Curl motions to withdraw guilty plea in murder of NIU student

The attorney for William Curl, Tom McCulloch, spoke to reporters Tuesday following Curl’s agreement to plead guilty for murdering NIU student Toni Keller. Curl will serve 37 years in prison, with credit for 889 days, as part of the deal.

By Jessi Haish

William “Billy” Curl has motioned to withdraw his guilty plea in the murder of NIU student Toni Keller.

The four-page, handwritten motion states the plea should be withdrawn because “the prosecutor had threatened to go after Mr. Curl’s family if he did not plea,” he was unable “to understand or consider the repercussions” of his plea and he “suffers from severe mental deficiencies,” among other things.

Curl entered his Alford plea in April and received 37 years for the murder of Keller, who was a freshman. An Alford plea allows Curl to maintain his innocence while acknowledging prosecutors could likely prove a charge against him.

Curl’s motion was filed July 22, which is after the 30-day deadline. The motion states Curl was not aware that he could appeal the guilty plea until “some legally astute prisoners” at Menard Correctional Center in Menard helped him pen the document. It also says Curl did not have access to a law library, phone, writing or postage materials, and was unable to contact anyone for a period of time.

Curl’s plea provoked some controversy in the community: April 8, protestors gathered outside the DeKalb County Courthouse to speak out against the deal.

“If you plead guilty to murder you should serve more than 37 years,” said Thelma Holderness, a spokesperson for the Keller family, in an April 8 Northern Star article. “And you should not be allowed to say you’re innocent.”

Keller was reported missing in October 2010. Burned human remains were found in the park on Oct. 16, but it was not until Jan. 6 DNA testing confirmed the remains were Keller’s. In February 2011, Curl was indicted by a grand jury on five counts of first degree murder, one count of concealment of a homicidal death, one count of arson, and one count of criminal sexual assault.

He pleaded not guilty on Feb. 22, 2011, and guilty to one count of first degree murder as part of a plea bargain at the DeKalb County Courthouse April 3.