Cecil Sutherland

On the evening of July 1, 1987 Kell Illinois resident, ten year old Amy Schulz, would go out to find her brother who was looking for their dog that had run off to let him know the dog had returned. The problem was Amy would be the one who did not return. The following morning a worker from a nearby oil field just outside the nearby town of Dix would find Amy's body. An autopsy would uncover an unimaginable horror.

Amy's body would be found nude, covered in dirt and face down on an access road out in the middle of no where. There was a shoe print left on her back and a pool of blood around her head indicating that her murder had occurred in that spot. An autopsy would determine that Amy had suffered from a 14.5 cm wound from the middle of her through to behind her right ear. It had cut through the muscle and severed her carotid artery and jugular vein. She would also have a cut above her left eye, bruises to her brain, a fractured rib and a torn liver. There was evidence of a sexual assault due to the abrasions in her genital area and the fact that her rectal muscle had been torn. The coroner would determine that she had likely been strangled until she was unconscious or had died, was then anally penetrated and then her throat was slit. It was believed that the shoe print on her back had been made in order to force the blood from her body. Based on the contents of her stomach the coroner estimated her time of death to be between 9:30 and 11 pm the previous night.

Near the site the investigators found a tire impression as well as another shoe print that was similar to the one on Amy's back near the tracks. They were able to determine that the tire track found (apparently only one), was consistent with just two tires that were made in the United States. They were also able to determine that the shoe prints had come from a brand of boots sold by K-Mart called “Texas Steer.”

This was a time before DNA was truly fully available and there there had been no prints found anywhere. Her clothing had been found scattered along the road and there were fibers connected to them but with nothing to compare them to the case really did not lead anywhere. The only real recourse the investigators had in the beginning was to inform other agencies of some of their findings and hope the perpetrator emerged somewhere.

In late October of 1987, almost four months after the murder, Illinois police would receive a call from Montana. A man named Cecil Sutherland had been arrested near Glacier National Park for shooting at park rangers. The tire on the front right of Sutherland's truck was consistent with one of the tires they were looking for in Amy's case. They had also found boots matching the ones believed to have made the marks at the scene in Sutherland's possession. Illinois investigators would go to Montana to talk to Sutherland, as well as obtain search warrants on his vehicle and his home. They would learn that Sutherland had been living in the town of Dix at the time of Amy's murder.

Sutherland would eventually plead guilty for his crimes in Montana and receive a fifteen year sentence. In the mean time in June of 1988 he would be indicted for the rape and murder of Amy Schulz. Sutherland would end up having two trials in Illinois and I have to be honest that the reports of just exactly when they took place seemed to be a bit sketchy. In the first trial the best that the prosecutors could really do would be to say that fibers on Amy's clothes and the fibers inside Sutherland's truck were consistent with each other. They could also only claim that hairs found on her were consistent with hairs attributed to Sutherland, as well as dog hairs found were consistent with Sutherland's black lab. As far as the dog hairs they would determine that they were not consistent with her own dog or any dog belonging to a neighbor.

The defense would argue that the true perpetrator was a step-grandfather of Amy's who was convicted after he death in the molestation of several young boys. There seemed to be no evidence of this, as if often the case when it comes to defense theories but they apparently hoped it was enough to cast doubt on their client.

The jury would believe the prosecution theory and convict Sutherland on charges of murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault. He would be sentenced to death. Sutherland's appeals would focus on two issues. One was arguing that the search warrants obtained in Montana by Illinois officer were not valid and hence all evidence found because of them should not have been entered into the court. In all appeals, both before and after his subsequent second trial those arguments would be denied by the courts. However, the other argument was that his original trial lawyers did not present evidence that was supposedly available that Sutherland had bought both the tire and the boots that were identified until after the murder, hence arguing that he could not have committed the crime considering he did not have those items at the time. The courts would apparently find this argument to have merit and in essence granted Sutherland a new trial based on ineffective counsel.

One thing that I found interesting was the fact that many of the articles stated that he had previously been convicted of child molestation. There was evidence that his former step-son had testified at his trial saying that he had been sodomized by Sutherland in the past but whether that was the case that was mentioned for conviction is unclear. I searched the offender lists in both Illinois and in Montana just to be sure but I found nothing pertaining to this charge. The fifteen years that he was sentenced to in the Montana case was served federally but their site is not specific in their charges. In that case his release date was shown as being in 1997. Some states show prior charges, some do not and the fact that he was obviously not serving time at the time of the murder means that it was a past crime that could have, or could not have shown up on a Department of Corrections website. To add to this I am unsure in what state this allegedly occurred.

Another interesting event occurred in between Sutherland's trials. In January of 2003, the outgoing Illinois Governor commuted all death sentences in the state to life in prison. Because technically at that point Sutherland's sentence had been overturned, this did not apply to him. However, the issue of the death penalty in Illinois became a very hot topic.

At any rate by the time of his second trial in 2004, DNA was a little more prevalent, although still not at the stage in which we are currently at. If you know anything about DNA you know that in the early years a large sample was needed and when it came to hair samples not only was much more needed but roots to the hair were needed also. At the second trial the prosecution was able to show more confidently that pubic hair found and body hair found on Amy's body were connected to Sutherland. Although, in all fairness it appears that the “match” was not quite the numbers that we see in DNA results today and seems to have given people some question as to the confidence that they belonged to Sutherland. To be fair, I found no information that was given that stated anything about the tire or the boots being purchased after the murder had occurred. The jury apparently had no issue with the evidence as once again Sutherland was convicted. In an unusual move Sutherland opted to forgo the sentencing phase of his second trial and simply asked the judge to give him the death penalty. In 2006 his conviction and sentence were affirmed.

It was not until late 2004 that the taxpayers of Illinois would discover just how much Sutherland's trial had cost them. In his second trial Sutherland had been represented by an attorney in Minnesota and he had charged the state nearly $900,000 for his representation. The state would later make a law capping this amount so that it did not happen again.

Then in 2011 then Governor Pat Quinn would officially abolish the death penalty in Illinois commuting all death sentences to life without parole. Although the death penalty was still on the books when Sutherland went to trial in 2004 I believe it was wrong for the prosecutors to even make it a death penalty trial. The death penalty in Illinois was already at question and the taxpayers had already paid for one capital crime case. I agree that the evidence was more substantial in the second trial and more definitive but seemed a waste of money even at the time.   


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