Third Illinois Prison Guard Convicted of Civil Rights Deprivation Resulting in Bodily Injury and Death and Obstruction Charges
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A federal jury returned a guilty verdict yesterday against Todd Sheffler, a lieutenant at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mt. Sterling, Ill., 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, following a three-week trial and three hours of deliberations.
Central District of Illinois U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris; Federal Bureau of Investigation-Springfield Office Special Agent in Charge David Nanz; and Illinois State Police Director Brendan F. Kelly made the announcement.
A federal grand jury had previously returned an indictment against Sheffler, 54, of Mendon, Ill.; Willie Hedden, 43, of Mt. Sterling, Ill.; and Alex Banta, 31, of Quincy, Ill., in December 2019, charging them with civil rights resulting in bodily injury and death and obstruction charges.
During the jury trial before U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough, the government presented evidence that Sheffler; Hedden, who was a sergeant at the facility; and Banta, who was a correctional officer, participated in the May 17, 2018, assault of Mr. Earvin, 65, during their forcible escort of Mr. 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 Mr. Earvin, including multiple broken ribs, a punctured mesentery, and other serious internal injuries, and resulted in Mr. 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.
Following the trial, Sheffler was convicted of all five charges in the indictment: conspiracy to deprive civil rights and deprivation of civil rights under color of law resulting in bodily injury and death; conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct; obstruction – falsification of a document; and obstruction – misleading conduct.
Hedden pleaded guilty in March 2022 to both civil rights charges and to conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct. He is scheduled to be sentenced on October 21, 2022. Banta was convicted in April 2022 of all five charges in the indictment following his joint jury trial with Sheffler and was ordered detained pending sentencing. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 20, 2022. The jury in the joint trial was unable to reach verdicts as to Sheffler, resulting in the instant retrial that began on August 1, 2022. Following yesterday’s jury verdict, Sheffler was ordered detained pending sentencing. He is scheduled to be sentenced on January 6, 2023. All scheduled sentencings are set to take place at the federal courthouse in Springfield, Illinois.
“We hope this week’s guilty verdict and the prior convictions of the co-defendants 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. Illinois correctional officers’ brutal beating of Mr. Earvin cost him his life, and that is a loss that can never be remedied. 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 for the FBI, Springfield Division, and Illinois State Police for their tireless work on the case, as well as for the witnesses who ultimately came forward and told the truth about the events surrounding Mr. Earvin’s death. He noted that 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.
Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Springfield Field Office, David Nanz said, “Illinois correctional officers are public servants sworn to treat committed persons equally with fairness and dignity, and to conduct their duties in a manner that meets the department’s highest ethical standards. Disregard for those responsibilities resulted in the tragic death of Larry Earvin. While the actions of Todd Sheffler are not characteristic of the vast majority of law enforcement, it unfortunately undermines the efforts of the officers who serve with integrity, who bear the responsibility to respect and defend the rights of those under their watch. The FBI has an unwavering commitment to investigate all federal civil rights violations to ensure that every citizen – whether free or incarcerated – can exercise their protected liberties without fear of violence.”
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.