Background checks only work if they are thorough

September 17, 2013 

The St. Clair County State's Attorney's office could use a brush-up course on how to do background checks on potential jurors.

The Randall L. McCallum double murder case just ended in a costly mistrial, causing more grief for the victims' families. Eleven of the 12 jurors voted to convict McCallum of one of the murders, probably because of a 911 call in which the victim identified him as the shooter.

The holdout juror, Charmaine Barnes, 31, of Brooklyn has a misdemeanor battery charge pending against her in St. Clair County. And not just any charge. She is accused of striking Michael G. McCallum, whose father is the murder suspect's cousin. What are the odds?

Prosecutors missed that pending case. State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said his staff ran the background checks using the name spellings provided by the jury commission; Barnes' first name is spelled without the "i" on the pending charge that was missed. However, a quick check of the St. Clair County Circuit Clerk's web page shows the two names next to each other and both list the same birth date. Most people would figure that was the same person.

Barnes should have disclosed the pending charge during jury selection and may yet face charges for failing to do so. But that doesn't let the state's attorney's office off the hook. The reason prosecutors do the checks is because potential jurors aren't always truthful about their own brushes with the law.

Who knows if the pending battery charge is the reason Barnes voted to acquit.But it's unlikely she would have been allowed on the jury had her background been known.

Randall L. McCallum is the son of former Alorton mayor Randall McCallum. Conspiracy theorists could have a field day with all this.

We're not suggesting that prosecutors did anything improper, just that they didn't do their jobs well.

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