February 28, 2021

Now adults, pair could be transferred to Whiteside jail; sheriff has concerns

MORRISON – Nearly a year after she pleaded guilty to the July 6, 2017 murder of her mother, and more than 5 months since she inherited the legal right to be detained among other adult defendants, Anna Schroeder soon could be transferred to Whiteside County jail.

Sheriff John Booker told members of the Whiteside County Board Public Safety Committee on Thursday that he opposes the potential move and disapproves of the possibility of Schroeder's then-girlfriend, Rachel Helm, joining her at the jail.

Investigators say Helm encouraged Schroeder to kill 53-year-old Peggy Schroeder, then helped her cover up the shooting by trying to clean the scene before setting Schroeder's house on fire.

"It's not what I want. I don't want them in here," Booker told members of the committee. "I just think it would be a terrible situation."

Were the couple to be transferred to the jail, they would be required under a previous court order to be separated.

"I'm not sure if we're even going to be able to do that," Booker said, citing difficulties sheriff's deputies have had implementing coronavirus-inspired social distancing practices in the jail.

If the jail's population went down, Booker added, then sheriff's deputies could place Schroeder in one cell block and put Helm in another.

Booker said his main objection to the pair's move from the Mary Davis Detention Home in Galesburg is rooted in "terrible behavior" among the jail's current female detainees.

Most of the women at the jail, Booker said, don't get along, fight with each other, and are on "lock back," a term typically used by detainees to describe the reduced amount of time they are allowed outside of their cells.

"[The female detainees] get to be out [of their cells] an hour a day, because all they do is fight with each other," Booker said.

Schroeder and Helm are at Mary Davis because they both were 15 when they were indicted in 2017 for Peggy's murder.

In Illinois, juveniles need special approval from a judge to be charged, tried in criminal courtrooms and held in jails as adults.

Schroeder initially was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of arson and one count of concealing a homicidal death.

Helm is charged with concealment of homicidal death and arson.

Schroeder's case was transferred from juvenile court to adult court in June 2018, two months after Helm's case also was transferred to adult court.

But now, the women are both 18 – Helm reached the milestone in January and Schroeder hit the mark in July – meaning they can be detained in jail among other adult defendants while they await court proceedings.

That wait would likely be shorter for Schroeder, who is waiting for a 2021 sentencing hearing, after her November sentencing hearings were struck because of uncertainties amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She entered into a limited plea agreement in January, accepting a lesser second-degree murder charge in exchange for dropping the other charges.

Helm has yet to go to trial, after her case has been perpetually continued, without objection from Whiteside County prosecutors, for more than 2 years.

An agreed order was entered on Nov. 24 to postpone her Nov. 25 hearing "as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis," court records show.

Court records further indicate that after the November hearing was canceled, a request to notify Mary Davis that Helm would not need to appear in court was "unfortunately" not "timely communicated to MDDH."

As a result, Helm was brought to the courthouse, and appeared without her attorney, court records show.

If she had been held at the jail, that miscommunication likely would have been avoided.

Another potential upside to housing Schroeder and Helm at the jail, Booker said Thursday, would be a savings of $110 per day.

The county pays $250 a day to house Schroeder and Helm at the MDDH; it costs only about $70 a day to house a defendant in the jail, Booker said.

Since 2017, the county has paid $273,750 to house the pair at Mary Davis, so moving them to the jail could bring a savings of about $40,000 per year, he said.

"It's not ideal [to house Schroeder and Helm at the jail], but unfortunately in a time like this, we need to save money. If bringing them here is gonna save us some money, then I guess it's something we should do," Booker said.

Timothy Eggert

Tim covers criminal justice and public safety from Lee and Whiteside counties. Before joining Sauk Valley Media in August 2020, he reported on legal affairs and state government from Springfield. He's worked at newspapers on both of Michigan's peninsulas, and has a master's degree in public affairs reporting and a bachelor's degree in English.