SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A contrite Willie Hedden, the last of three ex-correctional officers convicted in the beating death of an Illinois prison inmate, was sentenced Wednesday to six years in federal prison after pleading guilty to civil rights violations and obstruction and testifying against his codefendants.
U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough gave Hedden, 44, a sentence nearly one-quarter the length of the 20 years she handed 31-year-old Alex Banta and Todd Sheffler, 54, for a violent attack on Larry Earvin, an inmate at Western Illinois Correctional Center, in May 2018.
Hedden, an 18-year Department of Corrections veteran, admitted punching, stomping and kicking the 65-year-old Earvin, who was handcuffed behind his back, in the entryway to a segregation unit where there are no surveillance cameras.
Speaking to the court before sentencing, Hedden turned to Earvin's son, Larry Pippion, 51, and apologized.
“What I brought upon them is a horrible tragedy that did not need to happen. For that I am truly sorry. ...,” Hedden said. “I chose this. Mr. Earvin didn't have a say. Other than an apology, I thought the only thing I could give Mr. Pippion is the truth, despite how horrible and graphic it was to hear, at least he'd know what happened that day.”
Pippion, who sat through two trials, testified at Banta's and Sheffler's sentencings and questioned a system that incarcerated his mentally ill father on a theft charge. He said he accepted Hedden's apology.
“He was the only one who didn't go to trial. He was real sincere,” Pippion told The Associated Press. "He realized he made a terrible mistake and he accepted responsibility.
“That was the big deal. The others lied all the way through.”
In December 2019, Hedden, Sheffler and Banta were charged with conspiracy to deprive civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, obstruction of an investigation, falsification of documents and misleading conduct.
Myerscough sentenced Hedden to 72 months each on the civil rights counts and 72 months on a witness tampering charge, with the sentences to run concurrently. She dismissed the other charges.
Sheffler and Banta both received concurrent 15-year sentences for the civil rights violations and 5-year concurrent sentences on each of the other charges.
“You were a crucial witness to as well as a participant in this assault,” Myerscough said. “But you came forward and you were as honest as you can be.”
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