Serbian immigrant Marko Pantelic came to the Cook County courthouse to support a wrongfully accused friend and “to see how justice works in America.” He should have stayed home. Pantelic, 26, took a seat in the third row of courtroom 506 next to his friend, Bratislav Kovacevic, who figured prosecutors would drop battery charges against him. This was not unrealistic considering that the victim admitted she had misidentified him as the mope who broke her nose.
Instead, Pantelic turned into the Chicago Innocence Center’s quickest exoneration case. He made the mistake of whispering in an erratic judge’s courtroom and forgetting his keys. Instead of spending the holidays in County jail, Pantelic was freed in a surprise midnight release just hours after we ran a story about his plight in The Huffington Post. How did this happen? Why was he set free just hours after Judge Diane Cannon sentenced Pantelic — a man with no criminal record — to four months behind bars for contempt of court? Cannon’s additional four-month contempt sentence was overturned by a high- ranking judge who read about Pantelic’s plight in The Huffington Post, according to a source close to the judge.
The judge had ordered Pantelic jailed until January for allegedly disrupting her courtroom and making a racial slur, but courtroom observers called these claims baseless. Cannon’s version of events was “a total fabrication,” said Dr. Spomenka Luedi, a victim’s rights advocate who was present throughout the proceedings. Pantelic left the jail carrying an armful of belongings from his three-week stay after Cannon first held him in contempt when he returned to her courtroom to get his car keys. The judge did not allow Pantelic to reply, even though an interpreter was present. But courtroom observers vehemently denied Cannon’s allegations. Victim’s rights advocate Dr. Luedi, and Michael Maksimovic, Pantelic’s attorney, insisted he had whispered briefly to his friend while court was in recess and hadn’t been warned to be silent. Luckily, a witness contacted the Chicago Innocence Center and we exposed the injustice in The Huffington Post.