Chicago Tribune

Inmate charged in rape, murder of Riley Fox

Initial probe of 2004 killing led to wrongful arrest, DNA exoneration of 3-year-old's father

By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Kristen Schorsch and Hal Dardick, Tribune reporters

May 28, 2010

Kevin and Melissa Fox
Attorney Kathleen Zellner, center, says goodbye to Kevin and Melissa Fox as they leave her Oak Brook office. Will County State’s Attorney Glasgow and the FBI are preparing to announce charges in Riley Fox's 2004 murder case. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / May 27, 2010)

A man serving time for forcing a relative to have sex with him was charged Thursday with sexually assaulting, binding with duct tape and drowning 3-year-old Riley Fox in a Wilmington creek, a gruesome 2004 crime that drew national attention and seemed, for many in Will County, as if it would never be solved.

Scott Wayne Eby, who has been serving a 14-year sentence at the Lawrence Correctional Center, was charged with first-degree murder and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. The Fox family's attorney said Eby, 38, admitted the crimes to federal investigators after a tip led them to him and his DNA matched that found during Riley's autopsy.

The girl's father, Kevin Fox, was arrested four months after her death and charged with her murder. He was cleared after spending eight months in jail, and the investigation went on for years with no arrests.

"This is a case that has torn at the very fabric of Will County," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said Thursday. "I've never dealt with a case this heart-wrenching that took so long to get a resolution."

Riley's parents didn't speak publicly, but Chad Fox, Kevin Fox's brother, said: "My family is happy this day has arrived. Riley deserves this justice and Kevin deserves apologies from everyone who considered him guilty. My family hopes Scott Eby receives the most harsh punishment our legal system can sentence a lifelong criminal and child murderer."

Illinois Department of Corrections records show Eby was sent to prison in early 2006 for a Will County sexual assault committed the year before. According to court records, Eby forced a relative to have sex with him while her husband was asleep in a separate room.

Eby has been in and out of prison since 1988 on three separate burglary charges and a forgery charge.

When he was released from prison in July 2003, the Department of Corrections obtained a full DNA sample and sent it to the Illinois State Police crime lab to be uploaded into the national criminal DNA database.

Riley was killed the next year, and a partial sample of a suspect's DNA was obtained during her autopsy. Because only full samples are entered into the national database, the sample from the Riley case was not included. So there was no way investigators could have used the database to match Eby to the crime at that time.

Eby later landed on the sex offender registry because of the 2005 assault.

Glasgow said the FBI got heavily involved in the Riley case about a year ago. He said about 30 agents conducted interviews and collected new information: "They had the resources available, and we jumped at it."

Once the FBI identified Eby as a suspect, a fresh DNA sample was used to match him to the partial DNA sample that was found during Riley's autopsy, according to Fox family attorney Kathleen Zellner.

Zellner said Riley's parents were briefed Thursday by Will County sheriff's detectives and FBI agents, who shared a number of details with the family:

•Eby was living with his mother at the time of Riley's slaying, about a mile away from the Fox family's home.

•On the night of the murder, Eby also allegedly broke into the house next door to the Foxes, cutting the screen on the front door.

•Eby is believed to have entered the Foxes' house through a back door, which was open because the lock was broken.

Zellner said the family was saddened to relive the crime, but relieved to know it might be solved.

"Obviously, it's heartbreaking to hear the details, but they're so glad he's been caught," she said. "I think it completely vindicates Kevin Fox. It's obviously hugely important for Kevin because a lot of people still think he did it."

Kevin Fox was cleared of the charges when a DNA test excluded him from the assault and killing. A federal jury awarded Fox and his wife, Melissa, $15.5 million for false arrest and malicious prosecution in December 2007, the largest award ever given in Illinois for a civil rights case alleging wrongful arrest.

Last month, an appeals court agreed with the jury's finding, but reduced the award — which previously had been shaved to $12.2 million — to $8 million.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals chastised the investigators on the case, implying that their decision to quickly rule out the girl's death as the work of a sexual predator was "absurd." The court also found that detectives lacked probable cause to arrest Fox, given the "exceedingly weak evidence" they had assembled.

Fox gave police a videotaped confession at the end of a 14-hour overnight interrogation. He later said the confession was coerced. The videotape was not shown during the civil trial.

Sheriff Paul Kaupas, whose department brought the original case against Kevin Fox, recently underwent a medical procedure and was unavailable for comment Thursday. Kaupas' spokesman, Pat Barry, issued an apology on the sheriff's behalf.

"He is issuing his apology to Kevin Fox and the Fox family," Barry said. "He is grateful that the person who did this has been brought in. Justice is going to be served."

In Wilmington, the small blue house Eby lived in with his mother at the time of the murder is now vacant. Neighbors say the family hasn't lived there in more than four years.

Bonnie Mills said she remembers Eby as a child and described him as troubled. Once, she said, he sat on his rooftop for hours threatening to jump.

"He worried me," Mills said. "He was not someone I was comfortable with at all."

When Mills heard about the charges she started giving praise aloud.

"Thank God," she said, patting her heart. "There are a
ll these little kids here and her killer was still running around. If you couldn't find your kids for two minutes, you'd panic."

News of the arrest quickly spread through the town south of Joliet.

At the Wilmington Police Department, officers gathered around a television waiting to hear the news. Though some had past contact with Eby, they were still surprised that he was charged, said Police Chief Darin Plotts.

"This case has plagued our community for six years. For it to finally come to an end is good, not only for the family, but for our town. We're pretty close-knit here," Plotts said.

Tribune reporters Lolly Bowean, Megan Twohey, Liam Ford and Rex W. Huppke and freelance reporter Alicia Fabbre contributed to this report.

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