By DON O'BRIENHerald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Pike County Sheriff Paul Petty has been charged with official misconduct and failure to perform duties in his role as the county's coroner in connection with a 2012 death investigation.
Pike County State's Attorney Carrie Boyd on Friday filed information in the case against Petty that states he failed to follow proper protocol when it came to embalming a body. Boyd said Petty failed to have blood samples drawn for a toxicology report after the Sept. 26, 2012, death of Shanda M. Lopez, 47, of Milton. Boyd said the body was embalmed and no blood was ever taken for toxicology.
Petty is facing a Class 3 felony, which is punishable to between two and five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. He could also be fined up to $25,000.
Serving as county coroner is part of Petty's duties as sheriff, a position he has had held since 1998. Petty said Saturday he is still serving in both roles.
"I am going to go about my life," Petty said. "There are 17,000 people in our county who need our office to continue, regardless of this current situation."
Lopez died at her residence. Authorities believe her death came as the result of opiate intoxication. Police said an autopsy was performed Sept. 28 by Dr. John Ralston in Springfield, Ill. Investigators believe Lopez ingested heroin in the late evening the night before her death.
John R. Edgar, 26, of Pearl, has been charged with drug-induced homicide in Lopez's death. He has pleaded not guilty. Edgar is scheduled to have a two-day bench trial starting June 24 in Pike County Circuit Court in front of Judge Diane Lagoski, chief judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Boyd said she would be going to court in that case this week, but would not say anything further.
Boyd was elected Pike County state's attorney in November 2012. On Thursday morning, she called and then canceled a news conference that was to be held at the Pike County Courthouse.
"(Filing charges) has been something that I have pondered and evaluated for quite a while now," Boyd said Saturday. "It got to the point where I felt it was the right thing to do. No matter how difficult and no matter the consequences to me politically, I was elected to do a job, and that's what I have to do."
She said Petty was aware of the investigation of his handling of Lopez's death.
"Mr. Petty was notified of my concerns in early December 2013," she said. "This has been an ongoing inquiry by my office. The decision to file charges was not taken lightly."
Petty said he did not handle the call when Lopez died and the case was handled by a deputy coroner. He referred all other comment to his lawyer, Richard Frazier of Springfield.
Frazier said Petty's office acted appropriately when it came to handling Lopez's body.
"Neither the family nor anyone else thought (the death) was suspicious," Frazier said. "It was only after several days, if not weeks, that Sheriff Petty had questions about the circumstances surrounding the death. Like a good law enforcement officer, he started probing the death."
Edgar was arrested Oct. 31, 2012, just over a month after Lopez's death. He posted a $10,000 bond Oct. 21, 2013, and has been free with certain restrictions since then. A second Pearl man charged in the incident is serving 30 months of probation. Chad A. Wooldridge, 27, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the case. As part of plea negotiations, Wooldridge must testify for the prosecution during Edgar's trial. The Sheriff's Department said Wooldridge was at Lopez's home when she died.
As state's attorney, Boyd serves as counsel for all county officers, including Petty. She said she has requested a special prosecutor to handle the case against the sheriff. Pike County Circuit Judge Frank McCartney has already recused himself from the case. The case will be referred to Lagoski, who will assign a new judge in the case. An initial court date has not been set.
Frazier said he plans to file several motions in the case this week, including a motion to dismiss the charge.
"To bring this charge close to two years later and to have such a serious allegation by one public figure against another, one better be prudent before taking this position," Frazier said. "I hope these things were thought through prior to doing so."
Boyd said she was aware of comments Petty had made to media outlets Saturday.
"It's an unfortunate, sad, situation," she said.