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Convicted NIU killer seeks to overturn plea deal

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William "Billy" Curl

SYCAMORE – William "Billy" Curl wants a judge to toss his 37-year prison sentence for murdering Northern Illinois University student Toni Keller, claiming prosecutors threatened his 13-year-old son.

Curl, 36, of DeKalb, filed the four-page handwritten motion from Menard Correctional Center. He claimed that his dyslexia, speech impediment and "great difficulty" reading and writing prevented him from understanding the finality of the plea agreement he accepted April 3. He also claimed prosecutors threatened to go after his son, which scared him into taking the plea agreement.

DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack said Curl's request was filed July 22, well past the 30-day deadline. In the court document, Curl didn't detail how prosecutors allegedly threatened his son, but Curl's son was listed as a possible witness for the trial, Schmack said.

"If it comes to a point where we have to respond to something beyond the fact that he was not timely in filing this, we're certainly going to ask for more specific in what he means by threatening," Schmack said.

Prosecutors never considered filing charges against the son in Keller's case, Schmack said.

As part of the negotiated agreement entered April 3, Curl entered an Alford plea for murder, which means he maintained his innocence but acknowledged prosecutors could prove the first-degree murder charge beyond a reasonable doubt. He was sentenced to 37 years in prison, less than the 60-year maximum prison sentence.

In April, amid criticism from Keller's and Curl's family, prosecutors touted the negotiated plea agreement as a secure outcome for the case. Keller, an 18-year-old from Plainfield, told friends Oct. 14, 2010, that she was going for a walk in Prairie Park in DeKalb. Her burned remains were found in the park two days later.

Curl told authorities conflicting accounts of what had happened to Keller, but prosecutors did not have any eyewitness accounts, a murder weapon, or evidence of a time or cause of death to present at trial. Schmack emphasized in April that the agreement assured Curl would remain in prison until he was 71, while an acquittal was possible in any trial.

In court records, Curl acknowledged he missed the deadline to file his request, but claimed he didn't have the resources to file it as he was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center five days after the plea agreement was entered.

"Only recently learning that this option is available when he had been transferred to Menard, some legally astute prisoners explained his options and elected themselves to assist him in the writing and filing of this motion," the motion states.

Curl is scheduled to appear in DeKalb County court Aug. 20.

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