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Amboy man found guilty of murder

Jury deliberates an hour, convicts Matthew Welling

DIXON – Maybe it was the all the DNA and print evidence – his blood in splatters at Leroy Daniels' home, his bare footprints tracked in blood across the hallway's gray tile floor, and in the kitchen, and in the bathroom. Daniels' blood still caked on his body, a day later.

Or maybe it was all the personal things he shed at and near the bloody crime scene: his state ID, his broken flip-flops, a necklace that held a vial of his brother's ashes, engraved with his brother's name and found next to Leroy's battered corpse.

In any event, it took the eight men and four women in Matthew Welling's Lee County Court jury just an hour Monday afternoon to convict him of five counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion.

Click here to see video of the verdict reading

The 33-year-old Amboy man, who has no previous criminal record, faces 26 to 180 years in prison for slashing, stabbing and beating Daniels, 79, in the early hours of July 18, 2012 with a jagged, broken glass vase, all of about 10 inches long.

He will be required to serve the full term for murder, and at least 85 percent of the sentence for home invasion. At the request of the prosecutor, Lee County Assistant State's Attorney Peter Buh, Judge Ron Jacobson revoked Welling's $2 million bail.

Click here to see video of closing argument by the prosecution

The autopsy showed Daniels had a broken jaw, broken ribs, a broken nose, and more than 30 cuts and stabs to his head alone. In the end, though, he bled to death from a long, deep slash to the back of his neck, Buh said.

Daniels answered a knock at 2 a.m. and opened the door to Welling, who earlier in the night had threatened to kill another man he'd just met in an Amboy bar, over a woman he also had just met. "When you go home tonight and go to sleep, I'm going to come break in and kill you," Welling had told the man.

Click here to see closing arguments by the defense

Daniels had the ultimate misfortune of living near that man, and in a home that looked remarkably similar.

He died because Welling, who downed about 10 beers and several shots in about 3 hours, was out-of-control-angry and drunk, and went to the wrong house, Buh said, calling the crime "a rage murder."

"What a truly senseless tragedy that this defendant caused to the Daniels family," Buh said. In closing statements, he referred to Welling as a drunk, angry, lying coward who "butchered" the loving father, brother, grandfather, for absolutely no reason, then failed to call for help and left him to die.

As he had throughout the 4-day trial, Welling showed little emotion as the verdict was read. He did not take the stand in his own defense; during an interview after his arrest, he told police he woke up the day after Daniels was killed "covered in blood." He said he did not remember killing the elderly man.

Daniels' daughter, Lisa O'Connell, who found her disabled mother, Betty, sitting next to her father's brutalized body 17 hours after he was killed, struggled to hold back tears after the verdict. Outside the courtroom, she and her sisters hugged the prosecution team, and softly sobbed.

Each of the five first-degree murder counts came with varying elements that had to be proven. Count one says Welling intended to kill Daniels; count two says he intended to do great bodily harm to Daniels; count three says he knew striking Daniels on the head would kill him; count four says he knew striking him would create the strong probability of death or great bodily harm; and count five says Welling killed Daniels during the course of a forcible felony, i.e. home invasion.

To convict him of home invasion, the jury had to agree that Welling entered the home, invited in or not, with the intent to commit a crime and knowing that someone was in the home. (A count of home invasion pertaining to Betty Daniels was dismissed earlier in the case.)

In his closing statements, Welling's attorney, Lee County Public Defender Bob Thompson, argued that the state had failed to prove the all-important element of intent. No witnesses were able to point to what was in Welling's mind, he said. No one could say what he did or did not know.

Thompson did not call any defense witnesses during the evidentiary portion of the trial; that was the defendant's right, he reminded the jury. It is up to the state to prove guilt; Welling was presumed innocent.

That presumption disappeared at 3 p.m., when Jacobson read the verdict and dismissed the jury. Welling is set to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. June 25.

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