35-year sentence -- again -- for murder of Aurora woman

Updated 2/20/2015 5:29 PM
  • Gareng Deng

    Gareng Deng

  • Marilyn Bethell

    Marilyn Bethell

After nearly 10 years, Marilyn Bethell's family can possibly find some peace.

Gareng Deng Friday pleaded guilty -- again -- to killing the 47-year-old substance abuse counselor around Halloween 2005 after breaking into her Aurora home and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Deng, an immigrant from Sudan who was 14 when he killed Bethell, pleaded guilty in 2009, but an appellate court voided his sentence and guilty plea on a technical issue.

The former Waubonsie High School student, who is 23 and has been in prison or jail since his March 2007 arrest, opted to plead guilty again instead of seeking a trial that could have landed him in prison for up to 85 years if convicted.

"I'm glad it's finally done," Bethell's sister, Pauline O'Neill, said afterward.

She declined to elaborate.

Deng was accused of breaking into Bethell's home on the 2500 block of Quail Court on Aurora's far north side, burglarizing it and killing Bethell, whose body was found Dec. 26, 2005, in a wooded area near Butterfield and Kirk roads in Batavia Township.

Prosecutors said authorities responded Oct. 31, 2005, to a crash involving Bethell's stolen car and she later was reported missing.

Deng's DNA was found inside her home and on a bike she owned, prosecutors said.

Bethell's disappearance prompted various searches for her by police and volunteers.

"The last time Marilyn Bethell was seen alive was on October 30, 2005, when she left work," DuPage County Assistant State's Attorney Joe Ruggiero said.

Because the investigation crossed counties, DuPage and Kane prosecutors jointly handled the case.

In 2013, an appellate court panel voided Deng's guilty plea and 35-year prison term and reset the case to square one.

The appellate court ruled that the 35-year sentence was void because it was less than the minimum sentence of 45 years in prison in Illinois for committing a murder with a gun.

The minimum sentence for murder is 20 years, and if the state proves the defendant actually pulled the trigger, that adds another 25 years to the sentence.

In Deng's first guilty plea, he admitted to shooting and killing Bethel; in Friday's plea, he admitted to causing her death, but there was no mention of a handgun, thus allowing a sentence of less than 45 years.

"Although the case was returned to us 20 months ago and although this is the same plea that was made six years ago, we're grateful to Marilyn Bethell's family for their support throughout this process," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said.

Deng must serve 100 percent of Friday's sentence and will be released when he is 50.

Deng's mother, who has attended virtually all court appearances over the years, declined to comment.

Assistant Public Defender Brenda Willett declined to comment afterward on why Deng pleaded guilty again instead of seeking a jury trial.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.