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Old 05-31-2004, 04:55 PM
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Default DNA tests sought in '60 killings

By James Kimberly and Karen Mellen
Tribune staff reporters
Published May 28, 2004

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/l...l=chi-news-hed

Forty-four years after three socialites from Riverside were bludgeoned to death, their bodies disrobed and dumped in a cave at Starved Rock State Park, the man convicted in the case is returning to court to try to reopen what was known as Illinois' "crime of the century."

Chester Weger, 65, who has spent nearly his entire adulthood in prison, is hoping DNA technology and a deathbed confession will persuade a judge to reopen the investigation into the slayings of Lillian Oetting, 50, Frances Murphy, 47, and Mildred Lindquist, 50.

Weger's attorney, Assistant Appellate Defender Donna Kelly, wants crime scene evidence--hair found in the women's clenched hands and blood splattered on Weger's buckskin coat--tested for DNA. The results, Kelly maintains, could prove Weger is innocent, as he has insisted since the 1961 trial that ended with a life sentence.

In support of Weger's claim of innocence, according to documents filed by Kelly, is a deathbed confession given by a woman in a hospital to a Chicago police officer about 20 years ago. Kelly also attacks at length Weger's confession, arguing it was coerced by a detective who warned the suspect he would "ride a thunderbolt"--a reference to the electric chair--if he did not cooperate.

LaSalle County Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. on Thursday set a June 10 court date to consider the defense request for DNA testing. State's Atty. Joseph Hettel said he intends to fight the request because he does not think new tests will change the outcome and sees no cause to retry a 44-year-old case.

"If our system were prone to that, there would be no finality," he said. "And we'd be chasing those cases all over."

And a prosecutor on the original case remains adamant that the law got the right man. Anthony Raccuglia, one of the few people besides Weger who was involved in the case and still is alive, welcomes new testing of evidence.

"I think if we had DNA at the time, it would have been a slam-dunk," Raccuglia said. "It sounds to me like Weger has read the O.J. Simpson case [and believes] that everybody else in the investigation project set him up for this. Which is ridiculous."

Tests still possible

Even though it has been more than 40 years since the crime, blood and hair samples could still be tested for DNA, said Rob Warden, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.

Warden said state law allows for testing if the result could be relevant to the claim of innocence. He said in Weger's case, it appears DNA is warranted because of the claims of a coerced confession.

The story of the three slayings at Starved Rock State Park traveled far, with reporters from all over the nation covering the case.

Oetting, Murphy and Lindquist were wives of corporate executives; mothers and active members of the Riverside Presbyterian Church who made the impromptu trip to Starved Rock to break up the winter doldrums. The women checked into two rooms at the lodge on March 16, 1960, and shortly after walked through St. Louis Canyon, a popular attraction. They were dead within hours of their arrival, investigators say.

Illinois State Police and LaSalle County sheriff's deputies scoured the park, interviewed employees and tracked down visitors before focusing on Weger, a 20-year-old dishwasher at the lodge and a married father of two children, 3 and 1.

In Weger's past was an accusation of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl. Like the three women slain at Starved Rock, the girl's hands had been bound with twine. That case never went to trial.

For months, investigators followed Weger. They interviewed him several times, including an all-night interrogation. Weger finally confessed at 2 a.m. Nov. 17, 1960.

At trial, Weger testified--and a LaSalle County prosecutor confirmed--that Deputy William Dummett told Weger he would "ride a thunderbolt" if he did not confess. Weger said details in the confession came from news accounts, rumors at the lodge and from police investigators. Dummett took the stand and denied threatening or supplying Weger with details.

Prosecutors introduced as evidence the twine used to bind the victims' hands, which matched twine used in the lodge kitchen where Weger worked, and his jacket, which they told the jury was splattered with human blood. The hair recovered from the women's hands was not used.

Prosecutors noted the specificity of Weger's confession, such as his assertion he saw a red-and-white single-engine airplane fly overhead at the time of the crime--a detail corroborated by police at nearby Ottawa Airport.

The crime remains a morbid fascination for many people. Visitors to the park still ask to see where the murders occurred, said Assistant Supt. Leo Trainor.

"It's mostly the older folks; the younger folks don't know about it," Trainor said.

Deathbed confession

Fueling interest in the case is the alleged deathbed confession given to a Chicago police sergeant at Rush-St. Luke's-Presbyterian Hospital. An affidavit from Sgt. Mark Gibson was submitted to the court in support of the motion for the DNA tests. Gibson could not be reached for comment.

In the affidavit, Gibson recounts that he and his partner, who now is dead, were called to the hospital in 1982 or 1983 because a terminally ill patient wanted to "clear her conscience."

"The woman was laying in a hospital bed," the affidavit states. "I went over toward her, and she grabbed ahold of my hand. She indicated that when she was younger, she had been with her friends at a state park when `something happened.'"

According to the affidavit, the woman told Gibson she was at a park in Utica and things "got out of hand," multiple victims were killed and "they dragged the bodies." Starved Rock is near Utica.

Gibson said the woman's daughters cut the interview short, shouting that their mother was "out of her mind" and ordering police out of the room. In the affidavit, Gibson does not provide the date of the interview or the woman's name, but said he passed the information along to a detective. The affidavit does not address whether there was any follow-up or why the confession is only emerging now, and Kelly would not discuss her motions.

Hettel said the deathbed confession has too many unanswered questions to be taken seriously, including the name of the confessor and why she was in the hospital.

"If, in fact, these things were even said, to try to use that as a platform, is something that seems ludicrous," he said.

Steve Stout, a freelance writer who wrote the book "Starved Rock Murders" in 1982, said he began the project while a reporter at a local newspaper because of rumors of Weger's innocence.

Stout said his reporting convinced him Weger was guilty, and he does not think any more time or money should be spent on the case.

"I would not sleep very well if I thought an innocent man were in prison for a crime he didn't commit," Stout said. "I sleep very well at night."

He said that the corroborating evidence to Weger's statement proves his guilt, and that the court filings won't be enough to reopen the case.

"The question is, does every old case need to be verified by DNA?" he asked. "That's up in the air. I think this opens a whole can of worms."

Weger's relatives hope the case will be revisited.

His oldest sister, Elveta Milby of Oglesby, says her brother is innocent and deserves to be let out of prison after 40 years.

Weger has had 29 parole hearings and been denied release every time, state officials said.

"It's a hard situation to take," said Milby, who is not sure about his chances of being released after all this time. "I'm just hoping and praying he will be home soon."
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Old 06-10-2004, 11:35 AM
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DNA tests sought in '60 killings , you posted this message, i was just woundering if or what your interest was
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Old 05-23-2008, 12:03 AM
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Google... "LaSalle County Online - Rocky Weger"
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Old 10-22-2008, 02:19 PM
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Four long years has passed and nothing is being done! Where are you missylee?
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