Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Authorities Say Piatt County Incident Was Likely Murder-Suicide

Authorities confirm that members of a couple in Piatt County that were subject of a lengthy standoff Thursday each died of gunshot wounds to the chest, and that the incident was likely a murder-suicide.

County Coroner Debbie Robbins says autopsies were conducted Friday morning on 64-year old Roger Sharp and 59-year old Shirley Sharp. Their bodies were found when investigators entered the home in rural White Heath about 9 PM on Thursday. Robbins said it's not entirely clear how long they had been dead.

State Police Lieutenant Tad Williams said after receiving an initial distress call around 4 PM, the Piatt County's Sheriff's Department reached a man by phone believed to be Roger Sharp, who told authorities his wife was dead.

Several police agencies responded to the incident, evacuating nearby residents until 10 PM.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Cellini Tapes Go Back to Early Days of Blagojevich investigation

Prosecutors are playing tapes that are more than seven years old at the corruption trial of millionaire businessman and Blagojevich co-defendant Bill Cellini. The tapes are conversations Stuart Levine had on secretly recorded phone calls. He was on state boards and was taking bribes from businesses that wanted state contracts.

The calls were recorded in 2004, the early days of Rod Blagojevich's time as governor and the early days of the wide-ranging federal investigation called "Operation Board Games."

Levine has pleaded guilty to fraud schemes, and he's cooperating with prosecutors and testifying against Cellini. On the stand he's told jurors how he and Blagojevich fundraisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly plotted to extort bribes from state contractors and how they used Cellini to ask one contractor for a campaign contribution.

Cellini was left out of the planning and didn't know the particulars of the extortion attempt, but prosecutors say he knew that he was part of a scheme to trade campaign contributions for state business. They say he joined in the plot to maintain his own influence with Blagojevich and his advisors.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Two Dead Following Standoff in Piatt County

Authorities say two people are dead following a five-hour standoff in Piatt County Thursday.

Illinois State Police Sergeant Bill Emery said the bodies of Roger and Shirley Sharp were discovered inside the home in rural White Heath. About 4 p.m., Piatt County deputies were called about a possible shooting at home on Wagon Trail Road, near the Intersection of Route 10 and Interstate 72.

Deputies were able to reach Roger Sharp on the phone, who indicated to authorities that his wife was dead. Several police agencies, including U.S. Marshalls, a state police SWAT team, Piatt County deputies, and Monticello Police then surrounded the home, evacuating nearby homes, and setting up a perimeter to protect the neighborhood.

The bodies were discovered about 9 p.m. No more information has been released regarding the deaths. An autopsy will be performed Friday morning. State Police and the Piatt County Sheriff's Department is heading up the investigation.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 13, 2011

Stuart Levine Takes the Stand in Cellini Trial

Prosecutors are linking a career criminal with Bill Cellini, the final Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. They've called their star witness, Stuart Levine, to the stand. Just a few minutes into his testimony Wednesday afternoon Levine started down a laundry list of his criminal activity.

He told jurors that he spent decades paying bribes to public officials to get government contracts for businesses that he had an interest in. He also admitted abusing drugs for 30 years.

Levine has admitted his guilt in various schemes to defraud the state of Illinois and he's now cooperating with federal prosecutors and testifying against Bill Cellini. Previously he testified for three weeks in the trial of Blagojevich fundraiser and advisor Tony Rezko.

Levine told jurors he's done business with Cellini for decades, paying Cellini more than a million in fees. He said the two were also personal friends. Prosecutors say the relationship eventually turned criminal. They say Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions on behalf of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in an attempt to keep his own business with the state.

Defense attorneys will no doubt plumb the depths of Levine's criminal life and tell jurors they shouldn't trust a word he says.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 12, 2011

Remains of John Wayne Gacy Victims Exhumed

More than 30 years after a collection of skeletal remains was found beneath John Wayne Gacy's house, detectives have secretly exhumed bones of eight young men who were never identified in hopes of answering a final question: Who were they?

The Cook County Sheriff's Department says DNA testing could solve the last mystery of one of the nation's worst serial killers, and authorities planned Wednesday to ask for the public's help in determining the victims' names.

