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Ill. trooper loses round in court


U.S. District Judge David Herndon has ruled that statements made by Illinois State Police trooper James Vest, accused of illegally possessing an automatic rifle, should be allowed as evidence at trial.

In a decision filed Monday, Herndon rejected defense arguments that because Vest, 39, of O'Fallon was coerced by a federal agent and was denied his constitutional right against self-incrimination, his statements to a federal agent should be suppressed.

"At no point on Dec. 29 can it be fairly said that defendant's free will was overborne," Herndon wrote in a 12-page decision.

Herndon found that Vest, who was ordered on Dec. 29 by a state police superior to come to the State Police Headquarters in Collinsville, was not searched, handcuffed or otherwise restrained. The judge noted that the door of the interrogation room remained open and that a state police lieutenant had stayed in the room at Vest's request.

The judge wrote that at no point during Vest's interrogation at Illinois State Police headquarters in Collinsville did federal agents threaten him or use improper questioning techniques.

"Defendant is a veteran police officer with more than 15 years of experience interacting with other law-enforcement personnel. The chance that he would feel intimidated in an interview with an officer of the law -- in his very place of employment, no less -- can only be characterized as slight," the ruling stated.

Vest allegedly told Senior Special Agent Robert Nosbisch of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he falsified a letter on state police letterhead and used $900 of his own money to obtain an illegal automatic rifle in 1998, according to court documents. An automatic weapon is one that continues to fire as long as the trigger is depressed.

During an evidentiary hearing, Nosbisch testified that as far as he knew, Vest has an exemplary record and used the rifle only for police purposes.

Vest, a sergeant and a police firearms instructor, was charged, along with two other troopers, with illegally possessing an automatic firearm. They have been suspended with pay.

Charged with Vest were Greg Mugge, 51, of Jerseyville, a senior master trooper assigned to Litchfield, and John Yard, 36, a state police special agent in Collinsville, where Vest also is based.

Dr. Harold Griffiths, a former Glen Carbon physician now of Spaulding, also was charged with illegally possessing an automatic rifle that a prosecutor has described in all four of the cases as a "machine gun."

All have pleaded not guilty and were released on their own recognizance.

In February, 10 metro-east police chiefs endorsed a letter written by Belleville Police Chief Dave Ruebhausen urging that the charges against the three troopers be handled administratively.

Ruebhausen has stated that while the troopers are not above the law, he and his fellow chiefs believed there was no intent to commit a crime.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at  gpawlaczyk@bnd.com (mailto:gpawlaczyk@bnd.com)  or 239-2625.

 Belleville News Democrat (http://www.belleville.com/)

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