Chester Weger hearing: The lab found DNA in the Starved Rock Murders. It’s not his.

Hearing set in October on next steps

Chester Weger is wheeled out of the courthouse in a wheelchair at the La Salle County Government Complex after his hearing at the on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022 in Ottawa.

Evidence from the Starved Rock murders went to the lab and one of them – a glove worn by victim Frances Murphy – bore a hair. It was a man’s hair and the lab retrieved DNA.

It wasn’t Chester Weger’s.

On Monday, Weger attorney Andy Hale disclosed in La Salle County Circuit Court the DNA corroborates their belief Weger is blameless in the three murders – “In our opinion this evidence exonerates him” – although they still would like to identify the man whose hair was found on Murphy’s glove.

“We still want closure for the families – for everybody,” Hale said.

Fellow Weger attorney Celeste Stack advised Judge Michael C. Jansz the lab findings are solid, although not yet final.

“We’re just waiting to see what the final results are,” Stack said, “although I’ve never heard of a case where they’ve changed their minds.”

Special prosecutor Colleen Griffin said she’d like to see an official report before going further. Jansz scheduled an Oct. 28 follow-up hearing, at which time he might approve the submission of the hair DNA to be crosschecked against the Combined DNA Index System to see if they can identify the source of the hair.

Weger did not speak during the 10-minute hearing. Outside the Ottawa courtroom, he expressed delight with the lab findings.

“It’s wonderful,” Weger said from his wheelchair, his mask removed by family members. “It’s really wonderful.”

Weger, 83, who was paroled in 2019 after serving six decades in prison, remains convicted of murder. Hale and Stack said they planned to meet with the special prosecutor, based out of the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, and make their case for vacating Weger’s conviction.

“We’re not done yet,” Hale said. “We’ll be done when the conviction is vacated.”

During his news conference, Hale acknowledged the presence of another’s DNA doesn’t automatically show Weger wasn’t at the crime scene. Nevertheless, Hale said the discovery flies in the face of the long-held position Weger acted on his own.

“The Chester Weger story is, ‘He’s by himself and he commits the murders,’” Hale said. “Now, we’re saying, ‘Oh, it was another guy who killed them, but Chester was there?’ Now, we’re moving the goal posts. That’s not the state’s case.”

The material recovered was “nuclear DNA,” that is, retrieved from the nucleus or core of the cell. That’s notable, Stack said, because bacteria is known to break down the nucleus and render the DNA unreadable.

Stack said while “not a shock” that nuclear DNA was retrieved from 62-year-old evidence – hair is more resilient and less likely to break down – “it’s very difficult to get nuclear DNA. So that’s step one, and we’re very happy to get a full profile that can go into CODIS.”