DIXON – If proven true, in the annals of senseless murders, this one will rank as one of the most needless, bloody and bizarre.
It was 2 in the morning, and Leroy Daniels, who had lived all his life in this friendly little town, who had family living so close by that they drove past his home every day on their way back and forth to work, did what a lot of country folks might do.
He answered a knock on the door.
The 79-year-old then was savaged with a broken glass flower vase and died in a massive pool of blood in the entryway of his own home, killed by a drunken, belligerent Matthew Welling, who had vowed to kill a man he didn’t know over a woman he’d just met – a woman who, to this day, does not remember speaking one word to him, who did not even recognize him in court – then went to the wrong house to make good on his threat.
Welling was arrested the next day, after investigators found personal items – including his state ID and a vial of his dead brother’s ashes – at and near the scene.
That’s the crux of the case Lee County Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Buh mounted Wednesday, in the first day of testimony in Welling’s murder trial.
The 33-year-old is charged with five counts of first-degree murder and two counts of home invasion in connection with the death of Delmar “Leroy” Daniels, killed July 18, 2012. It took all day Tuesday to seat the jury; testimony began Wednesday in Lee County Judge Ron Jacobson’s courtroom.
Fourteen people testified, including crime scene investigators, the forensic pathologist who did the autopsy, officers involved in Welling’s arrest, a friend to whom Welling might have confessed, the people with whom he was drinking that night, and the bartender who served him.
Daniels’ wife, Betty Daniels, who family members say has MS and fairly significant memory problems, and is easily confused, did not take the stand and was not in court.
According to the day’s testimony, all by the prosecution’s witnesses:
Welling was staying in Amboy at the home of a friend, Jake Hvarre. He and Hvarre went out drinking, and wound up at the Last Alarm bar. Hvarre eventually went home, leaving Welling there. From about 10:15 until closing, Welling downed 11 draft beers – six in the first 45 minutes – and four shots, bartender Beckie Talley testified.
“I told him he had to slow down and he said ‘Sorry, I always drink like this,’” Talley testified.
While at the bar, he met James McCallister, James Prather and Lindsey Glenn, then all of Amboy. The latter three have been friends since middle school. According to her own testimony, Glenn was black-out drunk, and remembers nothing from that night until she woke up in her car at 6 the next morning. Not meeting Welling, not talking to Welling, not even being in the bar.
McCallister and Prather had put her in the back seat of her car to sleep it off, but Welling got in and was going to drive her away, telling the two friends that Glenn was “his responsibility, his girl.” The two men wouldn’t allow it, though. Welling got angry and threatened them.
“When you go home tonight and go to sleep, I’m going to come break in and kill you,” he told McCallister. Welling later showed in front of McCallister’s house, and again made threats.
Police later found Welling’s ID and an empty pack of cigarettes near McCallister’s home, which is about 300 yards from the Danielses’. Both homes are the same gray-blue color, and both have narrow concrete steps leading to a stoop and a white door.
Victoria Maloney has been friends with Welling, who dated her sister, nearly 20 years, and she has visited him at least once a month for the last 2 years he’s been in Lee County jail, she testified. She had loaned him a cellphone, which he used to text her “I f----- up” about an hour after Daniels was attacked.
When Buh pressed Maloney on the details of her interview with police after Welling’s arrest, though, she said she didn’t remember all the things police said she told them, including a conversation she had with Welling in which he supposedly told her “I’m in trouble. I’m going to prison.” She did remember Welling telling her he had blood on him, though, she said.
The morning after the attack, the Danielses’ daughter, Lisa O’Connell, was driving to work and noticed her parents’ porch light still on, and the drapes drawn. That was unusual. She noticed it again that night on her way home, and when she couldn’t reach her parents by phone, she and her daughter went to the Danielses’ home to check on them.
That was 17 hours or so after the attack. O’Connell found her mom, who uses a motorized scooter because of her MS, sitting on the floor next to her dad’s body, her scooter overturned.
Her dad, who was lying face up, was obviously dead, she said.
Not only could she see the large red splotch of blood pooling in his back, but also “the pool of blood was so very large around him ... my common sense told me he was dead,” she testified, adding that she had to have her daughter call 9-1-1, because she couldn’t in that awful moment remember how to work her phone.
Photos from the crime scene and the autopsy were put up on several screens, underscoring O’Connell's testimony. The judge had warned the audience early on that they would be gruesome, bloody, hard to take.
They were. They looked like stills from a slasher movie.
According to Dr. Mark Peters, forensic pathologist, and to the photos, Leroy Daniels had dozens of incisions and stab woulds on his face, neck, upper chest, arms, hands, even some on his feet and legs, all consistent with defensive wounds, and all consistent with a broken tubular vase found at the scene.
His jaw, nose, ribs, Adam’s apple and hyoid bone were broken, from some sort of external force exerting blunt trauma, Peters said. He couldn’t say if Daniels had been squeezed, or if the vase or some other object had been used to exert pressure.
What caused his death, though, was hemorrhagic shock: Leroy Daniels bled to death.
Illinois State Police CSIs processing the scene found damaged dentures and broken eyeglasses on the floor near the door. They found the jagged vase and glass shards, and fake pink flowers in the blood that had coagulated around Daniels’ body.
The vial of ashes, engraved with Welling’s brother’s name, was stuck to the floor near his head; a black T-shirt and a broken black flip-flop, which investigators say are Welling’s, were found nearby. Bloody bare footprints were in the entryway, the kitchen, outside on the stoop. Blood splatter drenched the walls.
Lee County Sheriff’s Detective Shane Miller interviewed Welling after his arrest. Welling had a large cut on his forehead, blood under his fingernails and cuts on his fingers and feet, Miller testified. Welling told him about texting Maloney.
Through it all, through all the testimony, all the blood and gore, Welling sat pale, stoic, expressionless, occasionally rocking back and forth in his seat, but mostly sitting still. He and his attorney, Public Defender Bob Thompson, hardly spoke to each other.
Thompson cross-examined only a few of the state’s witnesses, and then asked only a few questions.
Perhaps the most telling was when he asked Miller if Welling admitted to causing those wounds to himself. Welling did not, Miller said.
In December 2012, Thompson notified the court that he may use self-defense as a defense for his client.
By about 3:30 p.m., court adjourned. The trial resumes at 9:30 this morning, with lead investigator Lee County Detective Sgt. Dave Glessner likely to be the last to testify before the state rests.
There is no court Friday; the case is expected to go to the jury Monday, Jacobson said.