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Upheld Dotson conviction in rape case
by Lynette Kalsnes
Staff Writer

During nearly 30 years on the bench, Judge Richard L. Samuels presided over dozens of murder trials. But the highest profile case the Cook County Circuit judge in Markham handled was one with national notoriety and impact--the rape case against Gary Dotson.

He ordered Dotson back to prison after the victim of the alleged 1977 rape recanted. The judge upheld Dotson's conviction, saying he believed the victim's original testimony.

The resultant uproar included rounds of petitions, talk shows and threats, culminating in a televised hearing and the governor's commutation of Dotson's sentence.

"I accepted this kind of responsibility when I took the job," the judge said at the time. "We are under constant and frequent scrutiny."

Judge Samuels, 74, who retired last December due to poor health, died Saturday, April 14, of cancer in South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest.

"He loved being a judge," said his wife, Noel Johnson. "He really hoped to be a judge as long as he lived."

After stints in private practice, the state's attorney's office and as a magistrate, he became a judge in Markham before there was an official courthouse, said Associate Circuit Judge Edwin Gausselin.

Judge Richard L. Samuels

Judge Samuels had retired briefly to take care of his parents' business and estate, but he continued stopping by the court at least twice a week to chat with judges and watch trials.

"He was so happy to come back when he was recalled," said Associate Circuit Judge John Wasilewski, who supervises the felony section in Markham. Judge Samuels was usually the first judge to arrive and the last to leave.

Judge Samuels' serious approach resulted in an occasional sleepless night, his wife said, but the pressure never showed.

"He had a calming effect," Wasilewski said. "You could not fluster him."

Judges and attorneys cited Judge Samuels' knowledge of the law, which he shared at South Suburban Bar Association meetings during which attorneys often flocked to him, said board member Louis Gasperec.

Attorney Chris Cummings said Judge Samuels believed in the collegiality of the profession. He was well known for his dry sense of humor.

"Everybody he married, he always sentenced to life," Cummings said. "That was always his parting shot."

Judge Samuels was happily married himself, first to his wife of almost 38 years, Mary, who died in 1995, then to his second wife, Noel Johnson, who described their marriage as "euphoria."

The couple traveled the world, attended the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500 yearly and enjoyed discussing the law. After more than four years of marriage and 25 years of friendship, he still called her "his bride," Gasperec said.

The judge also is survived by a daughter, Mary; two sons, John and Albert; and three grandchildren. Visitation will be from 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at Tews Funeral Home, 18230 S. Dixie Highway, Homewood. Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday in Infant Jesus of Prague Catholic Church, 1131 Douglas Ave., Flossmoor.

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