Lake Villa man sentenced to life in prison for Burger King murder
A Lake Villa man was sentenced to natural life in prison Wednesday for killing his former supervisor at a Burger King in Lindenhurst in 2006.
However, 49-year-old James Ealy was defiant to the end, and claimed he was "railroaded" throughout his arrest and court hearings, adding he "refused to sit here and take responsibility for something I didn't do."
"I've done some things in my life I'm not proud of, but I did not commit this crime and I'm not going to take responsibility for it," Ealy said to a packed courtroom in Waukegan. "What you have done to me is not just unjust, but also criminal."
Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes handed down the ruling against Ealy, who was found guilty in May of killing Mary Hutchison of Trevor, Wis., during a robbery at the now-closed Burger King on Grand Avenue on Nov. 27, 2006.
Prosecutors proved during the trial that Ealy drove to the restaurant at 4:23 a.m. and strangled the 45-year-old Hutchison using the bow tie from her uniform.
After the murder, Ealy stole cash and coins from the restaurant safe, authorities said. Police found the money in Ealy's apartment, and discovered calls had been made from Ealy's cellphone to the Burger King minutes before the murder took place.
Ealy has remained in Lake County jail without bail since his arrest in 2006.
Lake County Chief Deputy State's Attorney Jeff Pavletic said Ealy is a sociopath who committed the murder to benefit his own needs, but also refused to accept responsibility for the crime.
"In your career, judge, you will never sentence a more dangerous, vile, or despicable person than this guy," Pavletic said during his closing argument. "He's not dumb, he's cunning. He does all his dirty work in the dark ... like he did with Mary Hutchison."
Pavletic asked Shanes to sentence Ealy to life in prison without parole.
In addition to Hutchison's murder, prosecutors were allowed to introduce details of a quadruple homicide Ealy confessed to and was convicted of in 1982.
Chicago police officers testified Wednesday that Ealy admitted to killing a family of four following an altercation at a Jackson Street apartment complex. Authorities said Ealy strangled his 15-year-old ex-girlfriend, her 3-year-old son, her 13-year-old sister, and her 34-year-old pregnant mother in their apartment.
After Ealy was found guilty and sentenced for the murders, he was released from prison after a state appeals court ruled police lacked probable cause to arrest him for the crime.
Shanes banned prosecutors from introducing the quadruple murder during Ealy's trial in May, but allowed that information during his sentencing because judges are allowed to use positive and negative aspects of a person's life to determine a final sentence.
Public defender Keith Grant painted Ealy as a victim of his upbringing at Rockwell Gardens of Chicago, then asked Shanes to not reflect on his past convictions when deciding a sentence.
"The court must impose a sentence in this murder, but don't sentence him for something that happened back in 1982," Grant said. He asked Shanes to sentence Ealy to the minimum of 20 years in prison.
Ealy showed no emotion when the life sentence without parole was announced.
"He deserved a maximum sentence, which is what he got," said Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Scheller, who served as co-prosecutor in the trial. "He has no respect for human life."
Hutchison's family members said they weren't surprised by Ealy's statements in court, but the sentence will help them move on.
"(Ealy's) always been very cocky in the hearings we've had over the past seven years," said Mary Hutchison's husband, Ken Hutchison. "There will never be closure ... but you do need to move on in life."