Prosecutors say DNA key evidence ahead of June murder trial for Jonathan Hurst, charged in Wilson slayings

Prosecutors allege Hurst’s DNA is on multiple items inside Wilson’s Sycamore home, including ‘crawl space’ in laundry room where Patricia Wilson’s body was found

Jonathan Hurst (right) and his attorney Chip Criswell listen to arguments by lead prosecutor Suzanne Collins in Judge Marcy Buick’s courtroom at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore Monday, April 29, 2024 during a hearing on his case. Hurst is charged with murder in the August 2016 slayings of mother and son, Patricia A. Wilson, 85 and Robert J. Wilson, 64, of Sycamore.

SYCAMORE – Patricia A. Wilson was last heard from alive when she called her sister about 7:45 p.m. Aug. 14, 2016, to tell her she’d just mowed her Sycamore home’s lawn and planned next to do laundry.

Prosecutors alleged Monday that between then and shortly after midnight, Jonathan Hurst violently beat her and her son, Robert J. Wilson, 64, to death, and that DNA evidence will prove it in a trial expected to convene in June.

Patricia Wilson, 85, was found dead in that laundry room the next day, face down in a pool of dried blood, said prosecutor Suzanne Collins of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“It’s the state’s position that she was murdered in that room,” Collins said Monday.

Both Wilsons died of blunt-force head trauma, the DeKalb County Coroner’s office ruled. They were found fully clothed in separate rooms. Robert Wilson, who was president of the Sycamore Moose Lodge, also had suffered stab wounds, according to autopsy records obtained through public records requests.

Prosecutors made their case Monday to Circuit Court Judge Marcy Buick for what evidence they plan to use in a double murder jury trial for Hurst, now 55, expected to begin June 24. Collins alleged Hurst’s DNA was found on multiple items inside the Wilson home.

He’s charged with first-degree murder in the Wilsons’ slayings. If convicted, Hurst faces a life sentence.

Collins said it wasn’t uncommon for Patricia and her sister to speak over the phone daily, multiple times per day. It was so common, in fact, that it was family members who found the Wilsons dead Aug. 15, 2016, checking on them about 6 p.m. because they didn’t hear from the mother and son for almost a full day.

Hurst appeared alert in the courtroom, wearing black thick-framed glasses and sporting a beard. His head was shaved, a contrast to his prior few hearings where he wore a long ponytail. As proceedings began, he requested that police uncuff his right hand. His defense attorney, Chip Criswell of the DeKalb County Public Defender’s Office, said that was so Hurst could help take notes.

By the time his trial convenes, Hurst will have spent four years and four months in jail. The Wilson family will have waited almost eight years for the potential of a resolution for their slain loved ones.

Much remains unknown about the grisly double murder that shook small town Sycamore in 2016, however.

Authorities have not said what was used to bludgeon the Wilsons to death.

Police also haven’t said how Hurst got into the Wilson home or how he arrived in Sycamore. They’ve said Hurst has no known ties to the area or the Wilson family. He previously denied being in Sycamore, authorities said at the time of his February 2020 arrest.

He pleaded not guilty to his charges in March 2020.

Patricia Wilson would have needed to open the garage door to use the lawnmower, Collins said Wilson’s family members told her.

“There’s no key required, that evidence will come out in trial. It could’ve been the way that the defendant entered the home,” Collins said.

No motive has been identified.

Other factors do prove Hurst’s involvement, however, authorities have alleged.

Patricia Wilson’s 2010 Chevrolet Impala was found nine days after the attack on Stockton Avenue near Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, where Illinois Route 64 – which runs north all the way to the Wilson home – ends, according to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. The Impala’s location was just a short walk from where Hurst lived in Chicago, police said at the time.

The Wilsons likely were killed between 7:43 p.m. when Patricia was last on the phone with her sister, and sometime shortly after midnight, because about 12:44 a.m. Aug. 15, 2016, surveillance footage picked up Patricia’s car traveling east on Route 64. Footage does not show who the driver is, however, police have said.

