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Crime & Courts

Jury finds DeKalb man guilty of murder in shaken baby case

DeKalb County Public Defender Tom McCulloch talks with his client, Keith Terrell, 26, after a break in the jury selection process of his trial Wednesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore. Terrell was convicted Friday of first-degree murder in the 2013 death of his his 7 1/2-week-old daughter, Kelis Terrell.
DeKalb County Public Defender Tom McCulloch talks with his client, Keith Terrell, 26, after a break in the jury selection process of his trial Wednesday at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore. Terrell was convicted Friday of first-degree murder in the 2013 death of his his 7 1/2-week-old daughter, Kelis Terrell.

SYCAMORE – A 26-year-old DeKalb man could spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted Friday evening of shaking his 71/2-week-old daughter to death in August 2013.

A jury found Keith L. Terrell, of the 700 block of North Annie Glidden Road, DeKalb, guilty of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery of a child, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack said. Terrell could face a sentence of up to life in prison, but the offense typically is punishable with between 20 and 60 years in prison.

Prosecutors Stephanie Klein and David Weichel built their case on testimony from police officers, medical experts and Terrell’s videotaped confession to police. Terrell’s attorney, DeKalb County Public Defender Tom McCulloch, told the jury that police induced his client to falsely confess to a crime he didn’t commit because his explanations about what happened to the girl didn’t fit their theory of the case.

On Friday, the jury heard medical testimony along with closing arguments from both sides.

In her closing, Klein walked the jury through the law and emphasized key points made by witnesses during the trial, including medical experts, police officers and Shanae Scott, the mother of Kelis. Scott is a 23-year-old Northern Illinois University student.

“The defendant is not some teenager who was taking care of a baby for the first time,” Klein said. “He’s an adult man, a father of two. A man who made choices. Who chose how to conduct himself. Who chose how to handle his baby daughter, Kelis. And what he chose – what he chose makes him guilty of murder.”

Testimony in the trial started Wednesday with Scott. She told the jury how she cleaned, applied lotion to, changed and dressed her daughter in an infant sleeper for the final time in August 2013 after the girl was taken off life support at a Rockford hospital. Klein reminded the jury of that testimony in her closing argument.

Klein held up the infant sleeper, using the piece of clothing to illustrate how small the girl was and held it up next to Terrell to illustrate his size in relation to his daughter.

McCulloch used his closing argument to raise doubts about the medical evidence, question when the girl’s injuries happened and the highlight what he considered to be inappropriate tactics used by police investigators. McCulloch said prosecutors had failed to prove their case, listing off the witnesses and police officers who weren’t called to testify at trial. He also called into question Scott’s conduct.

“Keith Terrell never intended anything,” McCulloch said. “What was the age of the injuries? The pathologist said he couldn’t say. The last doctor said, ‘Well, they’re old, they’re healing.’ ... Those injuries pre-exist Keith being around. And if they do, and if the test is beyond a reasonable doubt, have they proven their case?”

McCulloch said that his client never intended to kill anyone, that, at most, he was guilty of tripping and falling on the girl, an accident. He also suggested that the injuries to Kelis could have been caused by someone else.

Terrell next faces a sentencing hearing Dec. 2, Schmack said.

The state’s attorney praised the work of Klein, Weichel and the DeKalb Police Department in what was a tragic case.

“They did an excellent job prosecuting this case,” Schmack said. “Ms. Klein’s closing was one of the best I’ve ever heard.”

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