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Local

Lee County judge unseals murder case

Document: Other suspects live in Peoria or Tazewell County

DIXON – The case against murder suspect Steven Watts is no longer an official secret.

On March 7, Lee County Judge Ron Jacobson signed an order unsealing the case against Watts, 56, of Berryville, Ark. The order was drafted by the prosecutor, Lee County State's Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller.

Watts was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on Feb. 28. He is accused in the 1983 murder of Gary D. Dawson of Peoria.

Sacco-Miller said Thursday that she had never wanted to keep the records sealed long-term. She said opening them was appropriate after Watts' indictment on March 6.

Even the Feb. 21 court order that sealed the documents had been secret.

According to that order, authorities needed to keep the records secret so as not to alert two "potential" suspects who live in Peoria or Tazewell County, which is on the other side of the Illinois River from Peoria.

"Having this case open and available to the public may impede the continuing investigation against the two co-defendants," the order says. "The public is currently safe and there will be little or no harm to the public" in the sealing the case until further order of the court.

Authorities say Dawson died of blunt-force trauma to the head and that his battered body was found in a hog pen in rural Franklin Grove on Aug. 28, 1983.

Officials at the time said Dawson had been beaten in Peoria County, although they did not know where he actually died.

All of the players in the case have drug connections, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Department.

Watts' pretrial hearing is set for April 4.

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