DIXON – Byron Adams told a Lee County inmate last year that he would do to him what he did to the woman he’s charged with killing, a correctional officer testified Wednesday.
Brandy Stern testified Wednesday in his murder trial that she was walking on the catwalk of the jail’s A-Block on Oct. 31 when she overheard Adams and the inmate arguing over a TV.
At that point, Adams had been in the jail for more than 2 years awaiting trial in the suffocation death of Margaret Atherton.
She heard the inmate tell Adams, “I ain’t that white girl you choked.” Adams shot back, “I’m going to do to you what I did to that white b****,” Stern testified.
Stern was the last person to testify Wednesday, the first day of Adams’ murder trial.
Adams faces 20 to 60 years in prison if convicted of three counts of first-degree murder.
Proceedings continue today with testimony from Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss and a forensic scientist.
Much of Wednesday’s testimony revolved around the discovery of Atherton’s body in her 805 W. First St. home on Sept. 11, 2009.
Lee County State’s Attorney Peter Buh told the jury in his opening arguments that after killing Atherton, Adams embarked on a path of “deceit and deception,” trying to throw police off his tracks by taking her purse and a towel to make it look like there had been a break-in.
Both items were found several hours later in a trash bin behind Dollar Tree. The purse contained cash and Atherton’s cellphone, which struck Dixon Police Lt. Brad Sibley as odd, he testified.
An hour later, police found Atherton dead in an upstairs bedroom, Sibley testified.
Illinois State Police crime scene investigator Bethe Hughes processed the scene that day.
She testified that Atherton was lying face down with her head hanging over the foot of the bed. A green pillowcase with a tightly twisted knot was over her head, and a black necktie bound her hands, Hughes said.
When the pillowcase was removed, Hughes said she found blood on Atherton’s face, purple swelling, and rolled up socks in her mouth.
The cause of death was asphyxia and strangulation.
Ryan Atherton, 38, of Walnut, testified that he hugged and kissed his wife and told her he loved her before leaving for work about 6:30 that morning. Just before 1 p.m., he got a call from Dixon Police that her purse had been found in the trash bin.
When he couldn’t get a hold of her, he drove home. As he arrived, he could see police cars and yellow tape wrapped around his home.
Police told him his wife was dead. He said he assumed she had been murdered when they said she did not die of natural causes.
“I was shocked, stunned,” he testified. “I didn’t really have much to say at that point.”
After finding the body, police began canvassing the neighborhood looking for witnesses.
Doug Daniels, who lives near the Athertons, testified that he was out on his front porch that morning and saw a black man wearing a black jogging suit with white stripes walking in between the Athertons’ home and driveway.
He was carrying something in his arms, Daniels testified.
Another neighbor, Lonnie Yount, testified that he saw a white car parked on the street that morning.
Yount, a former newspaper carrier, said that he recognized the “H20” prefix on the license plate, and that he had seen Adams, who delivered newspapers in the neighborhood, driving that car.
Adams was arrested on Sept. 13, 2009, in Chicago in a white Pontiac Grand Am reported stolen a month before by his ex-girlfriend, Sandra Blankenship. A BB pistol and a black Raiders outfit with white stripes was found in the car, Hughes said.
Blankenship identified the man on surveillance video taken at Walmart, near the Dollar Tree, as Adams. She testified that she recognized his profile, the general shape of his body, and the Raiders outfit that he frequently wore.
After his arrest, Adams was interviewed by police over several days.
After he was charged with first-degree murder, he summoned Langloss to the jail and said “I’ll tell you everything” in exchange for a phone call and a move into general population at the jail, Buh told the jury.
His appointed attorney, David Mandrgoc, said that the night before Adams’ arrest, he was out late and instead of going back to stay with his sister, he slept in his car. He was awoken by U.S. Marshals the next day.
Several days before that, he was hospitalized for chest pains, Mandrgoc said. He was hospitalized shortly after his arrest and again after he was taken to Dixon, both times for chest pains, he said.
During the interview, Adams repeatedly told police he didn’t kill Atherton, Mandrgoc said.
Interrogators told him if he admitted to having an affair with Atherton that had “gone wrong” the day she was killed, he could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, Mandrgoc said.
He also told the jury that the surveillance video taken outside the Dollar Tree was “grainy” and Adams could not clearly be recognized as the man throwing Atherton’s purse into the trash bin.
“The state has nothing, at best, corroborating the alleged confession,” he added.
The trial continues this morning.