DIXON – Byron Adams showed police two very different sides during his final interview with them on Sept. 17, 2009.
His voice broke and he started crying as he told police that he didn’t intend to kill Margaret Atherton, with whom he claimed to be having an affair, when he went to her home 6 days earlier.
She became angry when he told her he was seeing another woman, he said, and things quickly escalated.
In the heat of the moment, he shoved socks in her mouth, bound her hands behind her, and placed a pillowcase over her head. He didn’t know she was dead until his arrest on Sept. 13, he said.
“I ain’t never hurt nobody. It was truly an accident.”
Police believed some of his story. The items used were details only police and the killer would know, Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss testified Thursday.
But other things, like the affair, weren’t adding up.
As police pressed him, Adams’ demeanor quickly changed. He became defensive, accused them of playing him, raised his voice at times and became stone silent other times.
The jury saw and heard it all, as prosecutors played the nearly 6-hour video Thursday.
Adams, 54, of Chicago, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in Atherton’s death. Her body was found in an upstairs bedroom at her West First Street home nearly an hour after a Dollar Tree employee found her purse in a trash bin behind the store.
Adams was arrested 2 days later in Chicago. After a short hospitalization for chest pains, he was brought to Dixon and was interviewed a total of 20 hours between Sept. 15 and Sept. 17.
According to the video and Langloss’ testimony:
Adams summoned Langloss to the jail the night of Sept. 17, 2009. He already had been charged with first-degree murder and an attorney had been appointed.
Adams said he would “talk to y’all about everything” if he was put into the general population at the jail and allowed to call his ex-girlfriend, whom he said was the love of his life.
Langloss told Adams that he didn’t believe he went to Atherton’s house intending to harm her. He said he thought Adams was trying to “shut up” Atherton and “got the hell outta there” without knowing she was dead.
If that’s the case, Langloss said, this may be involuntary manslaughter and he would talk to the state’s attorney.
Adams got his phone call after admitting he had been in Dixon that day, something he denied more than 20 times previously.
After making his call, Adams told Langloss what happened.
He said he had been having an affair with Atherton, whom he’d met when he delivered her newspaper, for 2 or 3 weeks.
They had sex twice, but were not “too close.” He never called her beforehand, he would just show up at her house, he said.
On Sept. 11, Adams went to Atherton’s house to tell her he couldn’t see her anymore, he was moving to Chicago and was seeing another woman, he said.
Atherton became angry, started “hollering” and pushed Adams while they were in the upstairs bedroom. He pushed her onto the bed and put the socks in her mouth to keep her quiet, he said. He tied her hands behind her with a black necktie and put a pillowcase over her head.
When asked why he did that, Adams said he “just put it over there.”
“You know, when you panic, you panic, you know,” he said. “Just like that. Not to, not to do what happened.”
He picked up her purse from the downstairs dining room table, wrapped it in a towel, and left. He planned to throw it away behind Walmart, but panicked when he saw someone in the back of the store, he said.
The purse was discovered about an hour later in the Dollar Tree trash bin near Walmart.
Adams then drove back to Chicago. Feeling guilty, he started drinking, he said.
“It’s been bothering me, but I didn’t know that she had died from it,” Adams told Langloss. “I knew that I probably was gonna hear about the fact if she did ... that ya’ll were probably gonna be looking for me for doing what I did, ya know.
“She had never done nothing to me, but I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
Langloss pressed Adams about the placement of the pillowcase, which was twisted and knotted so tightly that it had to be cut off during the autopsy.
Adams admitted twisting it.
Still, things weren’t adding up, Langloss told him. Although he didn’t think Adams meant to kill her, it didn’t seem plausible that he didn’t know she was dead when he left. That might make this a crime of passion or second-degree murder, Langloss told him.
Adams became more and more frustrated.
“You is a smart chief, cuz I know you just made a fool out of me,” Adams told him.
Lt. Clay Whelan, the lead investigator, told Adams that he wasn’t buying the affair story.
If he and Atherton were having an affair, Whelan said, Adams should know the shape and color of the tattoo on her hip. He would know the color of Atherton’s husband’s truck, which he got wrong.
Whelan told Adams that he thought Adams went to Atherton’s home to sexually assault her and things went wrong. He asked Adams several times why he just drove to Dixon that day, without calling Atherton or knowing whether she was working or if her husband was home.
Katherine Sullivan, a forensic biologist with the state police crime lab in Joliet, testified Thursday that the DNA on the pillowcase and the necktie came from two men: The major contributor was Atherton’s husband, Ryan; the minor contributor was Adams.
The trial continues today.