Jury finds Beardstown man guilty of second-degree murder in carnival worker’s death

Posted: Jan. 16, 2014 2:50 pm Updated: Jan. 30, 2014 3:15 pm
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

RUSHVILLE, Ill. — As a bailiff put handcuffs on Jared Staake at the front of the courtroom inside the Schuyler County Courthouse Thursday afternoon, Staake tried to reassure his weeping relatives.

“Don’t worry about it,” Staake said.

Just minutes earlier, Staake had been convicted of second-degree murder by a Schuyler County Circuit Court jury. The panel of eight men and four women found that Staake’s actions in the early morning hours of July 2 when he stabbed a carnival worker at the Schulyer County Fair led to the man’s death. Michael Box, 33, of Dyersburg, Tenn., died two days later in his trailer after suffering septic shock because of a stab wound to his abdomen.

Staake faces between four and 20 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections when he is sentenced March 13 by Judge Alesia McMillen. He will have to serve at least half of whatever sentence he receives.

“We’re obviously happy, and I’ve spoken to the (victim’s) family and they are satisfied with the results as well,” said Schuyler County State’s Attorney Ramon Escapa. “We would have wanted more, but we respect the jury’s verdict.”

Staake was charged with first-degree murder, but the jury was also given the option of considering a second-degree murder charge. The jury deliberated for about an hour and 45 minutes before rendering its verdict.

Mark Wykoff, who was one of three lawyers on Staake’s defense team, was upset that the jury was able to consider a second-degree murder charge for his client.

“We came here on Monday to defend Mr. Staake on a sole charge of first-degree murder,” Wykoff said. “After all of the evidence had been heard, the state was able to convince the court to instruct the jury on a second-degree murder theory for which Mr. Staake hadn’t been charged. ... On four different occasions during this cause, including after all of the evidence had been presented, the state changed its theory.”

Escapa said he offered Staake a plea deal in December that would have had Staake plead guilty to second-degree murder with a 15-year sentencing cap. Staake turned down the offer.

“The defendant was adamant that he wanted a trial,” Escapa said.

The final day of the trial started with both sides giving their closing arguments.

Escapa offered a PowerPoint presentation for the jury to follow, telling them why a guilty charge on first-degree murder was the appropriate verdict. He also instructed them on how they could come back with a second-degree murder verdict if they found that there were mitigating circumstances.

Escapa told the jury that Staake’s use of force was unreasonable after Box punched him to start a fight outside a carnival trailer.

“He came out (of a carnival trailer) with a purpose and knew exactly what he was going out there to do,” Escapa said.

Wykoff presented a lengthy closing argument. He admitted that Staake stabbed Box, but said that Staake had no way of knowing that his action would cause death or great bodily harm. The defense contended that Staake had every right to defend himself after Box punched him.

“This was not a complex case at all,” Wykoff said. “We didn’t ask you to solve a crime here.”

Wykoff said Staake reacted the way he did because he was “in enemy territory ... with Mr. Box’s traveling band of carnival workers.”

Wykoff urged the jury to come back with a not guilty verdict .

“I stand here now next to an innocent man,” Wykoff said with his hand on Staake’s right shoulder.

Special prosecutor Edwin Parkinson closed the case for the prosecution. He urged the jury to ignore Wykoff’s “16-cylinder words” and not to let Wykoff “smoke screen what’s going on.”

“His theatrics don’t mean a thing,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson offered a number of alternatives Staake could have used in the heat of the moment. As Parkinson went through the list of things, Staake shook his head from side to side.

“Based upon the evidence, you should find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder,” Parkinson said. “You should change his (nick) name from ‘Mercy’ to ‘Guilty.’”

McMillen revoked Staake’s bond at the end of the hearing, meaning he will remain in the Schuyler County Jail until sentencing. Staake had been lodged on $500,000 bond since his arrest on July 5.

Click here for background and to read about Staake's testimony during the trial Wednesday.