Jurors on Monday convicted an Illinois Department of Corrections officer for violating the civil rights of an inmate after he was pinpointed in a brutal beating of that inmate at Western Illinois Correctional Facility in Mt. Sterling in 2018, but they couldn’t reach a verdict against a superior officer.
30 year old Alex Banta of Quincy was convicted on Monday after a 4-wekk trial in U.S. District Court of Central Illinois in Springfield. Banta was found guilty of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, obstruction of an official investigation, falsification of documents, and misleading conduct. Banta faces up to life in prison for the conviction because jurors also indicated that in finding him guilty of the charges, those crimes made him culpable in the death of 65 year old inmate Larry Earvin.
The eight-man, four-woman jury was unanimous on Banta’s fate but were hung up on the charges and the alleged involved of Banta’s co-defendant, IDOC Lieutenant Todd Sheffler. Juror Kevin Sullivan of Springfield told members of the media outside the Paul Findley Federal Building in downtown Springfield that he didn’t feel like he and his fellow jurors completed their jobs. Muddy River News reports that Sullivan and fellow juror Roberta Clifton of Havana said jurors unwilling to convict Sheffler believed most of the injuries Earvin suffered happened in the D wing of the prison and not in the segregation vestibule. Sheffler stepped in to take over for another prison guard when they escorted Earvin across the prison to the segregation vestibule where the majority of the alleged fatal brutality took place. The jurors said that the testimony of some of the alleged witnesses to the vestibule beating was unreliable.
The case was given to the jury on Friday afternoon by U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough. Further reporting from Muddy River News says after a little more than an hour of deliberation, jurors went home. They returned to the courthouse to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday. Late Monday morning a question by the jury was sent to Judge Myerscough asking if they could judge separately each defendant or if they had to be judged together. They also asked to re-watch a 17-minute video interview of Sheffler conducted by the Illinois State Police on May 18, 2018, as well as video from cameras inside the WICC showing Earvin being escorted from D wing to the segregation vestibule.
At about 2:15 p.m., jurors sent another question to Myerscough, asking what would happen if the jury couldn’t come to an agreement on certain counts. At approximately 4:15PM on Monday after a short conference, jurors returned the verdict on the counts that they agreed upon. After Banta’s guilty verdict was read, Judge Myerscough set a status on Sheffler’s case.
Sheffler and his attorneys, government prosecutors, and Judge Myerscough met videoconference today for a status hearing. The information on the status of Sheffler possibly receiving a re-trial is pending.
Larry Earvin’s family members felt confused by the verdict, according to their attorney Jon Erickson. Erickson says the verdict presented limited closure in the case: “The family feels confused and hurt and upset. It’s clear that this beating took place not only in the blind spot but also in the resident wing, and that’s been the Earvin Family’s position all along. The video makes it evidently clear that Mr. Earvin was beaten long before he was even brought to the blind spot. It seems to me that the jurors felt that it was true as well, and that there were other officers involved – multiple other officers involved. The Earvin Family feels like there is just this creep…just baby steps towards justice, and it makes them even all the more frustrated that the Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Governor J.B. Pritzker are refusing to take responsibility for what is clearly a very rotten to its core IDOC, particularly Western Illinois Correctional Facility.”
Erickson says that the was very impressed with the presentation of the case by federal prosecutors showing the culpability of all of the guards involved in the incidents. Erickson says what was particularly impressive was how the prosecutors demonstrated that the knowledge of Earvin’s beating reached into the upper echelons of WICC’s management, including to the warden at the time Cameron Watson and assistant warden Steve Snyder: “The government did a great job of parading witness after witness through this courtroom all testifying that everybody knew, including the warden, that there were these ongoing beatings at the blind spot [in the vestibule] at Western Illinois Correctional Center. The warden is responsible for this murder, the assistant warden, several majors. We learned from the prosecution’s great work that the warden was out there physically watching Mr. Earvin after he already had been beaten once getting dragged into this death chamber by officers who were notorious for engaging in previous beatings. And yet, the warden stood there and allowed it to continue and he did not intervene.”
Snyder and Watson have previously denied all allegations against them.
Erickson says if the family doesn’t get full justice in the criminal case, a separate federal civil case is currently under status. Erickson says all involved in the criminal case have been named as a party in the civil case where the family is seeking compensatory damages.