First of Three Mt. Sterling Prison Guards Sentenced to 20 Years in 2018 Inmate Death

By Jeremy Coumbes on March 16, 2023 at 4:39pm

A former Brown County correctional officer was sentenced to serve time in prison in federal court this afternoon.

31-year-old Alex Banta of Quincy was convicted in April of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, obstruction of an official investigation, falsification of documents, and misleading conduct, following a four-week trial in U.S. District Court of Central Illinois in Springfield.

Banta, along with co-defendant 54-year-old Todd Sheffler of Mendon, and 43-year-old Willie Hedden of Mt. Sterling were accused in the May 2018 death of 65-year-old Larry Earvin.

Earvin was an inmate at the Western Illinois Correctional Facility in Mt. Sterling where the three defendants worked at the time. Hedden pleaded guilty to the charges in March of 2021 and was a key witness in the trials against Banta and Sheffler.

According to testimony during the trials, Earvin was being led from his cell to the segregation unit by Banta and Sheffler after he had become belligerent. Hedden testified he joined the group on the way as Earvin was led to a vestibule that was out of view of surveillance cameras.

It was in the vestibule that Hedden said the three men kicked, punched, and stomped on Earvin, while Banta jumped in the air and came down on Earvin’s torso with his knees.

That evening, Earvin was transported to Culbertson Memorial Hospital in Rushville and then airlifted to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. He died five weeks later as a result of his injuries. He had been scheduled for parole four months after his assault.

Judge Sue Myerscough sentenced Banta to serve 20 years in prison followed by five years of mandatory supervised release this afternoon.

WBEZ reports that during the sentencing hearing, Myerscough said evidence in the trial showed that the trio beat Earvin while he was handcuffed and not posing a threat, refuting Banta’s assertion of being a product of the “culture of violence” within the staff at the prison.

Prosecuting attorneys requested a life sentence, while Banta’s defense recommended a ten-year sentence.

Sheffler, who was convicted in a separate trial in August of last year, will be sentenced on Monday and Headen will receive his sentence on Wednesday.