Deng withdraws guilty plea in Aurora murder
By Erika Wurst firstname.lastname@example.org February 11, 2014 10:59AM
Gareng Deng / photo from Kane County State's Attorney's office
Updated: February 12, 2014 2:25AM
Convicted of murdering an Aurora woman on Halloween night in 2005, Gareng Deng formally withdrew his guilty plea Tuesday morning at the Kane County Judicial Center.
In 2007, Deng, 22, pleaded guilty to shooting Auroran Marilyn Bethell during a botched robbery when he was just 14 years old.
At 17, Deng was sentenced to 35 years in prison for committing the crime. That sentence, according to the law, should have been longer. The crime Deng pleaded guilty to required him to have a mandatory enhancement of 25 years to life, because he used a gun during the commission of his crime. His minimum sentence should have been 45 years, according to the law.
At Deng’s preliminary hearing in 2007, prosecutors told the teen that he was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. The first two counts, which were later dropped as part of his plea agreement, would hold a sentence of between 20 to 60 years in prison, plus the mandatory 25 years to life enhancement.
Prosecutors never mentioned the enhancement in regards to the third count, which Deng later pleaded guilty to. Instead, they offered him a 35-year sentence.
Deng argued that the imposed sentence was essentially illegal, and that the judge did not have the legal discretion to impose it. The state Appellate Court agreed. Since the sentence couldn’t stand, neither could the plea deal that was entered into concerning the case.
Deng formally withdrew that plea during Tuesday morning’s brief status hearing.
Prosecutors told Kane County Judge Karen Simpson that they are ready to proceed with a new trial.
Bethell’s sister, Pauline O’Neill, attended Deng’s Tuesday morning hearing, where she expressed her outrage with Deng’s appeal.
“I think it’s a waste of taxpayer money to do this all over again,” she said. “It’s wasting everyone’s time and money.”
Prosecutors said Deng stole Bethell’s car on Oct. 31 2005, and crashed it near her Aurora home. He was seen jumping out of the vehicle, and hopping in another car, driven by someone else, before speeding away.
Police investigating the crash went to Bethell’s house, where they found a window open and a bicycle on her lawn. There was no trace of Bethell. About two months later, her badly decomposed body was found off a trail behind her home. She had been shot in the head, then left in the woods.
Police suspected Deng from the start, and his electronic home monitoring showed he had left home 13 times between Oct. 30 and Oct. 31, the same time Bethell went missing.
On Nov. 1, 2005, he was arrested for violating parole. In the meantime, police and prosecutors began building a case. They obtained a DNA sample from Deng. It matched semen found on a tissue in Bethell’s house and a DNA sample from the handlebars of the bike. In March 2007, Deng was charged with the crime.
“The worst possible scenario is having to start from scratch,” O’Neill said last year, when she found out about Deng’s appeal. “We will have to go over all of the things we thought we came to terms with.”