Prison guard pleads guilty to beating handcuffed inmate to death

The prison guard faces possible life sentences for the two civil rights charges and another 20 years for the misleading information charge.

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Image Credit: Illinois Department of Corrections, via Associated Press

Charged with assaulting a handcuffed inmate and subsequently covering up the fatal attack, a sergeant at Western Illinois Correctional Center recently pleaded guilty to two counts of civil rights violations and one count of providing misleading information. Two other correctional officers involved in the assault have pleaded not guilty and are currently awaiting trial.

On May 17, 2018, Western Illinois Correctional Center (WICC) Lt. Todd Sheffler, Sgt. Willie Hedden, and correctional officer Alex Banta transported inmate Larry Earvin, 65, from his residential unit to the segregation housing unit. During the transport, the officers severely beat Earvin despite the fact that his hands were cuffed behind his back and posed no physical threat to them.

Earvin suffered 15 rib fractures, a punctured colon, and two dozen or more abrasions, hemorrhages, and lacerations. Surgery to remove a portion of his bowel followed the injury.

Five weeks later, Earvin died at Centralia Correctional Center hospital on June 26, 2018. His death was ruled a homicide due to blunt force trauma.

Earvin had been serving a six-year sentenced for robbery and was scheduled for parole in September 2018.

Following the assault, Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta each allegedly filed false incident reports that failed to disclose their assault on Earvin. Hedden was charged in an additional count of obstruction that alleged he persuaded a friend, a fellow employee at WICC, to delete a text message Hedden had sent following the May 17 incident, to conceal and destroy information relating to the offenses charged.

On December 5, 2019, Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta were placed under arrest. They were charged with conspiracy to deprive civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, conspiracy to obstruct justice, falsification of document, and misleading conduct. In addition, Hedden was charged with destruction of a record or other object.

On Tuesday, Hedden pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, one count of deprivation of civil rights under color of law resulting in bodily injury and death, and one count of providing misleading information in the investigation of Earvin’s death. According to his plea deal, Hedden has agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation against Sheffler and Banta.

Sheffler and Banta are currently scheduled to begin trial on June 28. 2021. U.S. District Judge Richard Mills scheduled Hedden’s sentencing for July 21.

Hedden faces possible life sentences for the two civil rights charges and another 20 years for the misleading information charge.

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