Originally Posted Online: April 02, 2013, 11:37 pm
Last Updated: April 02, 2013, 11:37 pm

Suspect in NIU student slaying agrees to plea deal

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SYCAMORE, Ill. (AP) — A man charged in the 2010 slaying of a Northern Illinois University student whose burned remains were found in a nearby park will enter a plea in exchange for a 37-year prison sentence, DeKalb County prosecutors said Tuesday.

The plea agreement comes days before William Curl, 36, of DeKalb was scheduled to stand trial in the death of 18-year-old Antinette 'Toni' Keller. Her family wasn't told of the possible plea deal until the last minute, according to a family spokeswoman.

Keller, an art student from Plainfield, was last seen before she headed to a park and nature preserve near the university. Burned remains were found in the park two days later, and forensic experts later confirmed the remains were human. Police found Keller's burned clothing and her cellphone near the remains, prosecutors said.

Police said Curl was a person of interest because he was known to frequent the park. They said he became a suspect after he failed to show up for further questioning and fled to Mexico in a stolen SUV. Investigators said Keller's death was a crime of opportunity and Curl did not know her.

Curl maintains his innocence. His sister, Moria Curl, told The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle that her brother entered an Alford plea, which acknowledges prosecutors could likely prove the charge filed against him. He was charged with first-degree murder.

DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack said in a statement Tuesday that Curl must serve the entire 37-year sentence as part of the plea agreement.

Public Defender Tom McCulloch was unavailable for comment after Schmack announced the pending deal. But after prosecutors and defense attorneys met in Judge Robbin Stuckert's chambers, McCulloch said there was a good possibility the trial scheduled for April 11 would be canceled. His client did not attend the conference.

Moria Curl said plea negotiations started more than a week ago, with prosecutors first suggesting a 50-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. After more sentencing offers, she said her brother settled on 37 years after insisting on the Alford plea, rather than a traditional guilty plea.

Keller family spokeswoman Mary Tarling said the concept of a plea agreement was sprung on the victim's family, with the family learning of Tuesday's conference to settle on a plea at the last minute.

'The communication (with Schmack's office) has not been really strong,' Tarling told the newspaper.