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updated: 5/20/2011 4:52 PM

Guilty verdict in Gilberts murder-arson case

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  • Frank Hill

    Frank Hill

  • Karyn Pearson

    Karyn Pearson


After about 2 hours of deliberation, a Kane County jury Friday afternoon found Frank Hill guilty of killing his longtime live-in girlfriend and setting fire to her Gilberts townhouse on Jan. 9, 2007, to cover it up.

Hill will be sentenced for the first-degree murder of 27-year-old Karyn Pearson and aggravated arson on Aug. 10. He could get life in prison.

Pearson's friends and family members held hands before the verdict and cried afterward. Hill didn't show any outward reaction but nodded to his mother in the front row before he was taken away.

Assistant State's Attorney Greg Sams said the quick verdict spoke to the overwhelming evidence in the case. Sams said he's happy for Pearson's mother and her family members, but added no court outcome or sentence could bring Karyn back.

"It doesn't fill a hole in their lives," Sams said. "(Hill) took the life of a brilliant, beautiful 27-year-old woman who had friends and family and as such he does not deserve to be walking free again."

Added Pearson's old high school friend Stacy O'Connor: "Justice was served."

During the weeklong trial, prosecutors acknowledged that they didn't have an eyewitness who saw Hill, 33, light the fire.

Several neighbors testified they heard fighting, banging and yelling in the home before the fire was first spotted at 5:02 a.m. and also saw Pearson's 2003 silver Jaguar, which Hill regularly drove, in the driveway beforehand and speeding away shortly before the blaze.

Hill initially told police he left the house at about 3 or 3:30 that morning to meet a co-worker, but, using celltower records and I-PASS data, prosecutors showed Hill's phone received signals at 4 a.m., 4:52 a.m. and 5:03 a.m. from a celltower less than a mile from Pearson's townhouse.

Prosecutors also used the data to show Hill made a series of calls after the fire started as he drove along Interstate 90 to Indiana that morning.

"Remember these two statements: Karyn died and the defendant lied," Assistant State's Attorney Mark Stajdohar told the jury of eight women and four men during closing arguments.

Eight departments battled the fire, which destroyed Pearson's home and other units. Debris from near where Pearson's charred body was found on the first floor tested positive at the state crime lab for the presence of gasoline. Police also found an empty gas can in the trunk of the Jaguar driven by Hill.

Hill did not testify in his own defense and his defense attorneys rested their case Friday without calling any witnesses.

Public Defender Tom McCulloch it was possible the fire could have been caused by a candle or careless smoking from Pearson, who was working double shifts because her employer was short-handed and had alcohol in her system at the time of her death.

McCulloch also said firefighters responding could have inadvertently tracked that gasoline found in fire debris at the scene.

Hill's mother, Willa Hill, claimed the jury was biased and racist and said she was confident her son would be exonerated in a new trial.

"Everybody that got up on that (witness) stand over this week lied," she said defiantly.