The Starved Rock murderer wanted a crime lab to take a look at some evidence seized and stored following the 1960 murder investigation. Monday, a judge said no.
But the judge also gave La Salle County prosecutors a novel homework assignment: Tracking down evidence seized from the Chester Weger investigation that is unaccounted for. Among the items identified in a lengthy, recently-unearthed document are scrapings taken from the fingernails of the three murder victims.
Judge Michael C. Jansz wants an update on the search, and any resulting inventory, next Monday, Sept. 28. The judge also dropped a hint Weger, now 81 and on parole, shouldn’t get his hopes up prosecutors will find any “new” evidence (so to speak) in the murder investigation.
“I’ll admit to a low optimism level on that,” Jansz said.
Weger, who was not present for Monday’s proceedings, was paroled last year after serving six decades for murder. He was sentenced to life in prison for killing Lillian Oetting. Though he later recanted, he confessed to killing Oetting and two companions, Frances Murphy and Mildred Lindquist, in a botched robbery at Starved Rock State Park.
Weger continues to protest his innocence and, though now freed and living in Chicago, is pursuing a reversal of his conviction. To that end, lawyers for Weger appeared Monday initially to ask for forensic testing of the known evidence in storage. Those items include a jacket Weger had worn and hair samples collected from the scene and, later, from Weger.
Weger attorney Celeste Stack argued in open court while the evidence wasn’t stored and secured by contemporary standards it may be possible for a crime lab to apply new technologies and run DNA tests that could exclude Weger as the killer.
“We do want to look at the evidence that’s been contaminated and see if the lab could work with it,” Stack said.
La Salle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly opposed the defense request – “This is a fishing expedition” – and said Stack and co-counsel Andy Hale didn’t meet the statutory requirements needed to send the evidence to the crime lab. Jansz agreed, saying the chain of custody – that is, the record of evidence and how it was handled – didn’t support their case.
But Stack and Hale also presented Jansz with an aged document spanning many pages and detailed other pieces of evidence that appear not to have been introduced at trial – and which may no longer exist.
Jansz would like to find out whether any of the evidence so disclosed is sitting in a vault or file cabinet somewhere. He directed Donnelly to inquire and see if there’s any record of the evidence being secured or, alternatively, disposed of.