Slain NIU student's family: Crime details 'not comforting'
DEKALB -- The man accused of murdering 18-year-old Antinette "Toni" J. Keller of Plainfield was unemployed and lived in a public housing unit meant mainly for senior citizens and the disabled, but those and other facts coming out about the suspect are not bringing a sense of calm to Keller's family.
"The details are not comforting, they just complete the picture of what we have to come to terms with and what we have to do to deal," said Mary Tarling, Keller's cousin, who has been speaking on behalf of the Northern Illinois University freshman's family. "It moves us slightly toward some degree of processing this and healing."
No one from Keller's family attended the first hearing Saturday morning for William "Billy" P. Curl, who faces nine charges for allegedly raping, burning and killing Keller: five counts of first-degree murder, and charges of arson, criminal sexual assault, unlawful possession of a converted motor vehicle and obstructing justice.
Tarling said relatives may attend later court dates, but not if they think the proceedings will bring them more emotional pain.
At Saturday's status hearing in DeKalb County Circuit Court in Sycamore, Judge James Donnelly read Curl's charges while the accused man watched on closed circuit TV from the nearby DeKalb County Jail. Donnelly informed Curl that two of his first-degree murder charges qualify him for a possible death sentence, and ruled that a public defender will represent Curl against all the charges.
It has been years since a defendant in DeKalb County was eligible for the death penalty, DeKalb County Assistant State's Attorney Phil Montgomery said.
Curl said from the jail he was unable to pay $506,500, which is 10 percent of his bond of more than $5 million. He will remain in jail until his next court appearance, scheduled for 8:45 a.m. Monday in DeKalb County Circuit Court. The appearance will be a status hearing, Montgomery said, and prosecutors will not divulge all the facts of the case at that time.
"It's going to take a while to compile all the police reports to get all the discovery to the defense," Montgomery said.
DeKalb police have said Curl is believed to be jobless and had never been a student at or worked for NIU. He had lived in the public housing complex for about four years.
NIU president John G. Peters informed students of the charges against Curl Friday in an e-mail message.
NIU sophomore Erica Paczkowski said the e-mail brought some comfort and an increased sense of safety on campus. But the murder hit close to home for Paczkowski, a 19-year-old Plainfield resident majoring in visual communications at NIU, because she shares the same hometown and major as Keller.
"The fact that it was isolated did kind of bring relief, but the fact that it did have to happen in the first place is depressing," Paczkowski said. "I've never seen her around the art building, but it's just really sad that it had to happen to a fellow art student."
Keller, 18, of Plainfield, graduated from Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville this year and was reported missing Oct. 15, a day after going for a walk at a park near campus. She had told friends she was going to look for ideas for a project. Human remains, which police believe to be those of Keller, were discovered on Oct. 16 in a heavily wooded area of that park.
Police announced the discovery of the remains Oct. 25. The remains were so badly burned, officials said, that they had to be sent to an out-of-state forensic expert to confirm they were human.
Authorities have said the remains were found near items "consistent with" Keller's belongings. Keller last was seen carrying a portfolio and camera.
Authorities said they became interested in Curl because he often visited the park, and he did not show up for scheduled interviews with police.
Curl was arrested in Covington, La, on Tuesday night. He had taken his mother's car Oct. 23 and fled to Mexico, and then come back to the U.S. _ to Covington, where he was looking for work as a day laborer, authorities said.
Police said the murder was a crime of opportunity and that the two did not know one another.
Curl has some prior criminal history in DeKalb County, including charges for criminal damage to property, police said.
A neighbor of Curl's in the 16-story public housing complex Golden Years Plaza, said he used to live on her floor before moving to his current eighth floor apartment.
"He seemed OK to me. I didn't know much about him," Golden Years Plaza resident Verna Corson said.
Keller's cousin Tarling said the family is trying to absorb new information about the case as it comes.
"We've been so bombarded with taking in the new facts that come in," Tarling said. "Every new piece hits like a wave."
The family will plan two memorials as celebrations of Keller's life, a private one for relatives and a broader celebration to which the public and anyone who knew Keller will be invited, Tarling said. Details are not available yet.
And while news of Curl's arrest and charges does not necessarily comfort Keller's relatives, Tarling said the family is glad to have restored confidence that the rest of them as well as NIU students and the public at large are safe from Keller's alleged killer.
"I trust that (police) have very strong reason to believe this is the case," Tarling said.