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Judge won’t sentence driver

Orders fitness exam that court, both sides missed in fatal DUI

MORRISON – Because a request for a mental evaluation was overlooked, a judge refused Tuesday to sentence a Rock Falls man who had pleaded guilty to killing a pedestrian while driving drunk.

Whiteside County Court Judge John L. Hauptman said he could not sentence Chad E. Morse because the motion for an examination was filed but never acted on.

Morse, 41, faces 3 to 14 years in prison in the death of Brad E. Nitsch, 33, of Rock Falls. Nitsch was walking along a sidewalk in the 700 block of Avenue D around 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2011, when Morse hit him with his speeding SUV, killing him on the spot.

Morse’s previous attorney, William L. Detrick, filed a motion seeking a fitness exam on Jan. 9, 2012, but copies of the request never were given to the state’s attorney’s office, and Morse never had the exam, Hauptman said.

The judge said he found the motion after receiving a presentence report filed April 18.

To sentence Morse before the motion was acted on would be a “reversible error” – a legal mistake so significant that an appellate court would reverse the conviction, he said.

“While I’m certainly disappointed in myself for not seeing this motion much earlier than today, I think there’s enough blame to go around for everyone,” including people no longer involved in the case, Hauptman said.

Sterling attorney Theron Burall now represents Morse. Dixon attorney Paul Whitcombe represented him from Jan. 25, 2012 to Jan. 4.

Four lawyers from the Whiteside County State’s Attorney’s office have been involved in the case since the motion was filed: former State’s Attorney Gary Spencer, James Fagerman, Carol Linkowski, and Brian Brim. Brim represented the state Tuesday.

Hauptman appointed a doctor to examine Morse and submit a report by June 13. A status hearing was set for June 14.

Hauptman said he believed then and still believes Morse understood the nature of the court proceedings when he pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI alcohol and waived his right to a jury trial.

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