Kane County Associate Judge Keith Johnson on March 2 ruled DuPage County Circuit Court Judge Patrick O'Shea was not guilty of reckless conduct after he allegedly discharged a gun last fall in his Wheaton apartment.
In his ruling, Johnson said prosecutors did not provide sufficient evidence to show O'Shea was guilty of reckless conduct during the incident, which occurred Sept. 15, 2017. On Sept. 24, O'Shea's neighbors discovered what appeared to be a fired bullet on their living room floor, according to a police report obtained by Suburban Life Media through a Freedom of Information Act request. They were not home at the time of the incident.
However, Johnson said O'Shea was "very negligent in the handling of a firearm," saying it was fortunate no one was injured in the incident. He also chastised O'Shea for not initially telling the truth about how the incident occurred. O'Shea allegedly told an apartment complex staff member the bullet hole was caused by a screwdriver, according to the report.
In the complaint against him, O'Shea was charged with "pointing a firearm at a common wall of his apartment, and pulling the trigger without first determining that the firearm was not loaded, causing the firearm to discharge, causing a bullet to enter the living area of the adjoining apartment."
It is not known when O'Shea will return to the bench. Following the incident, the Executive Committee of the DuPage County Circuit Court, which is chaired by 18th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Kathryn Creswell and comprised of the acting chief judge and the presiding judges of the court's five divisions, acted to remove O'Shea from all judicial duties until further order of the court.
Johnson heard the evidence against O'Shea, 67, of the 200 block of East Willow Avenue, Wheaton, during a bench trial Feb. 20. The case was moved to Kane County to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. The Illinois State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor was appointed special prosecutor in the case.
O'Shea's attorney, Terry Ekl, said he was pleased with the judge's ruling.
"The complaint failed to allege that he endangered anyone," Ekl said after the ruling. "The evidence showed that he didn't endanger anyone. The accidental discharge of a handgun is not reckless, it was in fact negligent... The reason they didn't allege in the complaint that he endangered someone was because he didn't. There was no evidence that there was anybody in the building at the time that the gun went off. So it could not be reckless conduct. And he should have never been charged with reckless conduct."
He said reckless conduct "requires a conscious or deliberate act."
"It's hard to believe that in an apartment like that, he [would] consciously or deliberately pull the trigger to his gun," Ekl said. "It's much more consistent with the evidence in the case and just good common sense that it was an accident... He thought the gun was empty. In a revolver, when you look at it, there are times when it's obscured partly by the configuration of the gun. You can miss a cartridge in there, and he did."
As far as why O'Shea's stories changed about how the incident happened, Ekl said O'Shea "knew he did something wrong, he knew he was negligent and didn't tell the truth about what happened initially."
"But when the police came, within five to 10 minutes of them arriving, he told them exactly what happened," Ekl said.
Special Prosecutor Dave Neal said he was disappointed by the judge's ruling.
"But it's clear that the judge gave a well-reasoned, well-thought-out decision," Neal said. "This ruling seems to indicate that firing a weapon into an empty apartment does not endanger people under the law the way that it's written. As such, our agency will be taking this up with the General Assembly. Because if there is a problem with the law, we're going to fix that. People shouldn't be shooting bullets into their neighbor's apartment. It should be illegal."
He also said it is troubling O'Shea "told lie after lie after lie" about how the incident happened.
"The people of DuPage County deserve better," Neal said. "When the people of DuPage County appear in court, they deserve to appear before a jurist that is living his life to the highest standards of truthfulness and honesty."