ST. LOUIS — —
An Illinois prosecutor on Thursday dropped all charges against a man accused of playing a role in the June 2010 murder of a 15-year-old girl, citing the refusal of three co-defendants to give "critical" testimony during the man's trial, which was to start next week.
Perry County State's Attorney David Stanton said in a news release that even though he dropped the murder charge and other counts against Chad Bennett in Sidnee Stephens' slaying, he could still pursue charges later — presumably if the co-defendants have a change of heart about testifying. He declined to comment further about the matter, citing the pending case against the victim's half-sister, Dakota Wall.
Bennett's attorney, Bryan Drew, said his client has always maintained that he's innocent and "was ready for the trial and was looking forward for his side of the story to come out."
"I think he's glad the ordeal is over for now," Drew told The Associated Press. "This has upended and ruined his life for a year now, and he will try to get his life back."
Two of the three would-be witnesses — James Glazier and Robbie Mueller — were convicted of murder in the death of Stephens, who was shot and strangled. Her body was found in a creek near Pinckneyville, the southern Illinois community where she lived. Another co-defendant, Carl Dane, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was found dead in his jail cell on the day he was to be transferred to prison to begin serving a 60-year sentence.
Bennett and Wall were charged under Illinois' accountability clause well after Glazier, Mueller and another co-defendant, Carl Dane, were charged with killing Sidnee. A judge said that although Bennett and Wall may not have actually have taken part in killing the girl, they were accused of helping plan the crime or taking part in some other way.
Wall pleaded guilty in October 2011 to a lesser count of misdemeanor obstruction of a peace officer and was freed after being credited for time she had spent in jail. But she faces a November trial on charges of essentially being an accessory to first-degree murder, kidnapping, home invasion and burglary, all in connection with Stephens' death.
Last week, Stanton asked a judge for more time to prepare for Bennett's trial, saying in a court filing that Glazier, Mueller and Wall were refusing to testify against Bennett even though the trio of would-be witnesses had been promised immunity from prosecution if they incriminated themselves.
Stanton called the potential testimony from the three "critical to the people's case (involving Bennett), and the people would be prejudiced by the absence of the testimony."
Glazier, 20, and Mueller, 18, each opted to be tried by a judge instead of a jury. Glazier was sentenced to the maximum punishment of 60 years in prison, and Mueller received a 37-year term. Both men are appealing, and Stanton said they have indicated through their attorneys that they might be open to reconsidering whether to testify against Bennett once their own legal challenges are resolved.