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DeKalb man accepts 37 years in NIU student murder case

SYCAMORE – The 37-year prison sentence that William “Billy” Curl received Wednesday morning in a plea agreement for the 2010 murder of a college freshman was a just outcome, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack said.

Schmack said that the rape and murder case against Curl, 36, of DeKalb, in the slaying of Antinette “Toni” Keller, 18, was not airtight, and that ensuring Curl served 37 years behind bars without any reduction in his sentence for good behavior was a good outcome.

“This is a case where the outcome was not assured,” Schmack said at a press conference after the plea agreement was finalized in court. “Our first obligation is to obtain a guilty plea. We obtained that.”

Although attorneys for Curl agreed that the plea deal was fair, it was not without its critics, notably  former State’s Attorney Clay Campbell.

Tom McCulloch of the DeKalb County public defender’s office represented Curl. He said the agreement offered a guarantee to both sides. The state was guaranteed that Curl would serve a lengthy prison sentence, and Curl was guaranteed that he would not necessarily have to spend the rest of his life in prison.

“Everyone is looking for a guarantee in this world,” McCulloch said.

As part of the sentence, Curl will receive credit for the almost 2 1/2 years he already has served. He would be 71 when he is released.

Curl was scheduled to stand trial April 11 on charges alleging he raped and murdered Keller, and then burned her body and her belongings. Keller, an 18-year-old Northern Illinois University freshman from Plainfield, was last seen about noon Oct. 14, 2010, when she told friends she was going for a walk in Prairie Park. Her burned remains were found in the park two days later.

As a prosecutor read an account of the crime in court this morning, Curl shook his head at some of the descriptions, including his alleged buring of Keller's remains.

Curl accepted a stiffer prison sentence than prosecutors had once offered because he wanted a specialized plea, called an Alford plea, his sister Moria Curl said. In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains innocence but admits the evidence could convince a judge or a jury to find him guilty.

Moria Curl was ejected from the courtroom Wednesday after she shouted out: "Billy don't take it! They're railroading you!"

Keller’s family did not attend the court proceedings on Wednesday. However, former State’s Attorney Clay Campbell, whom Schmack defeated in the November election, did attend.

Campbell said the plea agreement “diminishes human life and dishonors the memory of the victim.”

“I’m deeply sorry for this outcome,” Campbell said. “It could have been more just than it was.”

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