tate’s defense team is focused now.

Without dispositive evidence, the state’s attorney is not required to dismiss the case against Tate. But while Pieruccini will not incriminate Tate, she’s also remained steadfast in her determination against incriminating anyone. That’s the impetus for Saturday’s News-Gazette article. The state’s attorney is seeking Pieruccini’s testimony from other people, because Pieruccini refuses to provide it.

Their respective motives remain among the most intriguing aspects of this story. The perplexing question from Part 1 remains: Why and how did Champaign Police never consider the possibility that “C” was the batterer? Unfortunately, while their machinations play out, Jaylon Tate continues to twist in the wind.