Investigators are urging relatives of anyone who disappeared between 1970 and Gacy's 1978 arrest - and who is still unaccounted for - to undergo saliva tests to compare their DNA with that of the skeletal remains.

Detectives believe the passage of time might actually work in their favor. Some families who never reported the victims missing and never searched for them could be willing to do so now, a generation after Gacy's homosexuality and pattern of preying on vulnerable teens were splashed across newspapers all over the world.

"I'm hoping the stigma has lessened, that people can put family disagreements and biases against sexual orientation (and) drug use behind them to give these victims a name," Detective Jason Moran said.

Added Sheriff Tom Dart: "There are a million different reasons why someone hasn't come forward. Maybe they thought their son ran off to work in an oil field in Canada, who knows?"

After so many years, the relatives could be anywhere, so the sheriff's department is setting up a phone bank to field calls from across the country.

Gacy, who is remembered as one of history's most bizarre killers largely because of his work as an amateur clown, was convicted of murdering 33 young men, sometimes luring them to his Chicago-area home for sex by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work. He stabbed one and strangled the others between 1972 and 1978. Most were buried in a crawl space under his home. Four others were dumped in a river.

He was executed in 1994, but the anguish caused by his crimes still resounds today.

Just days ago, a judge granted a request to exhume one victim whose mother doubted the medical examiner's conclusion that her son's remains were found under Gacy's house. Dart said other families have the same need for certainty.

"They were young men with futures, who at some point had families that cared about their kid," he said. Until the dead are identified, "it's like they didn't even exist."

The plan began unfolding earlier in the year, when detectives were trying to identify some human bones found scattered at a forest preserve. They started reviewing other cases of unidentified remains, which led them back to Gacy.

"I completely forgot or didn't know there were all these unidentifieds," Dart said.

It was not a cold case in the traditional sense. Gacy admitted to the slayings and was convicted by a jury. But Moran and others knew if they had the victims' bones, they could conduct genetic tests that would have seemed like science fiction in the 1970s, when forensic identification depended almost entirely on fingerprints and dental records.

After autopsies on the unidentified victims, pathologists in the 1970s removed their upper and lower jaws and their teeth to preserve as evidence in case science progressed to the point they could be useful or if dental records surfaced.

Detectives found out that those jaws had been stored for many years at the county's medical examiner's office. But when investigators arrived, they learned the remains had been buried in a paupers' grave in 2009.

"They kept them for 30 years, and then they got rid of them," Moran said.

After obtaining a court order, they dug up a wooden box containing eight smaller containers shaped like buckets, each holding a victim's jaw bones and teeth.

Back in June, Moran flew with them to a lab in Texas.

"They were my carry-on," he said, smiling.

Weeks later, the lab called. The good news was that there was enough material in four of the containers to provide what is called a nuclear DNA profile, meaning that if a parent or sibling or even cousins came forward, scientists could determine whether the DNA matched.

But with the other four containers, there was less usable material. That meant investigators had to dig up four of the victims. Detectives found them in four separate cemeteries and removed their femurs and vertebrae for analysis.

At a meeting last week, the men who investigated and prosecuted Gacy reminded the sheriff that many victims were already lost when Gacy found them. One had not even been reported missing when his body was found floating in the Des Plaines River.

"I can almost guarantee you that one or two of these kids were wards of the state," said retired Detective Phil Bettiker. "I don't think anybody cared about them." Most of them were 17 or 18 years old and had been "through God knows how many foster homes and were basically on their own."

At the same time, they recalled, other people repeatedly insisted their loved ones were among Gacy's victims, but no evidence ever came to light confirming it.

"It's very conceivable that a kid in his teens didn't have dental records," said Robert Egan, one of the prosecutors who helped convict Gacy. "There could have been parents who would have loved to have brought in dental records but they didn't have any."

Dart doubts that all eight victims will be identified. But he is confident that the office will finally be able to give some of them back their names.

"I'd be shocked if we don't get a handful," he said. "The technology is so precise.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 12, 2011

Cellini Jurors Getting Inside Look at Stealing from State

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Jurors hearing the case against the final Blagojevich co-defendant William Cellini are getting a first-hand account of how political insiders stole money from the state of Illinois under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

They're getting the inside account from Steven Loren, an attorney who did work for the the Teachers Retirement System in 2003.

