SYCAMORE – A judge ruled Monday that the post-conviction appeal process can continue for a 40-year-old man seeking to take back his guilty plea in the 2010 murder of a Northern Illinois University student from Plainfield.
William Curl said he was coerced into pleading guilty to killing Antinette "Toni" Keller by DeKalb County prosecutors, whom he said threatened to charge his teenage son in connection with the crime. He also said he received bad representation from his court-appointed attorney at the time. Curl, formerly of DeKalb, is serving a 37-year sentence at Menard Correctional Center.
In August 2015, Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert ruled that Curl could proceed with his claim. With the state having had the opportunity to respond, Curl had to meet more stringent legal standards, which Stuckert ruled that in part, he had.
“I find that he made a substantial showing of a constitutional violation, warranting a further factual inquiry in an evidentiary hearing,” Stuckert said Monday in court.
In the post-conviction relief petition, Curl and his court-appointed attorney, Dan Transier, claim his defense should have sought to suppress Curl's statements to police, that he was under the influence of the hallucinogen salvia during his first interview with them, and that he was never advised of his Miranda rights. Curl also said he wasn't taking medication needed to regulate his mental state when he spoke to police.
Prosecutors said that despite Curl's complaints, he had not presented any plausible defense. However, Stuckert disagreed.
"Based on the court's review of the court record, defendant/petitioner has articulated a plausible defense, the inadmissibility of his statements made to law enforcement, in both his pro se and supplemental pleadings," Stuckert stated in the court order.
Stuckert on Monday set the next court date in the case for May 23, at which point a date for the evidentiary hearing will be set.
“I want all of you to have an opportunity to review the 11-page order,” Stuckert said to First Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Klein and Transier. “I know there will be significant witnesses who will be required to be called, based on the court’s review and ruling.”
Keller, an NIU student from Plainfield, was last seen Oct. 14, 2010, when she told friends she was going for a walk in Prairie Park. Her burned body was found in the park two days later.
"Right now, my heart is with the Keller family," Klein said.
Stuckert's ruling on Curl's petition could come as soon as after the hearing.
If his guilty verdict is vacated, the case would likely go to trial.