Use of prescription drug by witness forces judge to continue trial one month for former Brown County deputy

Shaffer Trial 1

A frustrated Drew Schnack puts his face in his hand after learning the trial for Cody Shaffer, right, was continued for a month during Monday's hearing in Adams County Circuit Court. The case was moved to the May docket. | David Adam

QUINCY — The trial for a former deputy with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department charged with beating his nine-month pregnant girlfriend with a pistol was continued for one month after the defense learned one of the prosecution’s witnesses started taking Xanax three days ago.

Cody R. Shaffer, 31, of Loraine appeared in Adams County Circuit Court Monday morning with attorney Drew Schnack before Judge Tad Brenner.

Charging documents filed in Adams County show Shaffer allegedly used a Ruger .380 pistol to strike Brittany Abercrombie on Jan. 27, 2023. He also allegedly placed his hand on Abercrombie’s throat and “struck Abercrombie about the body.” Shaffer and Abercrombie were engaged to be married, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Laura Keck.

Jury selection took up most of the morning, and opening arguments in the case were scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m.

However, when attorneys for both sides returned to the courtroom after lunch, they met with Brenner outside of the courtroom regarding an email Schnack received Monday morning from another attorney representing Abercrombie in a family law case. Schnack also met with members of Shaffer’s family in the courtroom about the email, which said Abercrombie started taking Xanax, a prescription drug commonly used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, on Friday.

Schnack said he talked Monday morning with a Quincy doctor about how Abercrombie could be affected by Xanax if she testified this week.

“(The doctor said) Xanax could affect her appearance and her demeanor if she testifies,” Schnack told Brenner at the beginning of the afternoon hearing. “My information, based on what (Assistant State’s Attorney Josh) Jones told me, was that she had only been on (Xanax) for three days. (The doctor’s) response was almost immediately, ‘Oh, boy.’

“As I understand from talking to (the doctor) is if you’re on Xanax for a longer period of time, your body gets used to it. It becomes a norm, for lack of a better word. But if you’re just on it for three days … I don’t know what word to use. I guess big would be something that would be accurate.”

Schnack concluded by saying Shaffer didn’t know what to do. Brenner then asked Shaffer if he wanted the trial to proceed or to ask for a continuance. After a lengthy delay, Shaffer finally asked for a continuance.

Asked for his position on the continuance, Jones said he spoke Abercrombie last week and said he saw nothing would make him think the drug would have any effect on her.

“I’m not a doctor. I don’t pretend that any specialized medical training or knowledge in those areas, but that’s our observation,” he said. “That said, based on the case law, we can see Mr. Schnack has the opportunity to investigate that to determine if a medical expert would be called to testify.”

Jones said neither side has enough time to contact medical experts to determine how the drug could affect Abercrombie.

“That’s why, at this point, I don’t think I can, in good conscience, object to (Schnack’s) opinion,” Jones said. “That’s the proper line of investigation. I also want to be clear that the people didn’t have any advance knowledge of it. It’s no one’s fault that we’re where we are. This is information that was provided in the context of a child custody case.”

Brenner called the timing of the new information “problematic.” However, he said both sides agreed not to empanel the 12 jurors and two alternates until the issue had been addressed.

“Because the jury has not been empaneled, jeopardy has not attached to the defendant,” Brenner said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see any other choice but to grant the motion to continue trial.”

The case was moved to the May 6 docket before Judge Mark Vincent. Schnack said he is scheduled to be in Brown County in early May for another trial, but he believes that case could be continued as well.

When Brenner called the jury into the courtroom to release them of their duty, he said delivering news like this was “part of the job I don’t like.”

“This new piece of evidence was discovered earlier this morning. It’s nothing that anyone knew about in advance,” Brenner explained. “After investigating this new evidence, the two attorneys have agreed to continue this case. I have consented to the continuance based on the information that is available to us.

“This trial simply did not happen for some very significant procedural and practical reasons right now. I will give you my sincere thanks and wish you all the very best.”

Shaffer is charged with:

  • Armed violence, a Class X felony, punishable for between six and 30 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections;
  • Aggravated domestic battery by strangulation, a Class 2 felony, punishable for between three and seven years in prison; and
  • Aggravated battery of a pregnant person, a Class 3 felony, punishable for between two and five years in prison.

An Adams County grand jury indicted Shaffer on all three charges on March 2. Shaffer pled not guilty to each charge during his arraignment on May 30.

The case was set to go to trial in October, but attorney Dennis Woodworth motioned for a substitution of counsel in August. The case then was set to trial in January, but Schnack filed a motion to suppress evidence on Jan. 9. Brenner heard arguments about the motion on Feb. 22 and denied the motion on March 15.

Shaffer also was a member of the West Central Illinois Task Force when he was arrested. 

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