Ill. man pleads guilty to '04 murder of 3-year-old
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) -- A convicted sex offender pleaded guilty Wednesday in the 2004 sexual assault and murder of a 3-year-old suburban Chicago girl whose father was wrongly accused in the crime.
With the parents of Riley Fox sitting just a few feet away, Scott Eby said in a clear voice the word "guilty" six times -- ensuring he will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
In exchange for the 39-year-old's plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.
The courtroom was packed with dozens of friends and family of Riley, many wearing pins with a photograph of the girl nicknamed "Rileybugs" on them. The gallery was silent as Eby entered his plea, ending a six-year ordeal in the highly-publicized case.
But that composure disappeared when Assistant Will County State's Attorney Michael Fitzgerald described what Eby himself admitted to doing on June 6, 2004.
In horrific details, Fitzgerald told the judge how Eby, in a five-page letter, admitted he had been drinking and using cocaine that day -- a combination that gave him the urge to break into Riley's Wilmington house and molest her.
Eby said he put a bandanna over his face before entering the house, put his hand over Riley's mouth and put her in the trunk of his car. He described then driving to a nearby forest preserve, duct-taping her wrists and mouth and sexually assaulting her on the floor of a men's room.
"Eby wrote that it was stifling hot that day, that he must have pulled down his bandanna because he looked down and stated that Riley Fox was staring at his face," Fitzgerald said.
Eby told authorities he knew the girl could identify him and panicked, taking her to a nearby creek and holding her "under the water by the shoulders until he couldn't feel her struggle anymore."
Many in the courtroom openly wept.
"Rot in hell," one man yelled at Eby before leaving the courtroom.
Riley's father, Kevin Fox, who spent eight months in jail before he was exonerated by DNA evidence, was the first to take the witness stand and read a statement.
He talked about sitting in a jail cell when he was a suspect, knowing prosecutors wanted him executed and that the real killer was free.
"I would always wonder what you were doing with your freedom," he said. "If you were lying, watching TV or if you were picking your next victim."
He said that once he left court, he would drive Eby from his mind.
"After today you will no longer be a part of my memories of my daughter," he said looking up from his notes, staring directly at Eby.
Melissa Fox spoke of the joys of watching her daughter and how she liked to sing, dance, tell jokes and catch butterflies. But, as her voice cracked, she also told Eby what he took when he held her daughter's head under water.
"She would never have the opportunity to play with her friends, have sleepovers, get her drivers' license, go to homecoming or prom, go to college, get married or have a family of her own," she said. "I didn't get a chance to say goodbye or give her a last kiss or hug. Instead, I visit a headstone that I decorate for holidays and her birthday."
Eby sat quietly throughout both statements, only showing emotion when Melissa Fox spoke. It was then that tears welled in his eyes.
He spoke briefly, saying he didn't have any answers or know why he killed the little girl.
"I wish I could explain," he said reading from a piece of lined notebook paper his attorney said he wrote himself.
After the hearing, Eby's attorney, Michael Renzi, said his client always intended to plead guilty from the time he was charged in May. He said he didn't want to put the family through a trial.
Prosecutors said Riley's parents agreed to the plea deal.
"I'm opposed to you getting the death penalty and dying a quick, painless death," Melissa Fox told him.
Kevin Fox had harsher words after the trial.
"I hope he rots in hell," he told reporters.
The plea comes nearly five months after Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow announced he'd charged Eby with first-degree murder and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child.
Authorities were led to Eby from DNA evidence collected from the crime scene along with other clues, including a pair of Eby's shoes pulled from the water that had his name written in them.
Glasgow, who was not the prosecutor when Kevin Fox was arrested, cleared him after taking office. When he announced in May that Eby had been charged with murdering Riley, Glasgow was careful to point out that any prosecutor would have been hard pressed not to file charges against Kevin Fox after watching video of statements Fox made to investigators during questioning.
Glasgow declined to say what Fox told detectives, but he described the statements as "significant."
Fox and his wife, Melissa, were awarded $12.2 million in damages after they accused Will County investigators of fabricating evidence. A federal appeals court in April upheld Kevin Fox's claim that he was falsely arrested but reduced the award to $8.6 million.
Eby, who has served prison time for burglary and forgery, was an inmate at the medium security Lawrence Correctional Center in Sumner, serving time for a Dec. 2005 sexual assault conviction filed in connection with an attack on a relative. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, he will be eligible for parole on that conviction in mid-2017.