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updated: 4/25/2014 8:12 PM

Suspect guilty in 1994 Waukegan appliance store murder

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  • Hezekiah Whitfield

      Hezekiah Whitfield

 
 

It took under three hours for a Lake County jury to find a Chicago man guilty of killing a 71-year-old Libertyville man while he closed up his business on a cold December evening in 1994.

Hezekiah Whitfield, 44, now faces life in prison for bludgeoning Fred Reckling to death during an armed robbery Dec. 8, 1994.

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Judge Mark Levitt set a sentencing date of June 5. Whitfield faces a minimum of 35 years in prison.

Whitfield was charged with six counts of murder for using a cloth wrapped gun and hitting the Libertyville man in the back of the head. Prosecutors allege Whitfield stole cash and Reckling's wallet and car, then drove to Chicago.

Police said the stolen car had a flat tire on the Tri-State Tollway near Townline Road, where Reckling's wallet was ditched and later recovered by police.

Prosecutors said Whitfield's DNA was recovered in the store and in Reckling's car.

Defense attorneys Gillian Gosch and Alex Rafferty spent Friday morning trying to point blame in other directions -- specifically at James Edwards, 66, who was previously charged and spent more than 15 years in prison for the crime he did not commit.

Edwards was initially charged in 1996 with killing Reckling, but DNA evidence cleared him of the murder in 2012. However, he remains in prison for an unrelated armed robbery conviction.

Gosch pointed to the signed confession by Edwards in the Reckling murder, a confession he later said was coerced by his interrogators.

Gosch questioned Waukegan police officer Michael Quinn and former detective Mark Tkadletz on Friday, and both said they never abused or coerced Edwards into confessing.

"He said he was walking down the road with a wooden stick and looking for a place to rob," Quinn testified. "He said he saw a business man go into a store ... so he hit him in the head with the stick and took the money."

However, Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Scheller pointed out Quinn and Tkadletz were not the only police officers to interrogate Edwards in 1996. He also pointed out inconsistencies in Edward's statements about evidence recovered during the investigation.

Edwards' attorney -- Kathleen T. Zellner of Chicago -- was in the courtroom and watched the proceedings.

"It was an ironic twist watching prosecutors prove that (Edwards) confession was false," Zellner said.

The same DNA evidence that cleared Edwards led authorities to charge Whitfield in 2012. He has been held in Lake County jail since his arrest in lieu of $3 million bond.

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