Chester Weger gets OK to seek more hairs for testing in Starved Rock murders case

Forensic evidence will be key to overturn murder conviction, Weger’s lawyer says

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

Attorney Andy Hale believes forensic evidence is the path to clear his client Chester Weger’s name and on Wednesday he received a favorable ruling in La Salle County court to keep moving forward.

Judge Michael Jansz said Hale can send a hair from the glove of Starved Rock murders victim Frances Murphy, which was previously found to have a man’s DNA that wasn’t Weger’s, for genealogy testing. Jansz also said Hale can move forward in sending more hairs collected from the scene to determine whether any of the strands are good candidates for DNA extraction and analysis.

Weger, 84, appeared in the Ottawa courtroom in his ongoing effort to overturn his murder conviction. He was sentenced to life in prison for the 1960 murder of Lillian Oetting, who was found bludgeoned to death along with two companions in the state park. He was paroled in 2019.

Chester Weger's attorney Andy Hale speaks inside the courtroom at the La Salle County Government Complex on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022 in Ottawa.

The genealogy testing will be conducted by Othram, a Texas company known for its work in cold cases, to try determine whose DNA was on the previously tested hair. The company uses a genealogical database to identify possible suspects through a genetic profile.

The DNA sample was crosschecked against a state-run database (although not the federal database), and the analysis didn’t yield a match.

“This is a big step for us,” Hale said after Wednesday’s hearing. “It gives us the opportunity to collect forensic information.”

With the other strands of hair, scientists retained by the defense would first use microscopes to determine whether any of the strands are good candidates for DNA extraction and analysis. If hairs are determined to be good enough, the defense can move forward with DNA testing.

“We’ve heard that all there is is one hair,” Hale said. “We want to test more.”

Hale said he believes forensic evidence will be the key to overturning Weger’s murder conviction, noting the genealogical analysis is some of the most state-of-the-art technology being used.

Additionally, Hale said some clothing found at the 1960 murder scene will be further tested for possible more information.

A status hearing was set for 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, in Jansz’s courtroom.