James Paul Eaton was ordered held over for trial Wednesday after a Wisconsin judge heard testimony linking the Palatine man to the murder of a suburban teen who went missing 17 years ago.
Eaton, 36, of the 1100 block of North Sterling Avenue, faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse in connection with the 1997 slaying of Amber Creek, a 14-year-old Palatine girl whose body was found in a Burlington, Wis., wildlife refuge in February 1997, a little more than two weeks after she disappeared from a state juvenile home in Chicago.
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Prosecutors called just one witness during Wednesday's preliminary hearing, held to determine whether probable cause exists to take the allegations against Eaton to trial. Racine County sheriff's detective Keith Dobesh confirmed earlier reports of the evidence against Eaton, including fingerprint and DNA testing that connect him to the murder.
Questioned by Eaton's defense, Dobesh said it is not clear exactly when Amber was killed or when Eaton's fingerprints got on a plastic garbage bag found over her head when her body was discovered Feb. 9, 1997.
Among those in court for the hearing was Amber's uncle, Anthony Mowers, who lives in Zion.
"I'm here for Amber," he said.
Mowers said he was moved to tears by the descriptions of what Amber went through.
"Just imagine how scared she must have been," Mowers said.
Amber's mother, Elizabeth Mowry, told CBS Chicago news how she remembered the court date when Amber went into the state's care.
"Oh God, I knew I should have taken her," Mowry said.
Amber had been a ward of the state for a few weeks when she ran away from a juvenile shelter in Chicago on Jan. 23, 1997. Authorities later determined she was last seen Feb. 1 or 2, 1997, leaving a party at a Rolling Meadows motel with an unknown man.
Eaton is being held in the Racine County jail on $500,000 bail. With Wednesday's ruling, he will return to court April 30 for an arraignment on charges that could put him in prison for life if he's convicted.
According to Racine County court documents, Eaton came up on investigators' radar earlier this year later when an Oklahoma state 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.
"I didn't think they'd ever find this person," Mowry told CBS Chicago. "I'm so happy for that."