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April 15 trial date set in Burger King slaying

James Ealy

James Ealy

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Updated: February 19, 2013 1:57PM

On Nov. 27, 2006, Lindenhurst Burger King Manager Mary Hutchison was found strangled to death near an open safe. Former Burger King employee James Ealy was arrested for her murder in December 2006, but has not stood trial yet.

A trial date for April 15 was scheduled at a hearing Wednesday.

Ealy, 48, was eligible for the death penalty for allegedly killing Hutchison, Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Jeff Pavletic said. The death penalty was abolished in Illinois, which was the “first frustration” in the case as it has played out in the courthouse, Hutchison’s father, Richard Dean, said. He wore a button with his daughter’s picture on it to court on Wednesday.

“I don’t think it should take six years to go trial,” Dean said.

Attorneys were in the process of taking 10 dispositions for the case when the death penalty was abolished, Pavletic said. That delayed proceedings.

“It’s rare for a case to be this old. It’s very taxing for the family ... we want the case to be resolved as quickly as possible but we want to do everything legally correct,” Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Scheller said.

Their comments came after a hearing before Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes to resolve which evidence could be presented at trial. Pavletic and Scheller wanted to introduce Ealy’s 1982 sexual assault conviction and his 1996 aggravated unlawful restraint and unlawful use of a weapon conviction as evidence if Ealy takes the stand at his upcoming trial.

Ealy was sentenced to 20 years in prison for a rape that occurred June 27, 1982, Scheller said. Ealy was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the 1996 case, Scheller said.

“(Ealy) spent almost all of the ’80s in prison and most of the ’90s in prison. In this case, his credibility is a central issue in this case,” Scheller said.

Defense attorney Keith Grant argued against admitting those prior convictions as evidence.

Grant said introducing the evidence if Ealy testifies would show that he is a “bad person and not be trusted” because he spent so much time in prison.

“This defendant does not have a history of crime that impacts his believability,” Grant said.

Shanes did not rule on this issue Wednesday. He is giving both sides more time to research the legal issues. This issue will be addressed again Feb. 26.

“The defendant certainly engaged in some violent and unacceptable behavior for which he has been sentenced. The defendant has spent the better part of his adult life incarcerated,” Shanes said.

Shanes previously ruled to bar evidence at the upcoming trial of Ealy’s arrest for a quadruple homicide in Chicago. Ealy admitted to Chicago police that he had strangled four people, including a 3-year-old, in 1982.

He was convicted of the murders, but the appellate court overturned the conviction because police lacked probable cause to arrest him.

Ealy remains in custody at Lake County Jail.

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