A Sudanese immigrant whose 35-year prison sentence for fatally shooting an Aurora woman recently was overturned wants his case returned to juvenile court -- a move that theoretically could set him free.
Garang Deng, formerly of Aurora and now 22, was 14 when prosecutors say he killed Marilyn Bethell, a substance abuse counselor in Hoffman Estates, on Halloween 2005.
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After a lengthy hearing two years later, Deng's case was moved to adult court, where he eventually pleaded guilty in May 2009 to murder in exchange for a 35-year prison term.
Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress recently petitioned to have Deng's case transferred back to juvenile court because prosecutors skipped a step in sentencing procedure.
Juvenile defendants may be held at an Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice youth facility only until the age of 21; Deng will be 23 in October.
So if Deng's case is sent back to juvenile court, one possible outcome is a judge could accept the guilty plea and could then set Deng free.
"I can't say that's not a possibility," Childress said. "It certainly is within the judge's discretion to sentence him and release him if it goes back to juvenile court."
In her court motion, Childress argues that prosecutors were required to file a motion within 10 days of Deng's guilty plea asking a judge to determine if Deng could be sentenced as an adult.
This special step, required or defendants 15 or younger, was not completed, leaving no remedy other than to go back to juvenile court, she said.
"In these circumstances, there is no sentence authorized by (state) statute," Childress said. "In this case, this procedure was not followed and that's why were in this position now."
Childress said Deng still wants to plead guilty to Bethell's murder, although he tried years ago to undo it, arguing he didn't know he would have to serve 100 percent of the 35-year sentence.
"He has not withdrawn his guilty plea, so we're stuck in a situation where the court has no other option but to sentence him," Childress said.
Deng, a former Waubonsie High School student, was accused of breaking into Bethell's home on Oct. 31, 2005, leading her to a secluded area on the Illinois Prairie Path in Kane County and shooting her in the head.
Her body was found months later.
The case is next due in court before Judge Karen Simpson on Aug. 21.
She is expected then to set a future date for attorneys to argue their positions.
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon would not comment on Deng's motion Tuesday, saying it would be answered in due time.
He is being held at the Kane County jail on $2 million bail, meaning he must post $200,000 to be released while the case is pending.