Man pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 1994 Lisle case
A Peoria man pleaded guilty Monday to involuntary manslaughter for the 1994 death of a 71-year-old Lisle woman during a break-in at her home.
Murder charges against Thomas Spear were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
The plea comes after DuPage County Judge George Bakalis ruled last month that much of what Spear said to police in a 2017 interview was inadmissible at trial because police continued questioning him after Spear asked for a lawyer.
After noticing police questions were focusing more on whether he had physically hurt Illa Venard, Spear said, "Lawyer. I need a lawyer. I didn't hurt anybody," according to a transcript Bakalis quoted in his written decision.
"The statements made by Mr. Spear were key evidence in this case. Suppression of those statements impacted our case," said Paul Darrah, public information officer for the DuPage County State's Attorney's office.
Spear was charged in October 2017 in connection with Venard's death in her second-floor apartment on Walnut Creek Lane. Her son and his then-wife found her dead on Aug. 4, 1994. At that time, an autopsy could not determine a cause of death.
One of her thumbnails was broken, and several rings had been removed from her hands. Her apartment appeared to have been ransacked, a prosecutor told Bakalis at a 2017 bond hearing.
The prosecutor said that three years after Venard's death, a former neighbor told authorities Spear had spoken to her and her boyfriend about Venard before the break-in, noting the jewelry she was wearing as she walked past the trio. He asked where she lived, the neighbor said.
Shortly after Venard's death, Spear showed the woman and her boyfriend four checks with Venard's name on them, and asked them to help cash them, according to the prosecutor.
Lisle police reopened the case in 2017 and tracked Spear to Peoria, where he confessed, according to police. He initially was charged with forgery and burglary.
Police said Spear told them he used a rope and grappling hook to climb to the apartment. As he entered a sliding-glass door, Venard approached him. He said he grabbed her neck and pushed her down.
She became unconscious, Spear said, so he tried to revive her with CPR. When he was unsuccessful, he decided to go ahead with the robbery, according to prosecutors.
In 2017, a medical examiner re-examined the case and ruled Venard died of cardiac arrhythmia caused by being startled by an intruder. The examiner said he could not rule out strangulation.
Bakalis will sentence Spear on Sept. 30.