Cooperating ex-guard gets 6 years in Illinois inmate’s death
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AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A contrite Willie Hedden, the last of three ex-correctional officers convicted in the beating death of an Illinois prison inmate, was sentenced Wednesday to six years in federal prison after pleading guilty to civil rights violations and obstruction and testifying against his codefendants.
U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough gave Hedden, 44, a sentence nearly one-quarter the length of the 20 years she handed 31-year-old Alex Banta and Todd Sheffler, 54, for a violent attack on Larry Earvin, an inmate at Western Illinois Correctional Center, in 2018.
Hedden, an 18-year Department of Corrections veteran, admitted punching, stomping and kicking the 65-year-old Earvin, who was handcuffed behind his back, in the entryway to a segregation unit where there are no surveillance cameras.
Speaking to the court before sentencing, Hedden turned to Earvin’s son, Larry Pippion, 51, and apologized.
“What I brought upon them is a horrible tragedy that did not need to happen. For that I am truly sorry. …,” Hedden said. “I chose this. Mr. Earvin didn’t have a say. Other than an apology, I thought the only thing I could give Mr. Pippion is the truth, despite how horrible and graphic it was to hear, at least he’d know what happened that day.”
Pippion sat through two trials, testified at sentencing for Banta and Sheffler and questioned a system that incarcerated his mentally ill father on a theft charge. He said he accepted Hedden’s apology.
“He was the only one who didn’t go to trial. He was real sincere,” Pippion told The Associated Press. “He realized he made a terrible mistake and he accepted responsibility.
“That was the big deal. The others lied all the way through.”
In December 2019, Hedden, Sheffler and Banta were charged with deprivation of civil rights resulting in death, conspiracy to deprive civil rights, obstruction of an investigation, falsification of documents and misleading conduct.
On May 17, 2018, Earvin was late in reporting for outdoor yard time and was ordered back to his cell at the prison in Mount Sterling, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. He allegedly became combative, and an “officer in distress” call summoned dozens of guards. Outside the housing unit, Banta, Hedden and Sheffler escorted Earvin, handcuffed behind his back, to the segregation unit.
Security video captured the bulk of Earvin’s “seg walk” and he was upright as he entered the segregation vestibule. Out of sight of security cameras, the three officers threw Earvin head-first into a wall, then kicked, punched and stomped him, Hedden and others testified.
Myerscough decreed that Banta delivered “the most serious and depraved blow” by jumping up and landing on Earvin’s mid-section with both knees. Inside segregation, staff members picked him up and carried him, incoherent and bleeding from the head, to the “cage,” or the unit’s holding cell.