On Tuesday he told jurors how he drafted fake contracts to disguise illegal kickbacks as legitimate fees. He did the work for Stuart Levine, a corrupt board member of the teacher's retirement system.

Prosecutors say Cellini later joined Levine in a similar conspiracy to allegedly hold back a $200 million state contract until the contractor gave a campaign contribution to Blagojevich.

Levine has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors and is expected to testify.

Defense attorneys have already told jurors that they shouldn't convict Cellini based on anything Levine says because Levine's a career criminal and he's lied under oath.

Meanwhile, a former campaign finance director for Rod Blagojevich is scheduled to take the stand today.

Kelly Glynn is expected to testify Wednesday that Springfield Republican William Cellini hosted a campaign fundraiser in 2002 for Blagojevich that aimed to raise $300,000 for the Democrat.

On Tuesday, Judge James Zagel rejected defense arguments that much of Glynn's testimony would be hearsay.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 11, 2011

Two Suspects Sought in Campustown Robbery

Champaign Police are investing a robbery outside a Campustown coffee shop Monday afternoon.

Officers say the victim was sitting outside Espresso Royale on East Daniel Street when a man came out the east door, and grabbed his IPad off a table before running away. Another man came out the same door, and displayed a handgun in the waistband of his shorts before walking away.

The first man is described as a 21-year old black male, 5 foot 10, and weighing 180 pounds, wearing a white baseball cap, black short sleeved shirt, black shorts, and white tennis shoes. The other man is described as a 23 to 24-year old black male, 5 foot 8, weighing 180 pounds, wearing a Milwaukee Brewers ball cap, black long sleeve shirt, khaki shorts and red tennis shoes.

Witnesses of the incident are encouraged to call Champaign Police.

Watch video of Monday's incident:


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 10, 2011

Kansas Man Held for Allegedly Kiling Cousin near Champaign

A man from the state of Kansas accused of fatally shooting his cousin near Mahomet on Friday is expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday.

News reports indicate 68-year old Gerard James allegedly killed Harlan James of Champaign after a dispute in a field northwest of Mahomet around 3 p.m. Friday. He's lodged in the Champaign County Jail.

Deputy Charles Glass with the County Sheriff's Department confirms Gerard James is scheduled for arraignment at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The court appearance was postponed from Monday, due to the Columbus Day holiday.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2011

Attempted Child Abductions Reported in Urbana

Urbana police have received two reports of attempted child abductions after nine reports of similar incidents in the Champaign area in the past two weeks.

The latest report occurred Tuesday just before 12-30 pm. In a press release, Urbana police say a 14-year old female was walking along Kinch Street on the city's southeast side when a man in a pickup truck offered her a ride. The student declined and he drove away. The driver is as a black male in his 30's with a 'chubby face' and mustache wearing a red shirt or jacket, driving a newer-looking silver truck.

The second report came from August 31st, when an Urbana Middle School student walking at Florida and Broadway reported a red-haired man in his 40's with a muscular build and goatee ordered the boy to get into his car. The student kept walking until he arrived home.

Urbana police say they're working with numerous local agencies, including District 116 schools, and extra patrols have been placed around school zones. Officers are reminding children to call 9-1-1 if a stranger offers them a ride, and to provide physical descriptions on the drivers, and license plate numbers if possible.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2011

Prosecutors Portray Cellini as Puppet Master

Opening statements are expected to resume Thursday in the public corruption trial of William Cellini.

In his opening statement for the prosecution on Wednesday, Greg Deis told jurors that Cellini wasn't on the board of the Teachers Retirement System and yet he controlled how the agency invested some of its $30 billion in assets.

Deis says Cellini got people jobs with TRS and got them appointments, and they did what he told them to do. He says that allowed Cellini to steer state contracts not to the most qualified businesses, but to those willing to give campaign contributions to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Cellini has long been influential behind the scenes in Illinois politics, but defense attorney Dan Webb said others hatched the plot - not his client. And he told jurors that whatever they think about fundraising, lobbying and politics, they need to judge this case on the facts.

Webb gave only half his opening statement late Wednesday and will finish it Thursday morning. Then prosecutors will call their first witness, which is expected to be Keith Bozarth, who once headed TRS.


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