Randy L. Royer
Randy L. Royer

A former Spring Valley man serving 60 years for murder might be headed back to Bureau County Circuit Court for new proceedings now that an appeals court has thrown out his sentence.

Randy L. Royer, now 39, killed Timothy Dildine with a baseball bat in 1999 along the Illinois River between DePue and Spring Valley. He confessed to police, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

In a post-trial motion filed in 2015, Royer argued that the maximum sentence violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Royer argued that courts have rejected life and near-life sentences for minors – Royer was 17 then and is scheduled for parole at age 78 – and that courts must consider certain mitigating factors.

In a 2-1 ruling issued Tuesday, the Third District Appellate Court agreed.

“There is no dispute that (Royer’s) 60-year sentence constitutes a de facto life sentence under (the case law),” wrote Justice William Holdridge, with Justice Mary McDade concurring. “Therefore, we turn to the question of whether the sentencing court properly considered (Royer’s) youth and its attendant characteristics.”

Holdridge and McDade then considered Royer’s unstable home life and mental health record, among other factors, and decided the sentencing judge didn’t give them sufficient weight. The court ordered Royer be returned for new sentencing, but his murder conviction stands.

It was not yet clear when or if Royer is going back to Bureau County, as the state has the option of appealing the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court. Bureau County State’s Attorney Geno Caffarini said Tuesday an appeal is under review.

If Caffarini does appeal, he can cite the opinion of a dissenting judge who felt the trial judge got it right when Royer first was sentenced for murder.

“The sentencing court received and considered evidence of defendant’s youth and its attendant circumstances at the sentencing hearing,” wrote Justice Daniel Schmidt. “Accordingly, I would find the discretionary de facto life sentence defendant received constitutional.”

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