Bethell murder case hearing scheduled Feb. 11
By Dan Campana For Sun-Times Media February 7, 2014 12:14PM
Gareng Deng / photo from Kane County State's Attorney's office
Updated: March 10, 2014 6:26AM
Nearly eight months after an appellate court vacated Gareng Deng’s guilty plea in the 2005 murder of Marilyn Bethell of Aurora, the case has still not resumed in Kane County.
Deng, 22, has twice been scheduled to appear to before Judge Karen Simpson in recent weeks, but Illinois Department of Corrections officials decided against transporting him from Menard Correctional Center located in downstate Chester, not far from St. Louis. A lockdown due to a flu outbreak and poor weather conditions have been cited as reasons why Deng hasn’t made it to court, the latter of which caused Deng’s absence on Thursday.
Simpson rescheduled his hearing for Feb. 11.
Without Deng or an attorney stepping up on his behalf, prosecutors and Simpson acknowledged they had little idea what to expect in the case that is back in a pre-trial phase after the Second District Appellate Court vacated Deng’s guilty plea in June.
In 2009, Deng pleaded guilty to Bethell’s murder. On the morning of Halloween 2005, witnesses saw Deng, then 14, fleeing from Bethell’s car after it crashed near her home on Aurora’s far north side. Police went to Bethell’s home, but could not locate her.
Two months later, her decomposed body was found in a field along a trail north of Butterfield Road and east of Kirk Road. Bethell, a substance abuse counselor, was shot in the head.
Investigators previously said it appeared Bethell walked in on a burglary at her home. Deng’s DNA was found at Bethell’s home and prosecutors eventually charged Deng as an adult with murder in 2007.
Deng agreed to a 35-year prison sentence as part of his plea agreement, but, just two weeks later, filed a motion seeking to take back the plea on claims he didn’t understand the terms of his sentence. Deng said he believed he would only have to serve half of the sentence despite being admonished by Judge Allen Anderson that he would have to serve the full prison term.
Anderson denied Deng’s withdrawal request in 2011, leading to the appeal that ultimately was granted by the appellate court.
The appeal cited a technical aspect of sentencing laws, one that meant Deng should have been told at arraignment he could face a minimum sentence of 45 years based on how prosecutors charged him with Bethell’s murder. Deng was indicted on three murder counts and was admonished that two of the counts included a mandatory 25-to-life add-on to his sentence because he used a gun to kill 47-year-old Bethell. However, the add-on was not mentioned in regards to the third count, the one Deng pleaded guilty to.
In essence, Deng appealed the sentence as being improper because he wasn’t told, nor did he receive, the mandatory add-on after he admitted to a count of murder in which he used a gun, according to the appellate ruling.
The June ruling vacated Deng’s plea and the prison sentence.
State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said his office is once again preparing for trial in the case. Although he declined to talk specifically about the Deng case, McMahon generally said older cases sometimes present challenges in how witnesses remember things, but can also be bolstered by technological advances that improve evidence quality.
“The passage of time kind of goes both ways in criminal cases,” McMahon said.