AMBOY – Delmar “Leroy” Daniels was a longtime, well-loved fixture in his native Amboy.
You might say he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he died, but that would be so wrong. Sound asleep in his own home in the middle of the night, caring for his disabled wife, he was right where he belonged. Death came unbidden to his door.
Beaten and stabbed with a broken flower vase, Leroy bled to death on July 17, 2012. Closing arguments will be heard this morning in the Lee County Court trial of 33-year-old Matthew Welling, charged with first-degree murder and home invasion.
The jury will begin deliberations today, and is not expected to take long to reach a verdict. Among other evidence presented, Welling’s fingerprints, DNA and a vial of his dead brother’s ashes were found at the bloody crime scene, and Leroy’s DNA was found in the blood still on Welling’s body at the time of his arrest the next day.
Prosecutors say Welling went to the Daniels home around 2 a.m.
Prosecutors say Wellings went there thinking it belonged to a man he had met at a bar and threatened to kill earlier that evening. For his part, Welling told police he drank a lot of beer, did a few shots, and doesn’t remember much of that night. He pleaded not guilty to brutalizing the 79-year-old, whose nose, jaw and ribs were broken, and who had dozens of stab wounds and incisions on his head, face, neck, arms and hands.
There were 2 days of testimony last week, and several members of Leroy’s family have been in court, including his brother, John Daniels of Amboy, a retired road maintenance worker. He’ll be there today, too, he said Sunday.
Leroy worked with wood, did carpentry and lathe work. He could weld, he could do just about anything with those hands of his. “He helped everybody in town,” John Daniels said. “He was very good at everything he did.”
He was a self-taught handyman. “Give it here, I can fix it,” was his way, John said. “He could just build anything – from scratch.”
The day they laid Leroy’s battered body to rest in Prairie Repose Cemetery, the funeral procession was about 2 miles long, a testament to the esteem in which he was held.
“Everybody in town knew him,” John said.
Even though he’d been retired a dozen years, after working at Amboy Specialty Food then Dean Foods in Amboy and Dixon, respectively, for more than 50 years, Leroy had a need to keep busy.
“I’ve never known him not to be working,” John said.
He lived a lifetime of service, in fact, starting with his stint in the Army in the Korean War.
Leroy was just 1 month shy of 20 when he and Betty Latta married in Amboy, on Aug. 9, 1952. They had two boys, Steven and Michael, and two girls, Tami and Lisa. Steven lives in Dixon. Tami and Lisa are still in Amboy.
Michael’s gone now, another Daniels family tragedy: He died about a decade ago, crushed when a trailer he was working on fell off its jacks.
Later in life, Betty developed MS, and she had to use a motorized scooter. Her memory, too, isn’t what it used to be. Leroy was her caretaker.
It was just 3 weeks and a day before their 60th anniversary when he died.
“They’ve been through a lot of hard times,” John said.
Now Betty, who spent 17 hours on the floor next to her husband’s body, knocked out of her scooter and unable to move to get help, is in a nursing home, John said.
His brother had acid reflux, and used to sleep on the couch or in the recliner a lot. He was still in his jeans and T-shirt when he answered that early-morning knock. Betty must have heard the commotion and went to see what was happening, he said.
A knock at 2 a.m. means someone needs help, and Leroy just wasn’t the kind of man to turn away anyone who needed him, John said.
His habit of helping, his unwillingness to turn away anyone in need, his innate decency: “That’s why he is where he is.”