PEKIN — A trio of appellate court judges has reversed an East Peoria man's conviction for setting fire to a house in 2012 while two people were inside sleeping.
The reasoning was that a nurse improperly retrieved the clothing of Steve Gill, and thus violated his Fourth Amendment right to protection against unlawful searches, the judges from the 3rd District Appellate Court in Ottawa said in a ruling issued early this week.
Gill, 61, had been at Pekin Hospital hours after the June 19, 2012, fire at 118 Bluff St. in East Peoria. The nurse had told police who were investigating the blaze that Gill's clothing smelled of gasoline, and then the nurse went into Gill's room to retrieve the clothing for police. That, the judges held, was out of bounds and should have been suppressed. Judge Paul Gilfillan improperly denied a suppression request by Gill's attorney, the judges found.
"While that search was supported by probable cause, there was no evidence on the record that it would have been impracticable for the investigators to obtain a search warrant prior to conducting that search. Indeed, the record makes quite clear that the investigators had ample time to do so. Accordingly, we find that the search was conducted in violation of the protections of the Fourth Amendment," wrote Judge Robert Carter with Judges Tom Lytton and Mary K. O'Brien concurring.
As such, any information that was a result of that can't be used at his as yet unscheduled retrial including "accelerant-detecting canine’s alert to the clothing in the common area of the seventh floor, as well as the forensic testing on the clothing."
Gill was convicted and sentenced in 2015 to 12 years in prison for aggravated arson. At his four-day trial, prosecutors alleged Gill was the man who set fire to the one-story house well before dawn that morning. The homeowner and a female guest were inside at the time when Gill broke a window in the kitchen, poured gas inside and then lit it, prosecutors said. The two inside awoke to the sound of the smoke alarm and escaped.
Gill had just filed a complaint against the guest, saying she took money from him. At trial, the woman said she took heroin and prescription pills from Gill, whom she called her drug dealer.
Gill fled within days of the blaze to the home of relatives in Missouri, where he remained for about two years before U.S. marshals tracked him down.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.