SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Alex Banta, 31, a former correctional officer at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mt. Sterling, Illinois, was sentenced today to an aggregate 20 years’ imprisonment, to be followed by five years of supervised release, for civil rights deprivation resulting in bodily injury and death and obstruction of justice in connection with the death of Larry Earvin, an inmate at the facility.
At the sentencing hearing in front of Senior U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough, the government summarized the evidence from Banta’s 2022 trial. During the trial, the government presented evidence that Banta and co-defendants Todd Sheffler, 54, who was a lieutenant at the correctional center, and Willie Hedden, 43, who was a sergeant, participated in the May 17, 2018, assault of Earvin, 65, during their forcible escort of Earvin from the residential housing unit of the prison to the segregation housing unit while he was restrained and handcuffed behind his back and while he posed no physical threat to the defendants or other correctional officers. The assault resulted in serious bodily injury to Earvin, including multiple broken ribs, a punctured mesentery, and other serious internal injuries, and resulted in Earvin’s death in June 2018. After the assault, all three defendants falsified incident reports that they filed with prison officials and lied to the Illinois State Police by denying any knowledge of or participation in the assault.
Also at the sentencing, the government stated that Banta had inflicted the most serious blows leading to Earvin’s death, including jumping in the air and landing on Earvin with both knees. Banta’s co-defendant, Hedden, testified about a prior incident in which Banta assaulted an inmate. And the government also presented statements and testimony from three of Earvin’s family members: his son, brother, and aunt.
Banta’s sentence consisted of concurrent 15-year terms of imprisonment on two of the five counts of the indictment: conspiracy to deprive civil rights and deprivation of civil rights under color of law resulting in bodily injury and death. He also received five-year terms of imprisonment on the remaining three counts – conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct; obstruction – falsification of a document; and obstruction – misleading conduct – to run concurrent to each other and consecutive to the fifteen-year terms.
A federal grand jury had previously returned an indictment against Sheffler, of Mendon, Illinois; Hedden, of Mt. Sterling, Illinois; and Banta, of Quincy, Illinois, in December 2019.
At the April 2022 trial, Banta was convicted of all five charges in the indictment. The jury in that joint trial was unable to reach verdicts as to Sheffler, resulting in a retrial in August 2022 at which he was convicted of the same charges. Judge Myerscough ordered that both Banta and Sheffler be detained pending their sentencings.
Hedden pleaded guilty in March 2022 to both civil rights charges and to conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct.
Sheffler’s sentencing is scheduled for March 20, 2023, at 10 a.m., and Hedden’s sentencing is set for March 22, 2023, at 10 a.m. Both are set to take place at the federal courthouse in Springfield, Illinois.
“We hope that the convictions of Todd Sheffler, Alex Banta, and Willie Hedden and today’s sentence for Alex Banta provide a measure of justice for Larry Earvin and his family,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris. “We also hope it serves as a warning to all those who would abuse governmental power that they will be held accountable under the law. Although the vicious and brutal beating of Mr. Earvin cost him his life, and that is a loss that can never be remedied, all of those persons whom the evidence established violated Mr. Earvin’s constitutional rights and caused his death (Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta) have been and are being held accountable. Our prosecution of this case demonstrates our continued commitment to equal justice under the law and to protecting society’s vulnerable, including those in our prisons.”
Harris added that his office also wanted to express its appreciation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Springfield Office, and highlighted the complete cooperation of the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), for their thorough and professional investigation of this most important civil rights matter. Harris also especially recognized and thanked the efforts of FBI Special Agents Angela Bray and Price McCarty for their tireless efforts, without which a just outcome in this matter would not have been possible. In addition, Harris noted the important testimony of IDOC witnesses who initially participated in the cover up of these offenses, but ultimately came forward and told the truth about the events surrounding Mr. Earvin’s death. Holding the defendants accountable for their murder of Mr. Earvin would not have been possible without their testimony. Finally, Harris noted that the actions of a few here had unfairly tarnished the reputations of the men and women in law enforcement who honorably serve their communities with professionalism on a daily basis.
“While the conduct of Alex Banta is not characteristic of the vast majority of those working in law enforcement, it unfortunately undermines the efforts of officers who serve with integrity and who bear the responsibility to respect and defend the rights of those under their watch,” said FBI Springfield Special Agent in Charge David Nanz. “Banta’s actions tarnished the reputation and badge worn proudly by the many hard-working and upstanding officers who abide by their oath. The FBI is unyielding in our commitment to zealously protect the rights of all Americans and to hold accountable anyone charged with safeguarding those rights.”
“ISP thoroughly investigates civil rights violations to hold those who break the law accountable,” said Illinois State Police Director Brendan F. Kelly. “This type of conduct is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”
The statutory penalties for each of the civil rights resulting in death charges are up to life imprisonment. The statutory penalties for each of the obstruction of justice charges are up to 20 years of imprisonment.
The case was the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois, the FBI-Springfield Field Office, and the Illinois State Police Division of Internal Investigation, with the cooperation of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy A. Bass and Eugene L. Miller represent the government in the prosecution.