Weger names men linked by DNA, genealogy to Starved Rock murders in fight to keep exoneration bid

Parolee’s lawyers name 3 men they say are linked to hair

Chester Weger exits the La Salle County courthouse after a hearing before Judge Michael C. Jansz on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023 in Ottawa.

Chester Weger’s lawyer responded to the special prosecutor trying to end Weger’s exoneration bid, saying there’s plenty of new evidence to prove the 85-year-old parolee’s innocent, according to a new court filing.

The state takes a desperately distorted view of Weger’s newly discovered evidence.”

—  Andy Hale, lawyer for Chester Weger

Weger will appear April 10 for a hearing on the special prosecutor’s motion to dismiss. Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow has argued Weger was guilty of murdering Lillian Oetting, one of three women murdered at Starved Rock State Park, and Weger’s bid for exoneration should be thrown out.

“(Weger’s) repeated insistence that the ‘false confession’ was the only evidence against him is simply not true,” Glasgow assistant Colleen Griffin wrote in court records.

In a reply filed late Friday, Weger and his lawyers pushed back against that statement.

“The state’s motion to dismiss mischaracterizes the facts, misapprehends the law and repeatedly makes improper credibility, hearsay and admissibility arguments that the state knows are improper at this second-stage proceeding,” wrote Andy Hale, one of Weger’s lawyers. “Indeed, the state’s 78-page diatribe is more of a filibuster than a proper legal motion to dismiss. The state takes a desperately distorted view of Weger’s newly discovered evidence.”

For the first time, Weger’s lawyers named the deceased men, one of whom, according to genetic genealogy results, may have left the hair found on the glove of victim Frances Murphy. That hair was found not be Weger’s, and instead came from one of three brothers Hale listed by name, Weger’s lawyers contend in court records.

The names listed in the court document were Leo Bray (1892-1972), Charles Bray (1894-1981) or Edward Bray (1900-1960). Each of the named men would have been 60 years of age or older at the time of the 1960 murders.

“There is no reasonable explanation for how one of these Bray brother’s hairs got on Frances Murphy’s glove other than he was involved in the murders,” Hale said in the court records. “This genetic genealogy result is powerful evidence of Weger’s innocence.”

The genealogy testing was conducted by a company known for its work in cold cases, to try determine whose DNA was on a previously tested hair. The company uses a genealogical database to identify possible suspects through a genetic profile. The DNA sample initially was crosschecked against a state-run database (although not the federal database), and the analysis didn’t yield a match, leading Weger’s lawyers to examine genealogy data.

The remainder of Friday’s pleading was spent citing multiple pieces of physical evidence (the log reputedly used as a weapon, the twine used to bind the victims’ hands) that needed to be looked at anew, or statements that cumulatively show, his lawyers assess, Weger was innocent and the women’s murders were the result of a Chicago mafia hit.

Weger’s confession, Hale said in court records, “was illogical, contradicted the evidence, was procured using methods that frequently lead to false confessions and that the state knew or should have known was false and the produce of coercion.”

And while Glasgow characterized some evidence as aged – and presumably available to Weger when he stood for trial – Hale said much of evidence is new insofar as it was never turned over to Weger before trial. A police interview with George Spiros, for example, showed Spiros had seen the victims talking to five men next to two cars.

“Weger was unaware of this report until it was produced to his counsel as part of a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act Request),” Hale said in court records.

Whether Weger can continue his bid for exoneration – a successive post-conviction petition, in legal parlance – will be up to a judge in La Salle County. Judge Michael C. Jansz will hear oral arguments April 10 on the state’s motion to dismiss.

Chester Weger, his family and his attorney Andy Hale speak outside the La Salle County Government Complex on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022 in Ottawa.
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