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updated: 5/17/2013 11:44 AM

Long-awaited trial in Lindenhurst slaying starts Monday

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  • Ealy_James_mg1206 This is murder suspect James Ealy. Photo supplied by the Lake County Sheriff.

      Ealy_James_mg1206 This is murder suspect James Ealy. Photo supplied by the Lake County Sheriff.

 
 

The family of a woman murdered seven years ago in a Lindenhurst Burger King will finally see their daughter's accused killer stand trial.

Jury selection in the 2006 murder trial of 45-year-old Mary Hutchison is slated to begin at 9 a.m. Monday morning in front of Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes at the Waukegan Criminal Court building.

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James Ealy, now 48, was charged with first degree murder after allegedly using his bow tie to strangle Hutchison to death before the fast food restaurant opened for the day on Nov. 27 in 2006.

Authorities said Ealy stole $1,700 from the store's safe before fleeing the now-shuttered restaurant on Grand Avenue.

After being questioned by police about the murder on Nov. 27, Ealy was initially released. But, authorities went back and questioned him four days later. He was arrested and charged with first degree murder following that second round of questioning.

Ealy has remained in Lake County jail without bond since.

Initially, the state requested the death penalty for Ealy should he be found guilty of murder, but that was changed to life in prison after the state abolished the death penalty in 2011.

That change in state policy, along with a change in judges, Ealy's past record, and a large amount of legal maneuverings, have all resulted in continuous delays in the case going to trial, officials said.

"You can't imagine how frustrating it has been," Hutchison's father, Richard Dean, said following a preliminary hearing in February that caused another delay. "Justice should never take this long."

Lake County Assistant States Attorney Steve Scheller said he feels bad for the family of the victim because of the delays in bringing the trial forward.

However, he added, it was important in this case to go slow and methodical throughout the process to ensure a fair trial, especially considering Ealy's past convictions.

"They have waited a long time and have become frustrated with the process,' he said. "But it was necessary to take things slow in this case to ensure all the evidence is presented correctly."

Ealy was convicted by a jury in 1982 of strangling four people inside their seventh floor apartment in Chicago. But, a state appeals court overturned the verdict, ruling that police lacked probable cause to initially arrest Ealy.

Prosecutors are not allowed to bring up the past overturned conviction unless the defense team alludes to the previous crimes first.

"We have finally reached a point where we are ready to go to trial," Scheller said. "We are looking forward to presenting the evidence in court."

Shanes has allowed extended media coverage of the trial. One television camera and one still camera will be allowed in the courtroom throughout the entire event.

The trial is expected to last 5 days, Scheller said.

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