Updated 04/03/13 – 5:19 p.m.
DEKALB, Ill. (CBS) — The man accused of killing a Northern Illinois University freshman and burning her body 2 ½ years ago has been sentenced to 37 years in prison, after agreeing to plead guilty on Wednesday.
William “Billy” Curl had been scheduled to stand trial next week for the murder of Antinette “Toni” Keller, an art student at NIU, in October 2010. He had been charged with first-degree murder, criminal sexual assault and arson in connection with Keller’s death.
When Curl walked into the courtroom, his sister started crying, then shouted “Billy, don’t take it! They’re railroading you!” She continued yelling as she was escorted out of the courtroom.
Under the plea agreement, Curl must serve the entire 37-year term in prison, but will receive credit for 889 days he has spent in jail so far.
Keller’s family was not happy with the plea deal either, but were not in court.
Mary Tarling, a spokeswoman for Keller’s family, said they’re in shock over the plea deal.
Tarling said the family only learned of the plea deal on Monday, and after months of delays, they had been preparing themselves for the trial next week.
She said skipping the trial spares the family of the ordeal, but also the opportunity to honor Keller with her day in court.
DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack defended the plea agreement, and said he doesn’t feel he let Keller’s family down.
“No, I don’t. Our job is to get a conviction for first-degree murder, and we did that,” he said. “I could never say that we’ve let the family or community down by getting a conviction for first-degree murder for a murderer.”