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Judge dismisses lawsuit against officials

File photo of Warren Reed holding a photo of his sister Mary Jane Reed.
File photo of Warren Reed holding a photo of his sister Mary Jane Reed.

An Ogle County judge dismissed a lawsuit April 11 filed against several county officials over an unsolved murder that occurred in 1948.

Judge Robert Hanson dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled on the same claims.

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 17, 2012 by Warren Reed, Rock Falls, and Michael Arians, Oregon, co-founders of the Mary Jane Reed Foundation.

Hanson granted a motion to dismiss filed by Austin Zimmer of the Del Galdo Law Group, Berwyn, the attorney representing the county officials.

Arians said after the hearing that he and Reed will appeal Hanson's ruling.

"We'll be pursuing an avenue of appeal or refiling in federal court," he said. "I don't think over the years that we've been known for disappearing and going away into the sunset."

Hanson ruled that the case had already been settled by a previous lawsuit filed by Arians and Reed in 2004 against the same county officials.

"The court finds that the cause of action is the same. The parties are identical," Hanson said. "The cause of action is barred by a prior judgment. In 2009 the case was dismissed by Judge [Stephen] Pemberton with prejudice."

The case claimed that Reed's and Arians' civil rights were violated by the county officials named as defendants.

However, Hanson ruled that both lacked the legal standing to make such as claim.

Zimmer said he was satisfied with the hearing's outcome.

"We're pleased with the judge's ruling." he said.

The five-count document alleged that various law enforcement officials involved in investigating the case over the six decades were negligent and part of a conspiracy to prevent Reed from learning the facts about his sister Mary Jane's murder.

Reed was 6 years old when Mary Jane, then 17, Oregon, and her companion Stan Skridla, 28, Rockford, were shot to death in June of 1948. Both murders remain unsolved.

Arians and Reed founded the Mary Jane Reed Foundation a decade ago in an effort to solve Mary Jane's murder.

Named as defendants in the case were the Ogle County Sheriff's Department, including current sheriff Michael Harn, as well as former sheriffs Greg Beitel, who served from 2006-2010, Mel Messer, 1990-2006, and Jerry Brooks, 1970 to 1990.

Also named are the Ogle County Board, the Ogle County Coroner's Office, as well Ogle County Agents John and Jane Does.

The lawsuit asked that the foundation be given all files, documentation, and evidence relating to the case; an injunction to prevent the defendants from hindering any further investigations in Mary Jane's murder; and compensatory and punitive damages with no amount specified.

Hanson also denied two motions, filed by Arians and Reed, who are representing themselves in court.

He denied a motion for a default judgment which said Zimmer's response to their lawsuit was not filed in time.

A default judgment would have made the lawsuit against the county officials successful.

Hanson said court guidelines and case law indicate that a default judgment ruling should be made only as a last resort.

"I have discretion," Hanson said. "The [Zimmer's] appearance was filed within the 30 days. The response was filed past 30 days."

Hanson also denied a motion to file an amended complaint.

The amended complaint added more county officials to the list of those being sued and asked for compensatory damages of $1.5 million.

"The ultimate question is: does the amendment further the cause of justice," Hanson said. "I don't think it does. I'm going to deny it."

Reed and Arians filed a petition in Ogle County Court in January of 2004 to have Mary Jane's remains exhumed in an effort to uncover more information about her unsolved murder.

Pemberton, who retired last year, granted the request in June of 2004, and Mary Jane's body was exhumed in August 2005.

In that time frame, Messer, who was the sheriff then, reopened the investigation into the murders and concluded that, while several suspects were named, the crimes could not be definitely solved due to the lapse of time.

A lengthy court battle ensued, and Pemberton finally closed the case in August of 2009.

In May of 2011, the foundation's attorney Jeffrey Hammerlund sent a demand letter to all 24 members of the county board asking that the county pay Reed $1.5 million dollars for violating his rights in the six decades since the murder.

The county board did not respond to the letter.

In November of 2011, Reed and Arians filed a civil suit against the Ogle County officials in Whiteside County, where the Mary Jane Reed Foundation is based.

In September of 2012, Whiteside County Judge Stanley B. Steines dismissed that case, ruling it was filed in the wrong jurisdiction.

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