Judge denies release to teen, 15, charged with stabbing classmate Kaleb McCall to death in Sycamore

More details emerge about violent attack that led to fatal stabbing of Sycamore High School senior, murder charges

More than three dozen people gather, many holding “Justice for Kaleb McCall” signs outside the DeKalb County Courthouse, 133 W. State St. in Sycamore Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. The group gathered to show support for McCall's family as they attended the latest court hearing for a 16-year-old, McCall's Sycamore High School classmate, charged with murder in McCall's slaying.

SYCAMORE – A judge Wednesday denied a request for release by a teenager who’s been held in juvenile custody since September, accused of stabbing to death his Sycamore High School peer, Kaleb McCall.

The 15-year-old, formerly of Sycamore – who authorities have not publicly identified because of his age – faces first-degree murder charges in the slaying of McCall, 17, who died from a stab wound Sept. 7.

The teen’s defense lawyer, Jim Ryan, asked DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Pedersen to reconsider his client’s release. Pedersen denied that request Wednesday in a closed juvenile hearing.

Pedersen has granted the Daily Chronicle limited access to the hearings.

“As the state has pointed out, this is the most serious offense that the minor, in this court’s opinion, could have committed, first-degree murder,” Pedersen said in his ruling.

The unidentified teen was charged Sept. 11 with multiple counts of murder, aggravated battery and armed violence, according to the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office. The boy did not speak during Wednesday’s hearing, appearing virtually via Zoom from River Valley Juvenile Detention Center in Joliet, where he’s been held since his arrest.

To see the minor able to enjoy sort of some of those privileges [if released] or even just to be in the home with his parents, which was denied to the victim, that is going to be – frankly, judge – enraging to the community.”

—  Lead prosecutor Roger Smith
Kaleb D. McCall, 17, of Sycamore, had just started his senior year at Sycamore High School when he died after a stabbing Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023. His death is being investigated as a homicide by the Sycamore Police Department, and a classmate, 15, is charged in McCall's death.

Ryan argued that his client acted in self-defense Sept. 7 and promised that, if released, the teen would remain under the watchful eye of his parents and be homeschooled.

The family does not live in DeKalb County anymore, Ryan said.

Prosecutors, however, argued that releasing the teen would put the community at risk and him in danger of potential retaliation given the serious nature of the charges he faces.

“Whether or not there’s a strong self-defense claim in the court of law, in the court of public opinion, if the minor were to be released while the victim of the crime obviously is not able to attend school, he’s not able to go on dates, he’s not able to go to restaurants – all of that was taken away from him – to see the minor able to enjoy some of those privileges or even just to be in the home with his parents, which was denied to the victim, that is going to be – frankly, judge – enraging to the community,” lead prosecutor Roger Smith said.

Smith said keeping the 15-year-old detained also keeps the risk of potential retaliation low. Smith said authorities are aware of at least two instances in which friends of McCall and friends of the boy accused in his death have had verbal altercations after the stabbing.

Police have alleged that the 15-year-old stabbed McCall to death after an alleged disagreement between two groups of area youth, many of whom witnessed the attack.

A crowd of about two dozen again picketed Wednesday morning outside the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore ahead of the hearing. Some held signs that said “Justice for Kaleb.”

Family, friends and loved ones of McCall have said they want to see the person responsible for the 17-year-old’s death held accountable. Loved ones have remembered McCall as “everybody’s best friend,” kind, funny and hardworking.

According to McCall’s obituary, he enjoyed bonfires, skateboarding, fishing, playing video games and being with friends.

McCall’s parents also were present for Wednesday’s hearing.

During his ruling, Pedersen revealed more details about the stabbing.

The boy accused in the stabbing was near Maple and Elm streets, just blocks from the courthouse, Sept. 7 when a vehicle parked near him, according to a Sycamore police report Pedersen read aloud Wednesday.

McCall and another teen got out of the vehicle. At that time, the boy approached McCall and the other teen “with the knife visible in his left hand,” Pedersen read from the report.

“Then unprovoked, [the 15-year-old] spun his left arm with the knife in it and stabbed [McCall] in the right side of [McCall’s] ribcage. The minor then fled the incident on foot, and that action caused the death of [McCall],” Pedersen read from the police report.

Police have said the stabbing occurred about 6 p.m.

Ryan argued that the synopsis provided to the court by Sycamore police “couldn’t be truthfully further from the facts.”

Ryan said his client was approached by McCall and another teen while walking outside at Elm and Maple streets.

Ryan said his client had turned 15 only 24 days before the stabbing and had a fractured hand at the time. Ryan said the teen was walking with two girls when McCall exited a vehicle and punched his client in the face.

Prosecutors rebutted that claim, stating that video surveillance obtained by authorities from a nearby bank does not show any punch being thrown, Smith said Wednesday.

Instead, Smith said, McCall had no weapon in hand; rather, the 15-year-old was the only one in possession of any weapon that day – and used it.

“The minor could have gone to any of the businesses, any of the adults in the area and prevented any altercation whatsoever and, in fact, the minor did return to the parking lot and was a willing participant,” Smith said.

Pedersen said neither sides’ arguments changed his mind. He ordered the teen to remain held in juvenile custody through his next hearing, which is set for 11 a.m. March 27.

Another hearing also was scheduled for 9 a.m. May 24 in person at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore. The May hearing is expected to include rulings on whether to transfer the teenager from the juvenile detention facility in Joliet to custody at the DeKalb County Jail.

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