A suburban man charged in the slaying of teenage girl from Palatine 17 years ago stared down at a courtroom table Wednesday as a Wisconsin prosecutor detailed the brutality of the killing and the need to keep him behind bars while he waits to stand trial.
James Paul Eaton was ordered held in the Racine County jail on $500,000 cash bond, during his first court appearance since his arrest last week in a case that baffled investigators in two states for more than a decade and a half.
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Eaton, 36, of the 1100 block of North Sterling Avenue in Palatine, faces charges of first-degree premeditated homicide and hiding a corpse in connection with the 1997 killing of Amber Creek.
The 14-year-old Palatine girl's body was discovered Feb. 9, 1997, in a hunting area of the Karcher Wildlife Area in Burlington, Wis. She'd been sexually assaulted and suffocated, and was left partially clothed with a plastic garbage bag over her head, court documents state.
Racine County District Attorney Richard Chiapete called the murder "a chilling case" and "a savage and brutal attack."
"(Amber) was dumped like she was garbage," he said.
Prosecutors did not disclose any further details of the circumstances of Amber's murder, and declined to answer questions about the case after Eaton's brief court appearance.
Eaton, wearing matching orange T-shirt, pants and flip flops, was escorted into court by two uniformed officers. He sat at a table with appointed Public Defender Katie Gutowski.
As Chiapete read the charges against him, Eaton remained expressionless, silently tapping a rhythm with the heels of his feet. He did not speak during the proceedings other than to whisper his job title -- manager of operations at The Private Bank -- to his attorney. Gutowski declined to comment outside of court.
A spokeswoman for The Private Bank, a personal and commercial banking corporation with 33 branches across the Midwest, confirmed Eaton was working at its Chicago headquarters at the time of his arrest. Court documents state he had been working there about four years.
Court documents also indicate Eaton served in the U.S. Army until he was medically discharged, but there was no information about when or where he served.
Court Commissioner Alice Rudebusch said that because of Eaton's good job and the nature of the case, a high bond was needed. Under the court order Wednesday, Eaton must post $500,000 cash in order to go free while awaiting trial.
Authorities believe Amber was murdered a short time after she ran away from a Department of Children and Family Services home in Chicago. Investigators said she'd last been seen Feb. 1 or 2, 1997, leaving a party at a Rolling Meadows motel with an unknown man. Her body was discovered a week later.
According to Racine County court documents, Eaton came up on investigators' radar 17 years later when an Oklahoma crime lab re-examining cold cases matched his thumbprints with those recovered from the bag over Amber's head.
While keeping Eaton under surveillance, Racine County detectives on March 22 watched him smoke and discard two cigarettes outside the downtown Palatine Metra station, court records state. They recovered those cigarettes, took DNA samples off them and later matched those samples to DNA recovered from the crime scene, according to the criminal complaint against Eaton.
Eaton, who could face life in prison if convicted of murder, is scheduled to return to court April 16 for a preliminary hearing.
• Staff Writer Melissa Silverberg contributed to this story