Suspect in NIU student slaying agrees to plea deal

Suspect in NIU student slaying pleads guilty amid courtroom outburst

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William Curl, 36. William Curl, 36.
SYCAMORE, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

The sister of a DeKalb man charged with murdering a Northern Illinois University freshman screamed at him in court Wednesday not to take a plea deal and was led out by courtroom deputies before the man entered a guilty plea to one count of murder.

William Curl, 36, entered the plea in the slaying of NIU student Antinette "Toni" Keller and agreed to a prison sentence of 37 years, a deal that has drawn harsh criticism from the victim's family.

SEE: Tentative plea deal in murder of NIU freshman

But in an unusual move, Curl made a so-called Alford plea, in which he enters a guilty plea to the crime but does not make an admission of actual guilt. In fact, Curl still maintains his innocence in the case but took the plea to avoid a possibly longer sentence being imposed.

Before Curl took the plea, his sister, Moira, yelled out in court, "Billy, don't take it. They're railroading you. Don't take it." Courtroom deputies had to remove her from the courtroom.

Keller's immediate family did not attend the court hearing but has blasted the DeKalb County state's attorney's office for agreeing to the deal.

Keller's family was not there because no one told them it was definitely happening that morning, said Mary Tarling, the victim's cousin and a family spokeswoman.

Keller's parents had been at the DeKalb County courthouse Tuesday, and were told that there were no specifics worked out on a possible plea for Curl, Tarling said.

But by the time the Kellers got back their Plainfield house, there was a message from the prosecutor providing details of the plea.

"It was very, ‘By the way, this is happening,' and it was very short notice," Tarling said.

"The pacing and scheduling didn't really make it easy on the family to be there," she said

Antinette's father, Roger Keller, declined to comment when reached at his Plainfield home Wednesday morning.

"People know how we feel," he said.

Tarling said the family realizes there likely isn't a sentence for Curl long enough to ease their loss. But knowing that there's a chance that Curl could walk free again one day doesn't sit well.

"It's just the concept that he could be released. When people say it's going to be 37 years until he's released, the only thing I hear is ‘until he's released,'" Tarling said.

"Now the dust will die down, and in some ways it's easier and some ways it's harder," Tarling said.

In a statement Wednesday, DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard H. Schmack called the murder case "extraordinarily complex and challenging," noted that Curl will have to serve 100 percent of it, and that it is believed to be the longest sentence for a plea bargain in DeKalb County for a case that wasn't eligible for the death penalty.

Keller, 18, vanished on Oct. 14, 2010, after telling friends she was going to Prairie Park near the university campus. The burnt remains of the Plainfield's woman body were found two days later—though it took authorities using DNA tests several months to confirm the remains were hers.

Curl had been scheduled to stand trial next week for Keller's slaying.

Curl had faced a 20- to 60-year prison term if he had been convicted of killing Keller.

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