Police: Argument led to throat slashing that killed Quincy man

Alex T. Koehler
Posted: Aug. 6, 2014 6:41 pm Updated: Aug. 20, 2014 7:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A Quincy police detective testified Wednesday that a 56-year-old man who died three days after having his throat slashed at his home last month was still conscious and identified his attacker when officers arrived.

Detective Adam Gibson testified during a preliminary hearing in Adams County Circuit Court that the victim, Robert J. Owens, told officers "Alex did it" when they arrived at his house at 934 Payson around 11:30 a.m. July 9.

Alex T. Koehler, 27, was charged with first-degree murder after Owens died July 12 in Blessing Hospital from injuries suffered in the attack.

Through questioning by Assistant State's Attorney Josh Jones, Gibson gave a timeline of events that led to a confrontation between Owens and Koehler, and the eventual capture of Koehler a few hours after Owens was found.

At the end of the 20-minute hearing, Judge Chet Vahle found there was probable cause to bind Koehler's case over for trial. Koehler pleaded not guilty and had his case put on the October jury docket.

In an interview after Koehler was taken into custody, Gibson said Koehler told him that he and Owens had been arguing before the incident. Gibson said that Koehler said he was pacing back and forth inside the house when he was hit in the face by something, and didn't know whether Owens had hit him with his hand or had thrown something at him.

Gibson said that Koehler said he hit Owens and knocked him to the ground and probably kicked him before going to the kitchen and getting a knife.

"He said he stood over Owens and looked down at him, deciding whether or not he should go through with what he was about to do," Gibson said.

Koehler reportedly told police he didn't remember slashing Owens' throat.

"He thought he may have stabbed him a number of times," Gibson said. "He told me that he tried to lacerate (Owens') brain stem to stop his suffering."

Gibson said Koehler believed he was going to go to prison for what he had done.

"He said that he hoped he got help for his anger management in prison," Gibson said, "because the next time he got mad like that he didn't know if he'd be able to stop at one person."

Police originally went to Owens' residence on a well-being check. Gibson said a worker with a local mental health agency asked police to check on Owens, who did not answer the door for a scheduled appointment. An officer was able to open a window at the rear of the residence and called out for Owens, who responded that he couldn't get up, Gibson said.

The mental health worker was then able to contact Koehler, who also lived at the residence, to get the security code to unlock the front door, Gibson said.

"(Owens) was lying on the floor and there were several pools of blood around him," Gibson said. "You could see that he had a large laceration on his throat. You could hear air exiting his throat whenever he spoke."

Through the mental health worker, Gibson said he was able to speak by phone with Koehler, who said he was walking around Mendon. Gibson said Koehler hung up the phone, but deputies with the Adams County Sheriff's Department found him hiding in the basement of an abandoned residence in Mendon.

Koehler told police that he hid the knife used in the attack "out back in a low-hanging gutter." Gibson said police searched the area and found a knife in the gutter of a garage roof next door at 932 Payson.

Gibson said an autopsy showed that Owens died from blunt force trauma to the head. Gibson said clothes that police believe Koehler was wearing during the incident were found in an upstairs bedroom at the residence Owens and Koehler shared. The knife, clothes and other evidence have been sent to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab for testing, and authorities are still awaiting results, Gibson said.

Wearing a standard-issue red-and-white Adams County Jail jumpsuit and with his hands and feet in shackles, Koehler showed no emotion during the hearing. His hair has grown out since his arrest, and he is now sporting a thick beard.

He faces between 20 and 60 years in prison, a term that could be increased to natural life because of the nature of the offense. Jones said State's Attorney Jon Barnard will decide before the trial whether to seek a sentence of natural life.

Before the hearing, Public Defender Brett Jansen withdrew a motion contesting Koehler's mental fitness to stand trial. Koehler was found to be mentally fit after a July 28 meeting with Dr. Frank Froman.

Koehler is being held in the Adams County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond. He is next due in court Oct. 3 for a pretrial hearing. His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 14.