KANKAKEE — Emotions flared in a Kankakee County courtroom Friday as James E. Beals, 58, was found guilty in the October 2016 murder of Ralph Ledet.
Members of Beals’ family erupted in tears and ran from the courtroom after Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott read the jury’s verdict. They were followed by courthouse security and then additional members of the family. As the judge was polling the jury, commotion outside the courtroom could be heard. Extra security from Kankakee Police and sheriff’s deputies were called to the courthouse to maintain order.
“This was a very tough case,” First Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Kosman said. “I’m glad we got justice for Ralph.”
Ledet, 46, of Pembroke Township, was shot and killed in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, 2016. Prosecutors say Beals, also of Pembroke Township, shot Ledet twice in the head with a 9-mm handgun. Ledet’s body was found lying in the driveway of an abandoned trailer on 17250E Road near the site where he, Beals and another man attempted to steal a cattle gate.
After hearing a gunshot, the three men returned to their vehicle, a 1997 Ford Explorer owned by Beals’ wife. The third man, who is not being
identified by the Daily Journal as he was a witness, testified in court this week that Beals shot Ledet in the head while they were still parked at the scene. He further testified that Beals exited the vehicle and pulled Ledet out and shot him again in the head.
Prior to attempting to steal the gate, all three men were at a known drug house in Pembroke the night of Sept. 30, 2016. A drug dealer who was at the trailer also testified against Beals.
As Beals awaited transport back to Jerome Combs Detention Center, he told the Daily Journal that the two men’s testimony was untrue.
“They told lies to get out of trouble,” Beals said. “They destroyed my life.”
Concerns of the defense
With the guilty verdict, Beals faces a sentencing range of 45 years to life. But his attorneys — Bart Beals and Cierra Norris, both of Chicago — argue there may be grounds for a new trial.
“There are some significant issues for a new trial,” said Bart Beals, who is not related to James Beals.
Those issues, he said, came during closing arguments.
Before the trial started, Elliott granted a defense motion prohibiting prosecutors from mentioning their theory that Beals set his Ford Explorer on fire on Oct. 3, 2016, to conceal evidence. In her closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Erika Hamer made mention of that possibility.
That fire was discussed Thursday during testimony from Kankakee County Sheriff Cpl. Emerson Rushing.
Rushing testified that in an Oct. 5, 2016, interview with investigators, Beals said he was smoking crack in the vehicle when his lighter fell on the floorboard and ignited gas that had leaked out of a weed wacker that was in the front-passenger area.
As part of their investigation of the vehicle fire, police searched Beals’ property with the consent of his wife. In that search, police say they found a case for a 9-mm pistol and a box of .38 caliber ammunition. Rushing testified Beals became a person of interest in Ledet’s death following the search.
“There’s a pretty good chance we will get a new trial,” Bart Beals said.
James Beals is scheduled to be back in court Feb. 13.