Portage man charged with murder in baby's death from 1972

2013-09-13T19:56:00Z 2013-09-14T23:32:04Z Portage man charged with murder in baby's death from 1972Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
September 13, 2013 7:56 pm  • 

PORTAGE | A Portage man known as a softball coach is in custody for a 1972 homicide of a baby near St. Louis.

Portage police and the Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force arrested 62-year-old Gary A. Warwick on Thursday.

He was being held in the Porter County Jail on a $5 million bond pending trial in St. Clair County, Ill., on a murder charge filed Thursday by St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly. Warwick is accused in the death of Joseph Henry Abernathy III, who was a year old when he died on Dec. 30, 1972.

Warwick is a former assistant coach for the Purdue University North Central Panthers. Carol Connelly, director of media communications, said he resigned last spring. 

The university's website earlier described him as a "Northwest Indiana NSA icon," bringing more than 25 years of softball experience. Connelly said the university removed information about Warwick from the site later Friday.

He was listed as living in Portage with his wife of 35 years and having two married daughters and three grandchildren.

Kelly said Friday in a prepared statement that Warwick faces between 14 and 300 years in prison if convicted of the homicide in this southwest Illinois county of 270,000 residents, just east of St. Louis.

Warwick is not related to the baby but lived in the same home at the time, St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Watson didn't want to reveal more about the case, but he did say the belief had been the baby had died after falling out of his crib.

“Back in 1972, if you told someone a baby fell out of a crib, then that's what people thought had happened,” he said.

Kelly said Warwick initially was charged 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.

Kelly said he and St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson reopened the case last spring after after Watson received an e-mail from a member of Abernathy's family, which included a link to a YouTube video called “Justice for Joey.”

The video featured a woman who didn't speak, but rather held up flashcards that told the story of the case. Watson said he “just felt something” about the case, and sent an e-mail to the chief investigator asking him to bring the file to him. “When I looked at it, I saw too many holes in it, and I thought, 'We can do something on this.' "

Watson said he met with investigators every week for months and investigators drove to Arkansas, where the Abernathy family now lives, and Indiana digging up details. “These guys deserve a lot of credit.”

Beth Stauffer, a sister of the victim, said Friday night, "Of course we are very happy an arrest has been made after all this time."

Watson said, “It's finally been brought to closure, but it's never over. It's innocent until proven guilty, and that's why the investigation continues.”

Warwick was arrested at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Portage on Thursday by the U.S. Marshals Service and Portage police. He is set for an extradition hearing Monday.

The Purdue North Central website had stated Warwick coached all levels and won seven state titles and three National Softball Association World Series titles. Warwick assisted with Portage High School in the 2011-12 season, helping the junior varsity team to two successful seasons.

Valerie Schremp Hahn, a staff writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, contributed to this report.

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