The Illinois appeals court has tossed out a Chicago man’s conviction for criminal contempt — as well as his stunning six-year prison sentence — ruling that a different judge should have presided over his trial.
Bangaly Sylla was imprisoned in 2015 after a jury found he lied that a woman who was killed in a traffic accident wasn’t married.
Sylla was the court-appointed administrator of his niece’s estate. His niece, Hawa Sissoko, was killed when a Roadway Express tractor-trailer collided with her car in 2007 in Indiana.
Relying on Sylla’s testimony that his niece was unmarried, a Cook County jury ordered Roadway Express to pay her estate $4.25 million in 2012. Her parents and siblings stood to benefit.
Afterward, though, Roadway’s attorneys presented new evidence that Sylla lied to the court and his niece was married to a New York City cab driver.
In 2013, Judge Daniel Lynch, who presided over the case, overturned the multimillion-dollar award on the basis of fraud. The taxi driver agreed to a $60,000 settlement.
Lynch also ordered Sylla to stand trial for indirect criminal contempt of court for allegedly lying about his niece’s marital status.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office refused to prosecute Sylla and Lynch ended up appointing a private attorney, Terry Ekl, as the prosecutor.
Sylla asked Lynch to recuse himself from presiding over the criminal trial and give the case to another judge, but Lynch refused. In May 2015, a Cook County jury found Sylla guilty and Lynch sentenced him to six years in prison — a particularly harsh punishment.
In April 2016, after Sylla served nearly a year in state prison, the Illinois appeals court released him on bond as it considered his request for a new trial. On Friday, the appeals court ruled that Lynch should have recused himself from 57-year-old Sylla’s criminal trial. The case has been sent back to the Cook County Circuit Court for a new trial.
In its 33-page ruling, the appeals court noted that enough evidence had been presented at Sylla’s trial for a “rational trier of fact” to find him guilty of contempt.
Still, it’s unclear whether he’ll actually stand trial again for contempt in light of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office’s refusal to prosecute him in 2015.
“We are reviewing the case,” a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office said Monday.