Former Illinois judge to plead guilty to heroin, gun charges

A former southwestern Illinois judge at the center of a courthouse drug scandal that has resulted in two overturned murder convictions will plead guilty next week to federal heroin and gun charges, his attorney said Friday.

Former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook has pleaded not guilty to charges of heroin possession and having a gun while illegally using controlled substances. But a change-of-plea hearing has been scheduled for next Friday in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill., and Cook attorney J. William Lucco said it's Cook's intention to plead guilty to both charges.

Lucco had no other comment to the AP.

Cook, whose trial has been scheduled for Dec. 9, stepped down from the bench in May, five days after being charged in the criminal complaint that accused Cook of being a drug addict. Cook since has sought drug treatment in Minnesota and agreed to have his law license suspended.

Cook's legal troubles surfaced after his friend Joe Christ, a former longtime St. Clair County prosecutor and newly sworn-in associate judge, died of a cocaine overdose in March while staying with Cook at his family's western Illinois hunting cabin. Cook, 43, has not been charged in the death of Christ, a 49-year-old father of six.

Questions about Cook's drug use have led to overturned convictions in two murder trials over which he presided between Christ's death and the time he was charged.

On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Robert Haida -- the southwestern Illinois county's former longtime top prosecutor -- ordered a new trial for Gregory Muse, who after being convicted in March of first-degree murder alleged that Cook appeared to slur his words while reading the jury instructions before that panel found him guilty.

Haida on Oct. 2 also granted a new trial to William Cosby, who like Muse complained that prosecutors during his trial wrongly failed to tell defense attorneys that Cook was being investigated, costing them an opportunity to ask for a different judge.

Prosecutors in both cases have countered that Cosby and Muse were convicted on the basis of "overwhelming" evidence, and that neither man cited any specific examples of how Cook allegedly botched their trials or showed bias.

But Haida ordered both men retried "in the interest of justice."

Cook became an associate circuit judge in 2007 and became a circuit judge in 2010.