DIXON – It started with the discovery of a purse in a trash bin behind a local store.
It ended an hour later with police finding the body of 35-year-old Margaret Atherton in her bedroom at 805 W. First St. A sock was in her mouth and a pillowcase over her head.
Today, more than 3 years later, jury selection begins in the trial of Byron Adams, the man prosecutors say is her killer. He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, unlawful possession of a stolen vehicle and misdemeanor criminal trespass to a vehicle.
Jury selection is expected to last 2 days. There are 80 Lee County residents in the juror pool.
The case will be prosecuted by Lee County Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Buh. Adams is represented by Dixon attorney David Mandrgoc.
Adams, 54, of Chicago, has been in Lee County Jail on a $3 million bond since late September 2009.
According to police and court testimony:
Just before 1 p.m. Sept. 11, 2009, Dollar Tree employees found Atherton’s purse in a trash bin behind the store at 1630 Miller St. At 1:55 p.m., officers went to her home and found her body in a bedroom. They canvased the neighborhood, looking for people who may have seen someone enter or leave the home.
They also reviewed Dollar Tree’s surveillance video. On it, they saw a white Grand Am parked by the bin, and a black man throw something into the bin.
A newspaper carrier also told police he saw a white Pontiac Grand Am near the Atherton home; the license plate began with “H20,” the carrier said.
A search through a state database identified a white Grand Am, license plate “H204970.” Adams’ ex-girlfriend had reported the car stolen.
That license plate also was recorded coming into and leaving the Dixon toll booth on Interstate 88 around 11:30 that morning.
Some neighbors reported seeing a black man coming out of Atherton’s home around the time of the murder; others said they saw a black man in the area.
Officers also reviewed surveillance video from Walmart, next to Dollar Tree. On it, the Grand Am can be seen coming into the parking lot, and a black man wearing a black Oakland Raiders jogging shirt and jogging pants is seen walking into the store.
Police showed Adams’ ex-girlfriend an image from the video; she identified it as him.
U.S. marshals found Adams in the Grand Am early Sept. 13, 2009, and arrested him for possession of a stolen car. A Raiders shirt and jogging pants were in the trunk.
According to police and court testimony, Adams admitted killing Atherton.
In a interview last year with Sauk Valley Media, Adams said he lied to police when he told them that he was having an affair with Atherton and that he killed her.
He did so, Adams said, so he could call another ex-girlfriend and have her help him get an attorney.