Prosecutors dismissed two charges in a 2012 homicide case this week after a Collinsville man successfully appealed his conviction last year — several months after he served the entirety of his sentence.
Timothy Hillyer, now 54, was charged in May 2012 with concealing a homicide after he called police and told them there was a decomposing body on the Collinsville property where he lived intermittently with Jeff Sminchak and the victim, Russell Miller.
He would later tell police he believed Sminchak strangled Miller to death after an argument and was asked to help Sminchak move Miller’s body out of the trailer. The body was placed outside the trailer under a tarp for almost a month before police were called.
A jury found Hillyer guilty of concealing Miller’s homicide on May 9, 2013, and sentenced him to 30 months of probation. However, on Nov. 28, 2016 — more than 10 months after his probation was completed — the Fifth District Appellate Court reversed the jury’s verdict and called for a new trial.
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The 54-year-old man appealed his case on the grounds of ineffective counsel, resulting in the absence of jury instructions that might have changed the outcome of the verdict.
The justices argued in their decision that Hillyer’s defense attorney failed to request an instruction be presented to the jury that would have explained Hillyer’s theory of defense. More specifically, a theory of “withdraw” would have explained to the jury he is not guilty of concealing a homicide if they believed he stopped his involvement of the crime — and verbally communicated that — before the body was moved.
“After considering the record before us, we find there is a reasonable probability that the jury would have found (Hillyer) withdrew from Sminchak’s offense had they been given that option,” Appellate Judge Richard P. Goldenhersh wrote. “As previously set forth, the evidence against the defendant is far from overwhelming.”
As previously set forth, the evidence against the defendant is far from overwhelming.
Appellate Judge Richard P. Goldenhersh
Hillyer’s appeal also argued his rights were violated during the time he was held and questioned about the homicide by Collinsville police. The justices, however, ruled the officers acted lawfully.
Prosecutors dismissed the charges Thursday, in an order stating Hillyer already served the maximum sentence for the Class 3 felonies.
Attorneys could not piece back together Hillyer’s case for a new trial, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly added Friday.
“And if we could, the defendant would receive the same sentence he already served,” Kelly said.
No other charges were filed in Miller’s death because there was insufficient evidence, Kelly noted. He added if new evidence presents itself his office would pursue it, as there is no statute of limitations in a murder case.
Trial testimony regarding when Sminchak was last seen by Hillyer appears contradictory.
Below is a summary of the case based on facts stated by appellate justices:
Hillyer was married at the time of Miller’s death, but he only lived with his wife, Marsha, intermittently. When he wasn’t with his wife, he lived in a tent next to Sminchak’s trailer where Miller also resided.
He later told police he heard Miller and Sminchak arguing on March 29, 2012, over money and drugs in the trailer.
“(Hillyer) said he heard yelling and then a gasping or gurgling sound in the living room of the trailer,” Goldenhersh wrote. “He also heard a ‘thumping’ sound, like someone being hit.”
About 15 minutes later, Hillyer found Sminchak in the trailer smoking a cigarette. The man told Hillyer “nothing” had happened — then asked him to help carry Miller’s bagged body out of the trailer. But, Hillyer dropped his end of the body and couldn’t help him anymore.
“I couldn’t carry him,” Hillyer later told detectives. “I had no grip in my hand. I was shaking like a leaf ***(sic) I dropped my end. I told him I couldn’t. So (Sminchak) drug him the rest of the way out of there, and threw him out like a piece of garbage.”
Hillyer then told police Sminchak layered beer cans and clothes over the body outside. Later, Hillyer said he would cover the corpse with a tarp.
“(Hillyer) admitted he failed to say anything to visitors to the trailer about what happened to the victim, but he hoped someone would find the victim’s body,” Goldenhersh wrote. “(He) knew he would be in trouble for not saying anything, but also knew he would in trouble with Sminchak if he did say something.”
At the alleged direction of Sminchak, Hillyer called police on April 23, 2012, and reported the body.
Hillyer was taken into custody during his second of four interviews with police and later charged.
While in trial, Hillyer said he hadn’t seen Sminchak since April 8, 2012, and did not know where he was. However, testimony outlined in Golderhersh’s order said Sminchak was there when police were called to the body on April 23.