ST. LOUIS – A man who was on the verge of being freed from prison after serving time for a drug conviction has been accused in the southwestern Illinois beating death of a teenage honor student nearly a quarter century ago.
St. Clair County prosecutors charged Carlos Garrett, 51, with first-degree murder in the death of Nicole Willis, whose partly clothed, bludgeoned body was found in October 1989 by her grandfather on a weedy lot near her home in Centreville, just east of St. Louis. Authorities and relatives said Willis – a high school junior committed to anti-drug efforts and on a quest to be homecoming queen and eventually a lawyer – had been abducted while walking home from her bus stop.
Garrett was jailed Thursday on $1 million bond.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the Feb. 8 murder count against Garrett, who was taken into custody Monday as he was being paroled from a six-year sentence related to a Montgomery County drug conviction.
Messages left Thursday with Illinois State Police investigator Dave Wasmuth and St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly were not returned.
Online court records do not show whether Garrett has an attorney. A court date was not immediately set.
Kelly's announcement of the new charge, first reported Thursday by the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat, came as a surprise, considering that investigators of Willis' death long had publicly suspected now-imprisoned serial killer Lorenzo Fayne despite his denials of any involvement.
Fayne, who admitted killing a boy and four girls in southwestern Illinois between 1989 and 1993, originally was sentenced to death in 2001 in the cases involving the slain girls. But he was never put to death because at the time of his sentencing, Illinois had a moratorium on executions. The state ultimately abolished capital punishment in March 2011, and Fayne's death sentences were commuted to life terms he is serving at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis.
Fayne, a 41-year-old Wisconsin native, in 2009 was charged by prosecutors in that state's Milwaukee County in the 1989 beating death of a 32-year-old woman. That criminal complaint alleged Fayne confessed to killing the mother of three, ultimately telling two cold-case investigators "he regrets committing this homicide as well as the other homicides and that he is glad he is locked up because he would still be doing it if he was not."
The status of that case was not immediately available Thursday.