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Loud Yawn Lands Court Spectator in Jail; 6-Month Sentence Later Reduced

Posted Aug 10, 2009 9:42 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: A spectator in an Illinois courtroom who let out a loud yawn as his cousin was being sentenced for a felony drug charge soon found himself in jail.

Clifton Williams was sentenced to six months in jail for criminal contempt, the Chicago Tribune reports. His cousin was luckier—he received two years’ probation for his offense.

Spokesman Chuck Pelkie of the Will County State's Attorney's office told the Chicago Tribune that the yawn was not a quiet one, according to the prosecutor who observed it. "It was not a simple yawn,” Pelkie said. “It was a loud and boisterous attempt to disrupt the proceedings."

The sentencing judge was Daniel Rozak of Joliet, who has brought more than a third of contempt charges in Will County south of Chicago, even though he is one of 30 judges there, according to the story. Rozak has brought four out of five criminal contempt charges by Will County judges this year.

He is known for running well-managed trials and a strict courtroom, according to the story. Said Joliet defense lawyer David Carlson: "I think he's terrific—he understands how the world works."

Williams doesn’t agree. “I really can't believe I'm in jail," he wrote his family in a letter. "I done set in this [expletive] a week so far for nothing."

Rozak later reversed course and freed Williams after he served three weeks in jail, but not before delivering a short lecture, according to the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune. Rozak told Williams he wasn't jailed for just yawning. Instead he was punished for making a sound "that was offensive to the court."

Updated on Aug. 14 to include news of Williams' release.

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