Crime & Courts

Man convicted in 1997 murder of Elgin toddler calls death an ‘accident,’ a claim current prosecutor calls ’not even remotely’ true

Former Elgin man moved to Crystal Lake area after release from prison Thursday

The man who on Thursday moved to unincorporated Crystal Lake after completing his prison term for the 1997 murder of an Elgin toddler said he was wrongfully accused and doesn’t want to disrupt the local community.

Cayce Williams, 47, stood Friday outside his brother’s home in the Crystal Lake area and recounted what he referred to as the “accident” that led to the death of 20-month-old Quortney Kley – claims the current Kane County state’s attorney said were “not even remotely” true.

Williams was released Thursday from the Dixon Correctional Center after serving 50% of his 48-year prison sentence for first-degree murder and predatory criminal sexual assault. He’ll serve the remaining three years of mandatory supervised release at 360 Briarwood Road. He must attend counseling and will be fitted for a device to monitor his whereabouts, he said.

“First and foremost, I want to apologize to the community here that I bring any discomfort being at this residence,” Williams said. “I’m not trying to be a discomfort to this neighborhood, but I also want to get out there that I am innocent of these charges.”

Williams, formerly of Elgin, served 24 years in prison and the Kane County jail in connection with Quortney’s Feb. 25, 1997, death. His release Thursday landed on the 24-year anniversary of the 20-month-old’s death.

Williams never appealed his conviction, claiming Friday that he didn’t know he could.

Williams claimed Quortney’s death was an accident and that his confession to police the next day was made under “great duress.”

“There were big mistakes made in the charging processes,” Williams said. “They charged me before they had the proper information from the proper sources of that information.”

Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser called those claims, and others, “not even remotely” true.

Mosser, who was elected state’s attorney in November, worked in the misdemeanor division of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office while Williams’ case was ongoing. Although she wasn’t directly involved in the case or Williams’ plea deal, Mosser said she remembers it well and recently reviewed the case in its entirety.

“The evidence showed that [Quortney] had major bruising to her abdomen, that there was a significant amount of bruising and injuries on her head – either of which could have caused her death – and that there also was evidence of sexual assault,” Mosser said.

Williams said he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol while watching Quortney on Feb. 25, 1997.

Williams and Quortney’s mother, Margaret “Gretta” Morgan, lived together at the time of Quortney’s death. The couple had dated in high school and rekindled their relationship between 1995 and 1996, when Morgan and Quortney’s father divorced.

Quortney was lying on a plastic Lego bag when Williams thought she stopped breathing, Williams said Friday.

“I feel responsible because she was under my care at that time, but in my inebriation, I thought she wasn’t breathing,” Williams said.

In a panic, Williams said, he tried CPR.

“I’m not really a small guy, so the pressure I was applying – obviously it was too much,” Williams said. “I don’t know. I was drunk. I was high. In that state, in your panic, I shook her.”

Mosser said Williams’ account of Quortney’s death doesn’t align with forensic evidence. It’s also the first time she can recall Williams alleging that particular order of events, she said.

“I think he’s had 24 years to make it up,” Mosser said.

Although the doctor who examined Quortney at the hospital said there was evidence consistent with sexual assault, Mosser said, a Kane County autopsy report did not.

“He needs to take responsibility for what he did,” Mosser said. “He took the life of a beautiful baby, and he did so in a traumatic and horrible way. The least he can do is let this family go on in peace and admit to what he did.”

Weeks after his arrest, Williams sent the girl’s mother a letter. Morgan provided the letter to the Northwest Herald.

“I can’t say how sorry I am. I say it every day, all day,” Williams wrote. “I cry in front of 30 or more men every day, but I don’t care. I wish I could die to bring her back. I truly do.”

On Friday, Williams said he didn’t recall what was in the letter, although he did remember writing it and said it came from a place of remorse.

“Please come to the Lord and accept him as your savior, please!” the letter read. “I’m sorry to say this, but it’s the only way you will be able to see Quortney. I know she is with Him right now hoping you will.”

Williams also wrote that he was abused as a child and asked the girl’s mother for forgiveness.

