A Palatine man accused this month of killing a suburban teen more than 17 years after her partially clothed and battered body was discovered in a southeastern Wisconsin wildlife refuge formally denied charges this morning that could put him in prison for life.
James Paul Eaton, 36, of the 1100 block of North Sterling Avenue, pleaded not guilty to first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse during an arraignment in a Racine County, Wis. courtroom.
Eaton has been in custody in Racine since early this month when authorities acting an DNA and fingerprint evidence arrested him in connection with the slaying of Amber Creek, a 14-year-old Palatine girl whose body was found in a Burlington, Wis., in February 1997, a little more than two weeks after she ran away from a state juvenile home in Chicago.
Eaton is scheduled to return to court May 30 for a pretrial hearing.
Amber's uncle, Anthony Mowers, was in court for Eaton's arraignment and afterward discussed how much the teen's death continues to affect her family 17 years later. He said Amber's mother, Elizabeth Mowers, mourns her daughter every day, and rarely is even able to leave her home.
"This guy not only took Amber's life away, he took her mother," he said. "It's a tragedy and, you know, there's no such thing as closure. That's such a cliché. There will never be closure, whoever uses that word just sees it on the news, cause that's never going to happen."
Eaton, a Fremd High School graduate who was working at a bank in Chicago at the time of his arrest, 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 a plastic garbage bag wrapped over Amber's head when her body was found, court documents state.
After Racine County authorities placed Eaton under surveillance, officials said, he was seen on March 22 smoking and discarding two cigarettes outside the downtown Palatine Metra station. Detectives 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.
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.
Racine County sheriff's police and prosecutors have not indicated whether they believe that man was Eaton, or given any details about how they believe Amber came into contact with the man they're alleging is her killer.