Jurors Roberta Clifton of Havana, left, and Kevin Sullivan of Springfield answer questions from the media early Monday evening outside the U.S. District Courthouse in the Paul Findley Federal Building in Springfield. Media members from the left are Alex Degman of WBEZ Radio, John O’Connor of The Associated Press and Rob Wildeboer of WBEZ Radio. | david adam
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – About 45 minutes after a jury of eight men and four women found a former corrections officer at the Western Illinois Correctional Center guilty on all five counts against him, two jurors were frustrated that no decision has been made regarding the fate of a lieutenant in the same prison.
“I don’t feel like we’ve finished the job,” Springfield juror Kevin Sullivan said as he spoke Monday night outside the U.S. District Courthouse in the Paul Findley Federal Building downtown. of Springfield.
Jury found Alex Banta, 30, of Quincy guilty of depriving inmate Larry Earvin of his civil rights, conspiracy to deprive civil rights, tampering with a witness, destroying or tampering with records and intimidation or force against a witness. He faces life imprisonment.
Banta, along with Todd Sheffler and Willie Hedden, allegedly brutalized Earvin, a 65-year-old handcuffed inmate at Mount Sterling Institution, on May 17, 2018, then later attempted to cover up. Earvin died on June 26.
The jury was unable to return a verdict against Sheffler, 53, of Mendon, creating a mistrial. He faced the same charges as Banta. A status hearing in Sheffler’s case has been set for Friday. A new trial date should be chosen.
“The government has the option to choose to retry the case if it wishes,” said Springfield attorney William Vig, who served as Sheffler’s co-attorney with his wife, Sara Vig. “At this point, we assume the case will be retried unless otherwise notified.”
Hedden, from Mount Sterling, pleaded guilty in March 2021 and served as a government witness in the case.
Jurors declared a 9 to 3 vote in favor of the conviction of the jury divided by Sheffler
“This is not the verdict we wanted,” said Larry Pippion, Earvin’s son. “I don’t see how they could unanimously find one guilty and not the other. No one came out and said Sheffler hit or kicked him. Everyone said Banta was. But to me, you’re in this room with him, you’re just as guilty.
“I’m disappointed because there’s no way Sheffler will get out of here,” said Toscia Pippion, Earvin’s daughter-in-law. “Even though he said he didn’t touch (Earvin), he just stood there and watched the others – and he’s in charge. He should be the first to fall.
Sullivan and Havana juror Roberta Clifton said a 9-to-3 vote in favor of convicting Sheffler split the jury. They said jurors not wishing to convict Sheffler believed most of Earvin’s injuries occurred in the prison’s D wing and not in the segregation vestibule. Sheffler stepped in to replace another prison guard when they escorted Earvin through the prison to the segregation vestibule.
“(Earvin) was assaulted in the vestibule inside. Yeah, we both agree on that,” Sullivan said as he stood next to Clifton. “The jurors who disagreed disagreed that he was ever assaulted in (the vestibule). … There are testimonies of people who said they saw things happen to him (in the vestibule), but these people … ”
“(The jurors) believed they were liars,” Clifton said to end Sullivan’s thought. “What I mean about Sheffler is that he’s a lieutenant. I come from a military background. I’m retired and, you know, shit rolls downhill. He should have been able to stop her.
Jurors tell judge at 4.15pm that further deliberations won’t help
U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough assigned the case to the jury at 4:23 p.m. Friday. After a little over an hour of deliberation, the jurors went home. They returned to the courthouse to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday.
Jurors sent a question late Monday morning to Myerscough asking if they could try each defendant separately or if they should be tried together. They also asked to review a 17-minute video interview of Sheffler conducted by Illinois State Police on May 18, 2018, as well as video from cameras inside the WICC showing Earvin being escorted from the wing D to the segregation vestibule.
At around 2:15 p.m., the jurors sent another question to Myerscough, asking what would happen if the jury failed to reach an agreement on certain counts. Myerscough repeated the instructions she gave when she read the jury instructions on Friday, saying the jury “must be unanimous” and telling them not to “hesitate to reconsider your views.”
At 4:15 p.m., Myerscough and attorneys and families from both sides met in another courtroom that was used for jury deliberation. She asked each juror if further deliberation would help. Each juror answered “no”.
Myerscough then asked the jurors to return verdicts on the counts on which they unanimously agreed. A juror stood up and quickly handed documents to a court official, and Myerscough read them aloud.
Neither Banta nor Sheffler showed emotion when Myerscough read the verdicts. Banta’s mother, Lisa, clutched her son’s arm tightly with both hands as they both stared straight ahead.
Lawyers meet jurors on ‘sticking points’
Banta’s mother and sister declined to comment as they left the courthouse.
When Sheffler was asked if he was ready to speak as he left the courthouse, he replied, “Not at this time.”
“We are prohibited from commenting on the case or anything like that,” Assistant US Attorney Timothy Bass said. “The U.S. Attorney did order that we not speak about the case. We will likely issue a press release on Mr. Banta’s sentencing, and the case remains pending on Mr. Sheffler.
“We truly appreciate the time and dedication the jury has taken four weeks of their life to work through this case,” said William Vig. “We respect their hard work and appreciate that they were unable to reach a verdict, and we are ready and willing to try this case again on behalf of our client. He maintains his innocence.”
“I can give you as many ‘no comments’ as you need,” said attorney Howard Feldman, who served as co-counsel with Stanley Wasser for Banta.
Myerscough told jurors that attorneys for both sides wanted to talk to them about their decision and help them explain the “sticking points” that stood in the way of reaching a decision on Sheffler. The Vigs did not speak to the jurors, but about six jurors met with Bass and Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller outside the jury deliberation room for about 35 to 40 minutes.
Juror: ‘I think everyone involved in all of this should be gone’
Sullivan and Clifton, along with a third juror, believed the case highlighted huge problems at the Western Illinois Correctional Center.
“The system is damaged. I think this needs to be fixed,” said a juror who only identified herself as Terry as she left the courthouse. “We have to start from scratch. I think everyone who was involved in all of this should be gone and we should have new staff. I don’t see anything else helping. It just sucks.
“The big overall problem is that I understand that they are prisoners and they have to make time for their punishment,” Clifton said. “But no one deserves sub-human behavior like this. … I hope there will be more court cases that come out of this, because something has to be done. Our defendants are not the only culprits.
“The trial opened my eyes to the corrections system and what goes on there, for sure,” Sullivan said. “I was amazed at how corrupt everything was from day one – how corrupt everyone was and everyone is. Everybody lies.”
Clifton said serving on a jury is on her personal bucket list, and she’s glad she did.
“I’m not exactly happy with how the Sheffler part went, but I’m happy that we didn’t find him not guilty,” she said. “He’s going to face another jury to determine whether he’s innocent or not, and I agree with that, because I don’t think he’s innocent.”