Week Three of Federal Trial for Western IL Correctional Guards Under Way

By Benjamin Cox on April 12, 2022 at 8:30am

The federal trial of two Western Illinois Correctional Center guards accused of beating an inmate to death and then attempting to cover it up has now entered its third week in Springfield.

Government prosecutors continue their case in chief on Monday after several motions were filed over the weekend.

Larry Earvin

This first written order was a writ to the Cook County Jail calling for 30 year old Fernando Garcia-Rios to come before the court as a witness. According to the writ, Garcia-Rios, then an inmate at Western Illinois Correctional Facility in Mt. Sterling witnessed 65 year old inmate Larry Earvin being beaten by Corrections Sergeant Willie Hedden, Lieutenant Todd Sheffler, and Officer Alex Banta on May 17, 2018 as he was being transferred from his cell to a segregation unit. Earvin would later die from blunt force trauma on June 26, 2018 in a Centralia Jail Infirmary. Hedden has since pled guilty conspiracy to deprive civil rights and deprivation of civil rights under color of law resulting in bodily injury and death in March of last year. Garcia-Rios is set to provide the first eye witness account of the incident publicly in court on April 18th.

Defense attorneys for Sheffler and Banta say that there is conflicting evidence about when the beating occurred and who was involved and that witnesses’ testimony changed as time passed.

A motion has also been filed about Hedden’s upcoming testimony in the case. The motion is asking to limit cross-examination about his specific sentencing exposure to the jury. Hedden could face life imprisonment in the case. Hedden has been in cooperation with the government since his pleading to achieve a possible lighter sentence. According to the motion’s filing, Hedden in no way has been promised a reduced sentence for his cooperation. The motion says the jury will be instructed that Hedden’s pleading to the charges is similar to the charges that both Sheffler and Banta face.

The final motion filed on Saturday in the case discusses the government’s position in regards to each side’s contact with witnesses prior to cross-examination. The government has said there is permission, according to case law that allows such contact in certain instances. That motion is expected to be ruled on some time this week by Judge Sue E. Myerscough.

The court schedule does not indicate when government prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case in chief.