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Family of murder victim seeks change in domestic violence law

Proposed legislation calls for electronic monitoring of abusers

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 5:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 7:59 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
Diane Kephart, 61, died March 15, 2013.

The first time he attacked her, Diane Kephart’s ex-boyfriend pinned her down, held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her.

She managed to break free from the man.

Shaken and scared, the Vernon Hills woman obtained an order of protection and moved in with her parents in Antioch.

Just a month later, on March 15, Paul Neff ignored that court order and followed through with the threat he made just one month earlier.

According to media reports, Neff, armed with a 6-inch butcher-style knife, paced outside Kephart’s parents’ home. When she left for work, he attacked and killed her as her parents slept. Neff, 57, of Mundelein, later killed himself.

Kephart, a mother and grandmother – who was described as selfless and too good to see the bad in people – was one week away from turning 62.

As Kephart’s daughter, 27-year-old Jamie, learns to live in a world without her mother in it, she’s determined not to let Diane’s death be in vain, not to let her become another statistic.

Jamie Kephart is working with state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, on a new law that would change the criminal code to provide that judges, as a condition of bond, can place GPS monitoring devices on defendants charged with a slew of violent crimes. Those crimes include aggravated domestic battery, which Neff was charged with after the knife incident with Diane Kephart.

Neff was charged in Lake County, but posted 10 percent of his $50,000 bond and was released. A month later, Diane Kephart was killed in her parents’ driveway, which is in Wheeler’s district.

“We just think that had things been different, this [proposed law] could have possibly saved her,” Jamie Kephart said. “We can’t say that for sure, but going forward, we don’t want anyone else to go through what we had to endure.”

The bill – HB3744 – is one of the first major pieces of legislation for Wheeler, a freshman lawmaker.

Simply put, an order of protection doesn’t go far enough, she said.

“That order of protection, it’s just a joke,” Wheeler said. “It’s a piece of paper. If someone’s determined to really hurt another person, a piece of paper certainly isn’t going to shake logic into their thought process.”

In crafting the bill, Wheeler consulted McHenry-based criminal defense attorney Ed Donahue. The option to use GPS monitoring as a condition of bond is already available but rarely used, Donahue said.

“The law makes it incumbent upon the judge determining bond to make a finding whether it’s appropriate [to order GPS monitoring],” Donahue said.

Advocates of the bill pointed to an altercation that is eerily similar to Kephart’s. Earlier in December, a Crystal Lake woman was held hostage by an ex-boyfriend in her mother’s Arlington Heights home.

In that, Eric Anderson of Niles also ignored an order of protection and found the woman at her mother’s house. He shot at officers, who fired back and killed him. The woman and her mother were unharmed.

Anderson was out on bond for harassing the woman.

“These are people’s lives, these are not statistics, they’re real people, they’re real stories,” Jamie Kephart said. “... I just don’t want to see this happen to someone else.”

As the bill sits in the House Rules Committee, Donahue, Jamie Kephart and her brother, Tom, are expected to testify in January or February in Springfield.

HB3744 also recently was sponsored by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo.

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