Coroner: Former St. Clair County judge Joe Christ died of cocaine intoxication

News-DemocratMay 24, 2013 

Former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Joe Christ died of "cocaine intoxication," the coroner in Pike County, Ill., confirmed Friday.

Christ died while visiting a hunting lodge owned by Bruce and Sandra Cook, the parents of Circuit Judge Michael Cook, of Belleville, who is the subject of a federal drug investigation.

Michael Cook was arraigned Friday morning in federal court on possessing a weapon while using drugs and possession of heroin. He was at the hunting lodge when Christ died.

"I anticipate a full review of the death investigation case file will be done over the course of the next week or two by prosecutors to determine if criminal charges should be filed involving the death of Joseph D. Christ," Pike County Coroner Paul Petty said in a written statement.

"Numerous agencies assisted in the investigation including the Pike County Sheriff's Department, Illinois State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation, which allowed us to identify what we believe to be all the facts surrounding the death."

Christ, 49, of O'Fallon, died March 10 at the hunting cabin in rural Pike County near Pleasant Hill, Ill. At first, authorities said Christ died of a massive heart attack. But an autopsy and toxicology studies revealed that he died from cocaine intoxication. Cocaine apparently was found under his body, and drug paraphernalia was found in the cabin.

Christ was the guest of Michael Cook, a fellow circuit judge and friend. Cook is believed to be the only other person who was in the cabin when Christ died. Cook found the body and called police.

Christ was sworn in as a judge about a week before his death. He was a St. Clair County prosecutor for nearly 18 years. He graduated in 1986 from Illinois State University and received his law degree from Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich. He was married and the father of six.

Christ was elected by the circuit judges to fill one of the three associate judge positions created when Associate Judges Andrew Gleeson, Vince Lopinot and Zina Cruse were elected as full circuit judges.

As late as Thursday night, Petty was not discussing the findings of his investigation and would only say it had been turned over to federal authorities in connection with the investigation into Michael Cook.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly filed more than 500 motions to have Cook replaced as the judge in pending criminal cases.

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