Morgan never finished reading the letter and instead turned it over to the police, she said. She later reacquired it.

Williams told Elgin police during a recorded interview on Feb. 26, 1997, that he inappropriately touched Quortney and, after she began crying, he squeezed her head so hard that she stopped breathing, a 13-page transcript shows.

Williams, who was 23 at the time of Quortney’s death, took her to Provena St. Joseph’s Hospital and told police she suffocated in a plastic bag. He was taken into police custody that evening.

He now denies sexually assaulting the girl and said her death was an accident.

“I know I confessed,” Williams said Friday. “It was under great duress. I was a young kid. I never had any experience with the judicial process. To be handcuffed behind your back even just for a few minutes is painful. I was handcuffed behind my back for hours and also to my belt loops.”

Mosser denied any wrongdoing on the part of the police who conducted the investigation, adding “that was highly litigated” at the time. She said she did not see any wrongdoing by police in connection to this case in the state’s attorney’s office at the time or in her review of the file recently.

Fearing the death penalty, Williams said he accepted a deal from the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2006 – almost 10 years after his arrest. In exchange for Williams’ guilty pleas to first-degree murder and predatory criminal sexual assault, prosecutors dismissed additional counts of the same charges, and Williams was sentenced to 48 years in prison.

The prosecutor who handled the plea deal, Jody Gleason, now is a judge in Kendall County. She could not be reached for comment Friday. The elected state’s attorney at the time, John Barsanti, referred questions to Gleason.

At the time of Williams’ arrest, Illinois law required anyone convicted of first-degree murder to serve 100% of their prison term. That law was overturned in 1999, however, when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the law was passed in violation of a constitutional ban against covering more than one issue in a bill, Mosser said. As a result, people convicted of crimes including first-degree murder were allowed to satisfy their prison sentence requirements by serving them at 50%.

Because Illinois’ truth-in-sentencing laws were deemed unconstitutional before Williams’ case was closed, he was afforded an option: either serve his sentence under the law at the time of his arrest or at the time of his sentence, Mosser said.

Williams chose to serve his prison sentence at 50%, Mosser said.

“The fact that he is now trying to claim that he was falsely accused just goes back into the fact that he is a horrible human being who took the life and sexually assaulted a 20-month-old little girl and didn’t serve the time he should have served, frankly, for the death that he has caused,” Mosser said.

If Williams had served his prison sentence at 100%, he would have been eligible for release at 80 years old.

Since his conviction, Williams has been evaluated by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and was determined not to be a sexually violent person under Illinois law, Mosser said.

Those findings often require the diagnosis of a mental illness that increases the likelihood a person will engage in acts of sexual violence, according to state law.

“He did it because he was a criminal,” Mosser said. “He did it because he had an utter disregard for this child. He did it knowing what he was doing.”

Williams’ arrival in McHenry County on Thursday had residents on edge. Neighbors walking their dogs and chatting in driveways said they were “very uneasy” with Williams moving to the area.

“What can we do?” said Beth Zender, one neighbor. “He has to live somewhere. It just kind of stinks that it’s across the street and a block away from the school.”

The home where Williams is staying is about a half-mile from West Elementary School. Children’s bicycles, basketball hoops and slides could be seen in neighbors’ lawns around the block.

The Illinois Department of Corrections and the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office are aware of Williams’ address, and police have notified the local school, Sheriff Bill Prim said in a news release Thursday.

Williams’ next-door neighbor bent over her steering wheel and cried as she pulled into her driveway with two young children in the backseat of her car Friday.

“How do I explain this to my kids?” the neighbor asked. “They’re not going to sleep. I’m not going to sleep.”

Minutes later, the woman and one of Williams’ adult relatives were engaged in a verbal spat, arguing with one another from their respective lawns.

“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be afraid, but he was falsely accused,” said Amber Robarge, Williams’ niece.

Still, the neighbor, who asked to remain unnamed, said she has no choice but to move.

“What he did to that baby – why would he not do it again?” she said.

A petition seeking to remove Williams from the city had garnered 922 signatures as of Friday evening.