His cellphone records also put Hurst in the area at the time the Wilsons were killed, Sheriff Andy Sullivan, then former chief deputy, said at the time.

But prosecutors’ largest source of evidence, Collins said Monday, is DNA.

DNA also is the key that led investigators to charge Hurst with the Wilsons’ deaths three years and five months later. Sullivan has said the sheriff’s office never called it a cold case because they refused to give up the chase.

In an investigation that took about 15,000 working hours, where police followed more than 1,300 leads and traveled as far as Washington state, DNA was what led police to Hurst, according to the sheriff’s office.

It’s so important to the prosecution that Collins asked Buick to rule that no DNA evidence be excluded from the jury when Hurst’s trial begins.

“Our victims are dead. We don’t have the victims to be able to come and testify. But what we do have is the defendant’s DNA,” Collins said.

Two of the Wilson family members sat inside Buick’s courtroom Monday, visibly emotional. They held hands and watched as Hurst’s defense attorney, Chip Criswell of the DeKalb County Public Defender’s Office, made his case for excluding certain evidence.

Criswell argued that the breadth of the police’s homicide investigation wouldn’t be sufficient to point his client to the killings. He said Hurst has no known criminal history.

Criswell said the statistical frequency of the DNA found in the Wilsons’ home being someone else’s other than Hurst’s is significant enough that it doesn’t meaningfully narrow down the list of suspects to his client.

Police didn’t DNA swab every single person in Sycamore, for instance, Criswell argued. He also asked Buick to exclude the term “match” from being allowed during forensic expert testimony.

“One of the concerns we have is the arguments that can be made and the inferences that can be made from the jury,” Criswell said.

Witnesses expected to be called to the stand for the trial include detectives from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office who interviewed Hurst, Wilson family members, forensic experts, and other law enforcement officials who responded to the double homicide.

Buick did not issue a ruling Monday after the two-hour hearing. She’s instead expected to make a ruling on the motions in limine – court filings that seek to exclude specific evidence or arguments from being presented at trial – at 9:45 a.m. May 7.

Prosecutors allege Hurst’s DNA is on multiple items inside the Wilson home

Prosecutors alleged Monday that multiple items inside the Wilsons’ home have Hurst’s DNA on them, citing forensic lab results compared with samples collected from Hurst.

In court records, prosecutors allege that Illinois State Police forensic results show Hurst’s DNA was identified on the front and back sides of a pillow in the downstairs laundry room, on the handle of a large chef’s knife, a diet Coke can found in the kitchen, the handle of a bayonet found in the lower level bedroom, the handle of the upstairs bathroom sink faucet, a Gatorade bottle found in the garage, a bathroom mirror and a sliding glass door.

Those items were listed in court records filed when prosecutors sought a judicial order to collect DNA samples from Hurst in July 2020, court records show.

Collins reiterated some of those allegations again Monday.

She said police found a crawl space in the laundry room where Patricia Wilson’s body was found.

Inside were multiple knives, Collins said, and other items.

“Police found inside a crawl space right off the laundry room a makeshift bed there,” Collins said. “In that makeshift bed, they found a pillow and blanket, on that pillow and blanket [was] where the defendant’s DNA was found.”

Extensive evidence of the crime scene also was collected by authorities, court records show.

Investigation notes disclosed by the State’s Attorney’s Office to Hurst’s defense team Nov. 19, 2020, included police reports, video of Hurst’s DNA being collected at the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office; 67 photos of the Wilson home; video from the Sycamore Moose Lodge; 35 photos of Patricia’s car in Chicago; 172 photos of evidence police collected from Patricia’s car; 16 photos of her car and a cellphone; 60 photos of a Diet Coke can; video from a Road Ready gas station; video of Hurst arriving at the sheriff’s office booking room; and bank records.

Hurst is expected to appear via Zoom for his next hearing. Buick said she also expects to set a deadline for witness lists then.

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