Murder case against Galva man proceeds

Robert Connelly, GateHouse Media Illinois
James E. Love, 59, Galva, answered ready for trial in his involuntary manslaughter case Monday morning before Circuit Judge Scott Shipplett in Knox County Circuit Court in Galesburg. It was the first of two court hearings for the man charged with offenses related to the June 19 shooting death of Xavier Hartman.

While casting doubt on whether prosecutors can prove first-degree murder at trial, Circuit Judge Raymond Cavanaugh found probable cause for the case against James Love to move forward Monday afternoon.

“I certainly heard nothing here that would make me believe that Mr. Love created a strong probability of great bodily harm by trying to cause great bodily harm by discharging a gun in (Xavier Hartman’s) direction,” Circuit Judge Cavanaugh said while ruling no probable cause for first-degree murder.

“My interpretation of the law is that as long as you find probable cause in even one of the counts, all the counts survive forward to a trial.”

And since Judge Cavanaugh found probable cause on the two shooting charges, the case, and first-degree murder, moves forward after Monday’s preliminary hearing.

That proceeding allows the presiding judge to listen to an outline of the state’s case to decide whether or not there is probable cause to continue prosecution of the defendant.

James E. Love, 59, Knox Road 2000E in Galva, was in court with defense Attorney Todd Ringel of Bloomington and co-counsel Doug Johnson, while Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Kerr was present for the state. After Cavanaugh’s ruling, Love pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial; a pretrial hearing was set for Sept. 4.

Monday afternoon’s hearing was focused on the testimony of former Knox County Detective Jared McDermet who investigated the June 19 shooting death of Xavier Hartman, 19. McDermet has left for a position with the Illinois Attorney General’s office in recent weeks, but remains in law enforcement.

McDermet testified that Hartman was driving on Knox Road 2000E when he crashed his vehicle on the Henry-Knox County line in the early morning hours of June 19. Love, hearing noises outside, put a firearm in his right pants pocket and walked to the crash scene out of the back of his home and through a bean field.

Love lives about 300 yards away from where Hartman crashed, authorities have said. Also, Hartman had been drinking that night and had a blood alcohol content of .234 in his autopsy, which is nearly three times the legal limit.

Love reportedly left his Knox County house out of the backdoor “because the front light would have showed him” approaching, McDermet said of an interview with Love.

Once at the crash, Hartman asked Love for help when Love allegedly said he was going to call police. Hartman and his passenger then began walking south, the direction of Love’s home.

Love reportedly called his wife from his cellphone and asked her to call police. It was at that point that Love “racked his firearm” after disengaging the safety. Hartman’s passenger took off running. A warning shot was fired, which reportedly caused Hartman to come at Love and strike him in the face and then Love stepped back after wrestling or grappling with Hartman and shot him once in the leg, which proved fatal.

Love allegedly “aimed low in order to scare (Hartman) or hit his leg,” McDermet said in his testimony.

Hartman’s passenger also told police he heard who he believed to be Love tell Hartman “get your hands off of me” and then later “damn it I told you to stop” after the second gun shot, according to McDermet’s testimony Monday.

There were apparently some inconsistencies between the passenger’s first statement to police and his second one made June 20, which Ringel hammered on in cross-examination.

Ringel also focused on statements made by the passenger, including that Hartman could become angry and emotional while drinking and violent when he was mad. Further, the passenger also said in a statement to police that Hartman could be “completely unpredictable,” Ringel said reading from reports in court.

Kerr also seemed to focus on the two shots fired by Love. One, which was believed to have been fired first, went through the back of Hartman’s left calf and was recovered from the front of his calf during his autopsy. Kerr said that meant Hartman was facing away from Love when he was first shot while Ringel countered that Hartman could have been spun around during the scuffle when the shot was fired.

“Anyone who discharges a firearm at another individual should think there is the possibility of great bodily harm,” Kerr argued for first-degree murder in his argument for probable cause Monday.

Kerr said “it’s very possible” Hartman was shot while running into a nearby field and then was shot again after Love reportedly said, “Damn it, I told you to stop.”

After Monday’s hearing, Ringel said he expected the outcome of Monday’s hearing but still doesn’t believe the state will be able to prove first-degree murder at trial.

Kerr was asked about the judge’s ruling following Monday afternoon’s hearing.

“I’ve always thought I have a good case ... I don’t think (the ruling) makes me re-think anything at this point. I believe the jurors will see it for what it is at this point.”

Like most murder cases, Kerr talked with the victim’s family — Hartman’s family in this instance — after Monday afternoon’s hearing.

“The family is doing as well as can be expected and I hope that they have confidence in what I’m doing and what I’m telling them and we do everything we can to make sure justice is provided for Xavier,” Kerr said.

This now means it is likely the first case filed against Love, a Knox County grand jury indictment for involuntary manslaughter, is likely to be dismissed in the coming weeks, Ringel and Kerr said.

During a court hearing for that case Monday morning, Ringel indicated he would be arguing Love acted in self-defense.

“I will wait until Aug. 15” for a pretrial hearing in the involuntary manslaughter case “to make my decision, but more than likely that case will be dismissed,” Kerr said.

Further, Kerr said it will be up to lab and forensic work getting returned on whether or not the case goes to a jury trial next month.

Robert Connelly: (309) 343-7181, ext. 266;; @RConnelly_