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Bow-and-arrow killing likely headed to trial early next year

Illinois Supreme Court refuses to look at a reversal of French’s conviction

Bradley M. French
Bradley M. French

The bow-and-arrow killing of 2015 is headed back to trial in La Salle County now the Illinois Supreme Court has decided not to hear it — but a jury is unlikely to get the do-over trial before next year.

Bradley M. French, now 27 and formerly of Varna, was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Joshua Scaman with a razor-tipped hunting arrow. At trial, Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. effectively sealed French’s fate by not letting him argue self-defense.

Was the judge correct in doing so? Earlier this year, an appeals court said Ryan was wrong and threw out French’s conviction; but the appellate prosecutor’s office thought Ryan was correct and asked the Illinois Supreme Court to reverse the appellate court ruling.

Wednesday, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The reversal stands, and that means French again is under indictment for murder (but also presumed innocent) and awaits new trial in Ottawa.

The French case is set for Friday, Oct. 23, in front of Ryan, but it is unclear whether French will personally appear. The Illinois Department of Corrections has limited and/or halted transfers during the COVID-19 pandemic and French has been stuck in prison even though his murder conviction was overturned eight months ago.

Once French is remanded to La Salle County, the public defender’s office is likely to request time to prepare for trial. With the holidays fast approaching, trial dates can be reasonably expected to be pushed into 2021.

Scaman died from blood loss early Father’s Day 2015 in a remote parking lot at Illinois Valley Community College. He and French had argued earlier by telephone and agreed to settle their differences face-to-face at the college, where French arrived armed with a compound bow.

At trial, French insisted he shot only after Scaman charged him and practically dared him to fire; but he was barred from arguing self-defense based on several grounds. French made a 45-minute trip to IVCC from Varna, giving him time to cool his heels and call off the confrontation, and he initially lied to police and instructed a cohort to hide the compound bow, which was nonetheless recovered.

On appeal, justices ruled that maybe French wasn’t justified in using deadly force against Scaman, but it should have been for the jury to decide.

"(Ryan) obviously found that (French) had presented evidence that he had a subjective belief that self-defense was necessary, but then made the determination that such a belief was unreasonable," Justice William Holdridge wrote. "That determination should have been left to the jury."

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