Sycamore, IL – The DeKalb man accused of murdering Northern Illinois University freshman Toni Keller last fall formally pleaded "not guilty" Tuesday.
It was the first time William "Billy" Curl had appeared in a DeKalb County courtroom in person. Previous status hearings had been conducted over closed circuit television. And that's why members of Toni Keller's family wanted to be there. A man and woman only identified as "family members" were escorted into the courtroom by DeKalb's police chief and DeKalb County's State's attorney. They wore sunflowers on their lapels the symbol that has come to represent Keller, who had a sunflower tattoo. They remained calm, quiet, and poker-faced as they watched Curl from just a few feet away: Curl stood looking up at Judge Robbin Stuckert, in his orange jail jumpsuit, wrists and ankles shackled. He wore glasses, and his sandy hair was shaggy, as was his heavy beard.
Curl nodded and softly answered "yeah" to the judge as she asked, one by one, if he understood each and every count against him and the possible punishment. She told him he may be eligible for the death penalty and asked if he understood. She read him his rights and asked if he understood. He said he did, and pleaded not guilty to charges of first degree murder, sexual assault, concealing a homicide, and arson.
Curl's family was in the courtroom, too. Afterward, Moria Curl tearily watched her brother being led back to his jail cell. She says she visits him twice a week and believes he is innocent.
Toni Keller disappeared October 14th after telling friends she was going to go for a walk in a wooded area near campus. Her burned remains were found two days later, but investigators kept their discovery quiet for a week, until they could confirm the remains were human. Curl was arrested October 26th in Louisiana.
Tuesday's arraignment starts the clock for a big decision to be made by DeKalb County State's attorney Clay Campbell. He now has 120 days to decide if he wants to pursue the death penalty in the case. Last week, Campbell fired his office's lead attorney, who was handling the Keller case. Campbell says he plans to make some major structural changes in his office, which he will announce later this week.