Final Guard Sentenced in 2018 Inmate Beating at Western IL Correctional Center

By Benjamin Cox on March 22, 2023 at 6:01pm

Willie Hedden, a former Illinois correctional officer, leaves the U.S. District Court building on Monday, March 20, 2023, after testifying at the sentencing of former Illinois prison guard Todd Sheffler in Springfield, Ill. A contrite Hedden, the last of three ex-correctional officers convicted in the beating death of an Illinois prison inmate, was sentenced Wednesday, March 22, to six years in federal prison after pleading guilty to civil rights violations and obstruction and testifying against his codefendants. (AP Photo/John O'Connor, File)

The last of a trio of guards from Western Illinois Correctional Facility in Mt. Sterling involved in a May 2018 beating of an inmate was sentenced in federal court this afternoon.

44 year old Willie Hedden of Mt. Sterling pleaded guilty over two years ago to his involvement in the May 17, 2018 of 65 year old inmate Larry Earvin. Hedden then became a corroborating witness in the federal government’s case against fellow guards Eric Banta and Todd Scheffler.

Hedden, an 18-year Department of Corrections veteran, admitted punching, stomping and kicking the 65-year-old Earvin, who was handcuffed behind his back, in the entryway to a segregation unit where there are no surveillance cameras. The beatings of other inmates were part of a WBEZ investigative report published in June 2021.

Both Banta and Scheffler were found guilty by juries in separate trials over the last year. Both were sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in the last week for their respective roles in the beating that ultimately resulted in injuries that caused Earvin’s death more than a month later at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield.

Hedden admitted to the brutal attack on Earvin out of the view of a surveillance camera in the prison. According to the Associated Press, Hedden offered a statement of allocution apologizing to Earvin’s son and accepted the responsibility for the crime: “What I brought upon them is a horrible tragedy that did not need to happen. For that I am truly sorry. …,” Hedden said. “I chose this. Mr. Earvin didn’t have a say. Other than an apology, I thought the only thing I could give Mr. Pippion is the truth, despite how horrible and graphic it was to hear, at least he’d know what happened that day.”

Earvin’s son, Larry Pippion told the AP that he accepted Hedden’s apology after the hearing: “He was the only one who didn’t go to trial. He was real sincere. He realized he made a terrible mistake and he accepted responsibility. That was the big deal. The others lied all the way through.”

In December 2019, Hedden, Sheffler and Banta were charged with deprivation of civil rights resulting in death, conspiracy to deprive civil rights, obstruction of an investigation, falsification of documents, and misleading conduct.

During sentencing, U.S. Assistant Attorney Timothy Bass asked for 10 years reminding federal judge Sue E. Myerscough of oft-repeated testimony about a prison environment that condones prisoner beatings and keeping quiet about it, but that Hedden had broken “that culture of obstruction.”

“You were a crucial witness to as well as a participant in this assault,” Myerscough said according to the AP. “But you came forward and you were as honest as you can be.”

Myerscough sentenced Hedden to 6 years each on the civil rights counts and 6 years on a witness tampering charge, with the sentences to run concurrently. She dismissed the other charges. Hedden was also ordered to pay a $300 special assessment and given 5 years of mandatory supervised release after the completion of his prison sentence.