Twist in 2002 Lake County murder case could mean new trial for man convicted of pulling trigger
Ronald Ruhl has spent the last 18 years in prison -- and is due to spend at least 31 more -- after Lake County prosecutors convinced a jury in 2003 that he murdered a Lake Villa man at the direction of a friend who was pursuing the victim's girlfriend. Now Ruhl is seeking a second trial, and the key to him potentially getting it is the same man authorities say told him to kill.
A state appellate court on Tuesday ordered a Lake County judge to consider Ruhl's petition for a new trial, which largely hinges on sworn statements in which friend and fellow convicted murderer Ray Serio confesses to the killing.
Ruhl, formerly of Crystal Lake, is serving a 50-year prison sentence on a first-degree murder conviction. Prosecutors say he shot 28-year-old Richard Neubauer in the head Jan. 6, 2002, as the victim sat in a parked car outside the Antioch-area bar where his girlfriend worked.
At trial, prosecutors alleged Ruhl, now 52, killed at the behest of the bar's owner, Raymond Serio of Round Lake. Serio, who's serving 50 years for ordering the killing, wanted Neubauer out of the way so he could start a relationship with his girlfriend, authorities said.
After the killing, Serio and Ruhl abandoned Neubauer's body and vehicle outside the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, where it was discovered hours later by a sheriff's deputy on patrol, prosecutors said.
Ruhl says recently developed evidence exonerates him. That includes a pair of affidavits in which Serio claims he alone murdered Neubauer and forced Ruhl to help him dispose of the body.
"Serio stated in both affidavits that he was confessing because he was thinking about defendant 'spending his life in prison for something I did,'" court documents state.
Ruhl also provided affidavits from two other witnesses who said Serio told them he pulled the trigger.
While stopping well short of saying the affidavits prove Ruhl innocent, the appellate court ruled this week that the new evidence is enough for a court hearing. In doing so, justices noted that there's no physical evidence tying Ruhl to the killing and the primary testimony against him was from Neubauer's girlfriend. She testified that she heard Serio tell Ruhl over the phone to shoot the victim.
"We conclude that the Serio affidavit raises the probability that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted (Ruhl)," Justice Kathryn Zenoff wrote in the unanimous decision.
What's next? There's always a chance prosecutors could ask the Illinois Supreme Court to weigh in, but more likely Ruhl's case will be placed on the docket of a Lake County judge and a hearing will be scheduled. We'll follow up when it happens.
Time to go?
It's been nearly 18 months since Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered county jails to stop sending inmates to Illinois Department of Corrections prisons, a measure intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 among the incarcerated.
That means there are a lot of people in the Cook County jail -- more than 550, in fact -- who shouldn't be there. And county Sheriff Tom Dart wants them gone.
Dart's office this week filed a petition with the Illinois Supreme Court asking justices to lift Pritzker's order and require the DOC to accept the inmates.
The sheriff's office says the 550 inmates represent about 10% of the jail's population but are responsible for 40% of the fights and security infractions.
The group includes 250 people convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison. Others may be eligible for release but remain in custody because the DOC had a hold on them but won't accept a transfer, Dart said.
"The state's refusal to do its job only makes ours more difficult and dangerous," Dart said in an announcement of the litigation. "This has taken an incredible toll on my staff."
We asked Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain if he is having similar difficulties.
"Continuously since COVID! We currently have 31 males and three females that are their responsibility. And zero reimbursement yet," he replied.
DuPage County, however, says IDOC has been "steadily" accepting its transfers, according to sheriff's office spokesman Justin Kmitch.
Warrant amnesty results
Kane County's first warrant amnesty program was a success, according to State's Attorney Jamie Mosser.
About 10 people availed themselves of the program, which was conducted on Fridays in August at the Elgin Branch Court.
People who had outstanding warrants on misdemeanor or nonviolent Class 3 and 4 felonies could come to court and deal with the warrants without fear of being arrested. A judge recalled two of the warrants, and three other cases were resolved on the spot, Mosser said.
Elgin police and Kane County sheriff's office were partners, although those who had cases from other Kane County towns were eligible.
Another amnesty program is being planned for October, at the Aurora Branch Court.
"The hope with our judiciary and law-enforcement partners is that we can have this in all three of our branch courts, so we can offer this on a regular basis throughout the year," Mosser said.
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