A plea deal gives a DeKalb county man accused of raping and murdering a Northern Illinois University student 37 years in prison. 13News' Rebecca Klopf has followed the Toni Keller case since Keller was first reported missing in 2010.
Even while William Curl pleaded guilty in court Wednesday, he maintained his innocence.
"Everyone is looking for a guarantee in this world and they were looking for a plea and a guarantee that he would be in prison for a sustainable period of time. We were looking for a guarantee that would not have him away for the rest of his life," says Tom McCulloch, Curl's attorney.
McCulloch says that's why Curl, who claims he never hurt NIU student Toni Keller, took the deal. Keller disappeared in 2010. Investigators found her burned body a few days later in a park near campus. Prosecutors say Curl was arrested with scratches on his body from Keller. The NIU freshman art student had told friends she was going to draw in a nearby park but never returned. Prosecutors say Curl told police multiple stories of what happen, from never knowing Keller to saying he met her and had sex with her at the park. Clay Campbell, the former DeKalb County State's Attorney helped build the case against Curl and had told the family he would get the maximum for their daughter's death. That was before he lost the election in November. He came to the plea hearing. Family members who have been communicating with the media through a Facebook page call the deal unfair. They didn't show up.
"I think it's outrageous to know that in some point in time in the future Mr. Curl has the opportunity to complete his prison term and be a free man again," says Campbell.
But the current state's attorney says he believes he did what was right for the community because there was a chance Curl could be found not guilty.
"Our job is to get a conviction for first degree murder on people that we have charged with first degree murder and we did that. So in that regard I could never say we let the family or the community down," says Richard Schmack, DeKalb County State's Attorney.
Keller's family says while Curl only gets a few decades in prison they are left with a life sentence. Curl should be released from prison when he is 71-years-old.
The man accused of killing Northern Illinois University Student Antinette "Toni" Keller has accepted a plea deal to receive a sentence of 37 years in prison.
William "Billy" Curl appeared in court on Wednesday to submit a guilty plea, although he still maintained his innocence. As the hearing began, a family member of Curl's screamed out "Don't do it, they are railroading you, Billy!" before being led out of the courtroom.
The judge accepted the plea and corresponding deal, sentencing Curl to 37 years in prison for Keller's murder. He will also receive credit for 889 days served.
Keller disappeared on Thursday October 14, 2010 after going for a walk near campus. Badly burned remains were found in Prairie Park near objects that belonged to Keller. The remains were burned so significantly that investigators had to run tests to ensure they were human and police were unable to positively identify them as Keller's until January of 2011.
Curl was arrested in Louisiana on October 26, 2010 and charged with five counts of first-degree murder, criminal sexual assault, and arson. He initially pleaded not guilty in the case.
WREX Reporter Rebecca Klopf was in the courtroom and will have a full report on the proceedings on 13 News at 5 & 6.
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