A former Western Illinois Correctional Facility prison guard was convicted yesterday of violating the rights of a prisoner after officers beat him in a lock up 4 years ago.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated about three hours before returning guilty verdicts on five counts against former corrections Lieutenant, 54 year old Todd Sheffler of Mendon after a nearly month-long trial.
Sheffler is the second guard convicted in the death of 65 year old Larry Earvin in May 2018. A separate jury convicted 31 year old Alex Banta of Quincy of similar charges in April but were hung up on a verdict for Sheffler, signaling the re-trial. A third corrections officer, 43 year old Willie Hedden of Mt. Sterling, pled guilty to the charges in March 2021 and was a key witness in both trials in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.
Like Banta, Sheffler was convicted of depriving Earvin of his civil rights, conspiracy to deprive civil rights, tampering with a witness, destruction or falsification of records and intimidation or force against a witness. The civil rights charges alone carry sentences of as much as life in prison.
According to the Associated Press, it took jurors approximately 3 hours to come to the verdict after hearing nearly 3 weeks worth of testimony that included former Western Illinois Corrections Center employees Shawn Volk, Brett Hendricks, Matt Lindsey, Derek Hasten and Blake Haubrich. Many of them are now named in a federal civil suit in the case.
Earvin, who was eligible for parole in four months, allegedly became belligerent when a guard ordered him to return to his cell in his D-Wing housing unit. A Code 1 “officer-in-distress” call led to dozens of guards reporting to Earvin’s housing unit. Hedden led the group that escorted Earvin, who was shown standing upright in a video, to the segregation unit, with Banta assisting Earvin on his right. Sheffler joined the group on its way to the unit and took over for an officer, assisting Earvin on his left. Earvin was escorted to a vestibule where no cameras. The area was characterized as a “blind spot” by Chicago’s WBEZ, and an investigative report that the spot was the location of multiple alleged beatings to multiple inmates over an extended period of time.
Minutes later after the escort to the vestibule, Earvin had to be carried to the segregation cage, nearly unresponsive, bleeding from the head and vomiting. Hedden was among those who testified that the trio kicked, punched, and stomped on Earvin, while Banta jumped in the air and came down on Earvin’s torso with his knees.
Sheffler’s counsel argued that the injuries to Earvin could have come from an incident in the housing unit prior to corrections officers arriving to escort him to segregation, and that evidence of an assault in the segregation vestibule was circumstantial. That night, Earvin was transported to Culbertson Memorial Hospital in Rushville and then airlifted to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. He died five weeks later. His autopsy revealed 15 rib fractures; at least two dozen abrasions, hemorrhages and lacerations; a torn aorta; and abdominal injuries so severe a portion of his bowel was surgically removed.
Further, information from the previous trial in April was released for use in this trial by federal Judge Sue Myerscough including Sheffler’s interview with the FBI, his proffer agreement with the federal government, and interviews surrounding the proffer agreement.
Under terms of the proffer agreement, provided in part that “the government agrees that no statement made or information provided pursuant to this agreement may be used directly as evidence against your client in a criminal case.” However, the agreement also provided that any breach by Sheffler would void the agreement. Judge Myerscough ruled on June 23rd during pre-trial motions that Sheffler breached the proffer agreement and allowed the government to introduce Sheffler’s post-proffer statements at the second trial.
Banta is scheduled to be sentenced on September 20. Hedden is scheduled to be sentenced on October 21. Sheffler is scheduled to be sentenced on January 6, 2023.
Ben Cox assisted with some information in this report.