SYCAMORE – A judge will hold a hearing Sept. 16 to determine whether William “Billy” Curl should have more time to try to withdraw his guilty plea in the death of a Northern Illinois University student.
After he pleaded guilty to murdering NIU freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller in exchange for a 37-year prison sentence April 3, Curl had 30 days to ask a judge to revoke the plea agreement. But Curl, 37, formerly of DeKalb, didn’t file his handwritten motion until July 22.
Dan Transier, who recently was appointed as Curl’s attorney, said it wasn’t Curl’s fault he missed the deadline.
Curl was unable to contact his attorney or to gather necessary materials because he was placed in an isolation room at Stateville Correctional Center on April 8, Transier said in court documents. The 30-day deadline had passed by the time he was transferred to Menard Correctional Center and could consult an attorney.
Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert set the hearing date Thursday, Curl’s first court appearance since Transier was appointed to represent him.
Also Thursday, Curl withdrew his handwritten motion. In his motion, Curl claimed that his dyslexia, speech impediment and “great difficulty” reading and writing prevented him from understanding the finality of the plea agreement. Curl entered an Alford plea, which means he maintained his innocence but acknowledged prosecutors could prove the first-degree murder charge beyond a reasonable doubt.
He also claimed prosecutors threatened to go after his son, which scared him into taking the deal.
In the court document, Curl didn’t detail how prosecutors allegedly threatened his son, but Curl’s son was listed as a possible witness for the trial.
In April, amid criticism from Keller’s and Curl’s family, prosecutors touted the negotiated agreement as a secure outcome for the case. Keller, an 18-year-old from Plainfield, told friends Oct. 14, 2010, that she was going for a walk in Prairie Park in DeKalb. Her burned remains were found in the park two days later.
Curl told authorities conflicting accounts of what had happened to Keller, but prosecutors did not have any eyewitness accounts, a murder weapon or evidence of a time or cause of death to present at trial.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack emphasized in April that the agreement assured Curl would remain in prison until he was 71, while an acquittal was possible in any trial.