Illinois judge dismisses murder charge against Portage man

2014-05-14T17:30:00Z 2014-05-15T13:33:04Z Illinois judge dismisses murder charge against Portage manBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com

An Illinois judge Wednesday dismissed an indictment against a local softball coach accused of a 1972 homicide of a baby near St. Louis.

The order dismisses a first-degree murder charge filed last fall against Gary Warwick, 62, of Portage, after pleas by the family of then-1-year-old Joseph Henry Abernathy III for authorities to reopen the 41-year-old investigation into the baby's death.

St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Robert Haida dismissed the charge on grounds the long passage of time would have denied Warwick a fair trial.

Cathy Abernathy, the child's mother, called The Times on Wednesday afternoon to say she was devastated by the court's decision. "There was more than enough evidence for this case to go to trial. The court was more concerned with (Warwick's) rights."

James A. Gomric, of Belleville, Ill., who represents Warwick, said Wednesday, "My client and I are very pleased with the court ruling."

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly told Paul Hampel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday his office is considering whether to appeal Haida's ruling.

Watson, the St. Clair County sheriff, said he hoped the state's attorney's office would appeal the ruling.

“I'm not going to second-guess the judge, but I think we have a good case,” Watson said. “It was an unfortunate situation the way it all played out over the last 41 years, but we're trying to bring justice for the baby.”

Authorities arrested Warwick in September in Portage. A judge later freed him on bond, with some home restrictions, Kelly said.

Warwick coached teams at Portage High School and Purdue University North Central. His teams won three National Softball Association World Series titles.

Warwick is not related to the baby but was living Dec. 30, 1972, with the 19-year-old mother, Cathy Abernathy, east of St. Louis, when she said he awakened her that night to say the baby had fallen from the crib and died. She said the child's death was ruled as a homicide.

Illinois authorities initially charged Warwick 40 years ago, but his 1973 trial was first delayed on grounds Warwick was ill and then the case was dismissed the following year without public explanation.

The mother said she didn't understand the reason for the 1974 dismissal either, but she and her family pushed over the years for the case to be reopened until last year when St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson started a cold-case investigation that led to the now-dismissed indictment.

Judge Haida ruled many of the witnesses vital to Warwick's defense had died over the years.

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