Sheffler gets 20-year sentence in connection of 2018 death of Chicago man in Mount Sterling prison

Sheffler

Todd Sheffler, left, leaves the U.S. District Courthouse in the Paul Findley Federal Building in downtown Springfield on Monday, April 25. Walking out the door behind Sheffler is his father, Larry Sheffler. | File photo by David Adam

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Todd Sheffler, 54, of Mendon, a former lieutenant at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mt. Sterling, Illinois, was sentenced Monday to 20 years of imprisonment to be followed by five years of supervised release, for civil rights deprivation resulting in bodily injury and death and obstruction of justice in connection with the death of Larry Earvin, an inmate at the facility.

At the sentencing hearing in front of Senior U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough, the government summarized the evidence from Sheffler’s 2022 trial.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Central District, the government presented evidence during the trial that Sheffler and co-defendants Alex Banta, 31, a correctional officer, and Willie Hedden, 43, a sergeant, participated in the May 17, 2018, assault of Earvin, 65, during their forcible escort of Earvin from the residential housing unit of the prison to the segregation housing unit while he was restrained and handcuffed behind his back and while he posed no physical threat to the defendants or other correctional officers.

The federal government had sought a life sentence. Sheffler’s lawyers had asked for 2 1/2 years.

John O’Connor of the Associated Press reported that Sheffler fumbled with shackled hands and wiped tears from his eyes with a tissue in an emotional statement in court. He said he accepted responsibility “for what I did or didn’t do” that caused Earvin’s death.

Then Sheffler looked at Earvin’s son, Larry Pippion, seated in the first row in court. The ex-guard said with his voice rising to a shout, “I did not put hands on your father. If it has to be life, let it be life, but I will not lie to favor someone’s conviction record.”

He then added, “If there’s anything I can do for the Earvin family, I will do it. I expect nothing less than your hatred.”

The government presented further evidence that Sheffler, as the lieutenant and senior officer to co-defendants Hedden and Banta, not only participated in the assault but had a duty to intervene to prevent it. The assault resulted in serious bodily injury to Earvin, including multiple broken ribs, a punctured mesentery, and other serious internal injuries, and resulted in Earvin’s death in June 2018.

After the assault, all three defendants failed to ensure Earvin received medical care and instead sought medical attention for their own minor scratches and thereafter falsified incident reports that they filed with prison officials and lied to the Illinois State Police by denying any knowledge of or participation in the assault.

The government also presented evidence, including testimony from Hedden, that it was part of the culture at the facility to abuse inmates and lie to cover up the abuse.

At Banta’s sentencing last week, during which Myerscough also sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment, the government summarized the evidence establishing that Banta had inflicted the most serious blows leading to Earvin’s death, including jumping in the air and landing on Earvin with both knees.

Hedden testified at Monday’s sentencing about a prior incident in which Sheffler was the segregation lieutenant during a previous beating of an inmate in the segregation building. During that beating, according to Hedden, Sheffler instructed the assaulting correctional officers through hand motions to strike the inmate below the head but above the waist. The government also again presented the testimony of Earvin’s son, who stated that although he didn’t wish for anyone to go to prison, he believed that Sheffler’s request for a 30-month sentence for causing the death of his father was an “insult.”

Sheffler’s sentence, like Banta’s sentence, consists of concurrent 15-year terms of imprisonment on two of the five counts of the indictment: conspiracy to deprive civil rights and deprivation of civil rights under color of law resulting in bodily injury and death. He also received five-year terms of imprisonment on the remaining three counts – conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct, obstruction (falsification of a document) and obstruction (misleading conduct) – to run concurrent to each other and consecutive to the 15-year terms.

A federal grand jury had previously returned an indictment against Sheffler, Hedden and Banta, in December 2019.

At the first trial in April 2022, Banta was convicted of all five charges in the indictment. The jury in that joint trial was unable to reach verdicts as to Sheffler, resulting in a retrial in August 2022 at which he was convicted of the same charges. Judge Myerscough ordered that both Banta and Sheffler be detained pending their sentencings.

Hedden pleaded guilty in March 2022 to both civil rights charges and to conspiracy to engage in misleading conduct. His sentencing is set for Wednesday, March 22 at 10 a.m. in the federal courthouse in Springfield.

“At today’s and last week’s sentencings, we advised the court that the government’s job is to seek justice and not to win, and that an appropriate sentence in this case should include justice for the victim, Mr. Earvin,” U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris said. “We hope that the convictions of Todd Sheffler, Alex Banta,and Willie Hedden and today’s sentence for Todd Sheffler and last week’s sentence for Alex Banta provide a measure of justice for Larry Earvin and his family.

“We also hope it serves as a warning to all those who would abuse governmental power that they will be held accountable under the law. Although the vicious and brutal beating of Mr. Earvin cost him his life, and that is a loss that can never be remedied, all of those persons whom the evidence established violated Mr. Earvin’s constitutional rights and caused his death (Sheffler, Hedden, and Banta) have been and are being held accountable. Our prosecution of this case demonstrates our continued commitment to equal justice under the law and to protecting society’s vulnerable, including those in our prisons.”

Harris expressed its appreciation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Springfield Office and highlighted the complete cooperation of the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Corrections, for their thorough and professional investigation. Harris also especially recognized and thanked the efforts of FBI Special Agents Angela Bray and Price McCarty for their efforts.

Harris also noted the important testimony of IDOC witnesses who initially participated in the cover up of these offenses, but ultimately came forward and told the truth about the events surrounding Mr. Earvin’s death. Finally, Harris noted that the actions of a few had unfairly tarnished the reputations of the men and women in law enforcement who honorably serve their communities with professionalism on a daily basis.

“While the conduct of Todd Sheffler is not characteristic of the vast majority of those working in law enforcement, it unfortunately undermines the efforts of officers who serve with integrity and who bear the responsibility to respect and defend the rights of those under their watch,” FBI Springfield Special Agent in Charge David Nanz said. “Sheffler’s actions tarnished the reputation and badge worn proudly by the many hard-working and upstanding officers who abide by their oath. The FBI is unyielding in our commitment to zealously protect the rights of all Americans and to hold accountable anyone charged with safeguarding those rights.”

“ISP thoroughly investigates civil rights violations to hold those who break the law accountable,” Illinois State Police Director Brendan F. Kelly said. “This type of conduct is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”

The statutory penalties for each of the civil rights resulting in death charges are up to life imprisonment. The statutory penalties for each of the obstruction of justice charges are up to 20 years of imprisonment.

The case was the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois, the FBI-Springfield Field Office, and the Illinois State Police Division of Internal Investigation, with the cooperation of the Illinois Department of Corrections. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy A. Bass and Eugene L. Miller represented the government in the prosecution.

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