Palatine man's defense still waiting on evidence in 1997 slaying

 
 
Updated 9/16/2014 6:18 PM
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  • James P. Eaton, who's accused of killing Palatine teen Amber Creek in 1997, appeared in a Wisconsin court Tuesday morning. His attorney said she's still waiting for prosecutors to turn over evidence they say links Eaton to the slaying.

      James P. Eaton, who's accused of killing Palatine teen Amber Creek in 1997, appeared in a Wisconsin court Tuesday morning. His attorney said she's still waiting for prosecutors to turn over evidence they say links Eaton to the slaying. Doug T. Graham | Staff Photographer

  • James P. Eaton

    James P. Eaton

  • Amber Creek on her 13th birthday.

    Amber Creek on her 13th birthday.

The defense attorney for a Palatine man accused of killing 14-year-old runaway Amber Creek in 1997 and dumping her body in a Wisconsin wildlife refuge told a judge Tuesday she hasn't seen even half of the evidence prosecutors could use against her client at a possible trial.

The slow handover of evidence against James P. Eaton is delaying his ability to mount a defense, which could require hiring expert witnesses to address forensic evidence authorities say link him to the slaying, said Katie Gutowski, a public defender in Racine County, Wisconsin.

"This case may be one that requires us to hire experts and at this point, without having the full amount of discovery, we can't even look into that possibility," Gutowski said. "We're kind of stuck right now."

Eaton, 36, is charged first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse in connection with the murder of Amber Creek, a onetime Palatine resident who disappeared in January 1997 after leaving a Chicago juvenile home where she had been living.

Her body was discovered about two weeks later in a secluded area of the Karcher Wildlife Area in Burlington, Wisconsin. She'd been sexually assaulted and suffocated, and a plastic garbage bag was left over her head, according to court documents.

After years without an arrest, authorities say they broke the case earlier this year after fingerprints found on the garbage bag matched Eaton's, and his DNA later matched saliva and semen samples taken from the crime scene.

The evidence taken from the crime scene is just a portion of the voluminous materials gathered by Racine County investigators in the 17 years since Amber's body was found.

In June, Racine County District Attorney Richard Chiapete asked a judge for more time to sort through the evidence. And more than three months later, Racine County Sheriff's investigators are still hard at work doing just that, public information officer Lt. Steve Sikora said Tuesday.

"The technology, especially with DNA evidence, has been improved so much," he said.

Sikora declined to comment on what evidence in particular had been sent to crime labs.

Investigators also have gathered new evidence since Eaton's arrest. Search warrant documents obtained by the Daily Herald show that investigators seized a laptop, iPhone and Facebook data belonging to the Palatine man. Authorities also have searched for mementos of the crime they believe might have been kept, such as Amber's forest green winter jacket and a dark green backpack that were never found.

Racine County Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz gave both sides 10 days to try to complete the exchange of evidence and scheduled a Sept. 26 hearing, at which time a trial date could be set.

Eaton remains in custody at the Racine County jail on $500,000 bond.

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