Prosecutors seek to link fingerprints to man accused in DeKalb teen’s death

Gracie Sasso-Cleveland’s loved ones plan event to mark what would have been her 16th birthday Sept. 14

Flowers, balloons, pictures and message adorn a growing memorial for slain teen Gracie Sasso-Cleveland Friday, May 12, 2023, behind a building in the 500 block of College Avenue in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Prosecutors are asking a judge to allow a fingerprint test of Timothy Doll to determine whether his fingerprints match those pulled from a laundry basket found with the body of slain DeKalb teen Gracie Sasso-Cleveland in May.

Sasso-Cleveland’s grisly death is at the center of first-degree murder charges against Doll. He’s accused of suffocating the girl to death May 4 after an argument at his apartment and then throwing her body in a laundry basket in a dumpster near his home in the 500 block of College Avenue.

DeKalb police didn’t find the girls’ body until three days later, on May 7, after Doll allegedly attempted to conceal her death.

The DeKalb High School freshman’s mother, Ericka Sasso, who attended Doll’s hearing Wednesday, said every day brings with it more pain as she grieves her daughter. She said she felt “an array of emotions” Wednesday.

“Every day I hurt so much and feel such emptiness,” Sasso said Thursday in a statement provided to the Daily Chronicle. “I’m so grateful for all the videos and pictures I have [of Gracie]. I look at them every day.

“I don’t know what to do with my heartache, I don’t know how to live with what happened. I don’t know how to live without her. But I’m really trying to be OK.”

In the months since, Sasso-Cleveland’s family and friends have rallied around calls for justice, demanding answers as Doll remains held without bond in the DeKalb County Jail, pending potential trial proceedings.

Doll pleaded not guilty to the charges June 15, despite county court records alleging he confessed to the slaying to police.

Ericka Sasso, of DeKalb, mother of slain teen Gracie Sasso-Cleveland, drops by a protest Wednesday, June 14, 2023, in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore. The protesters are asking for harsher sentences for those convicted of domestic or sexual abuse. They began shortly after the arraignment hearing of Timothy M. Doll, a registered sex offender charged with murder in DeKalb teen’s death.

Prosecutors have alleged that Doll, 29, killed Sasso-Cleveland, 15, after he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with her for months despite her being a minor and him being a registered sex offender twice her age.

The DeKalb County Coroner’s Office ruled that she died from asphyxiation.

Doll was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, a Class M felony; aggravated criminal sexual abuse, concealment of homicidal death, aggravated domestic battery, two counts of obstructing justice, unlawful restraint and unlawful communication of a child sex offender.

Yorkville-based special defense attorney Andrew Nickel, who represents Doll, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

On Wednesday, lead prosecutor Scott Schwertley of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office filed a motion to compel what is known as a buccal swab, or a cheek swab DNA test, that Doll would undergo for investigators to determine whether his DNA matches that of DNA evidence gathered by police investigators.

Doll also is expected to undergo a fingerprint test, according to court records. Once collected, DNA and fingerprints are sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab. Results could take several months to return, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

DeKalb County Judge Philip Montgomery is expected to rule on the swab test at Doll’s next scheduled hearing at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 10.

“The victim was found in a laundry basket, and prints were found on that laundry basket,” Schwertley’s motion filed in DeKalb County court Wednesday reads.

Prosecutors have alleged that Doll’s actions were in retaliation against Sasso-Cleveland after they argued at his apartment the night of May 4. She asked him to let her leave, and Doll allegedly attacked her. At one point, the girl told him she couldn’t breathe, according to court records.

Doll then attempted to conceal the death and hide the attack from police, at first telling investigators that he hadn’t seen the girl since the previous day, according to a DeKalb police report filed in court May 9. Doll also allegedly called 911 for himself the same night after he injured his back lifting the dead girl’s body.

Doll later told police that he knew Sasso-Cleveland was 15 and that he disposed of her body after she was dead, according to court records.

If convicted, Doll – on probation at the time of the teenager’s death after he pleaded guilty less than a month before to a separate 2021 case of sexual assault of another child – could face 20 to 120 years in prison.

Timothy M. Doll, of DeKalb, is escorted by DeKalb County sheriff’s deputies as he enters a DeKalb County courtroom last year.

Organizers plan special birthday party for slain teen

Bethany McCall, another family friend of the Sassos, said she and others gathered again Wednesday outside the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore to call for stricter sentences for those convicted of sexual crimes.

McCall said Sasso-Cleveland’s loved ones are planning a commemorative birthday party to mark what would have been the teenager’s sweet 16 birthday Sept. 14.

“It’s important to me because you never think something like this will happen so close to somebody you know and affect you so much,” McCall said. “I never want another person to go through what myself, her family, her mom, what the community went through. I don’t want this to just be another case they forget about. Gracie was far too young to die.”

McCall said she’s helping organize a birthday community event for Sasso-Cleveland and to educate others about violent crime and its effects on youth. McCall and Sasso said planning still is in the early stages, but volunteers are more than welcome.

Organizers hope to have live music, a self-defense demonstration for women, speakers, informational booths and more.

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact McCall through her Facebook group, Speak! and Save a Life #JusticeForGracie.

“We want participants to walk out feeling like they learned something about safety for themselves or their children against predators,” McCall said.

Gracie Sasso-Cleveland poses outside in this undated photo. Gracie, 15, was found dead in a dumpster May 7, 2023. Timothy M. Doll, 29, of DeKalb, is charged with first-degree murder in her death.

Sasso said she’s decided the day will be called Gracie’s Day every year. She also plans to hold monthly vigils for her daughter on the 7th of each month by the tree in the 500 block of College Avenue, near where her daughter’s body was found.

“I have to make sure to keep her memory alive and that people not forget what happened to her so we can keep fighting for changes in our laws, and she will not die in vain,” Sasso said. “As always, I want to sincerely thank the volunteers who continue to fight for justice for my daughter and myself.

“We need more protestors. So many people have messaged me with words of support and encouragement. Many ask what they can do, so for those that want to help, please come to the protests. Because the more people who participate, the louder we become.”

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