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Former Illinois Guards Sentenced for Prisoner’s Fatal Beating

by Benjamin Tschirhart

On March 16, 2023, Judge Sue Myerscough of the federal court for the Central District of Illinois sentenced former state prison guards Alex Banta, 31, and Todd Sheffler, 54, to 20 years in prison for the fatal beating of a handcuffed and helpless prisoner, Larry Earvin, at Western Illinois Correctional Center (WICC) in 2018.

A third co-defendant, former guard Willie Hedden, 44, cooperated in prosecution of the other two and received a shorter prison sentence of six years on March 22, 2023. All three were also ordered to serve five years of supervised release. Banta and Sheffler each must also pay a $500 special assessment. Hedden’s special assessment is $300. See: USA v. Sheffler, USDC (C.D.Ill.), Case No. 3:19-cr-30067.

“Forget what you learned at the academy. We do things differently here.” That’s what Banta recalled hearing on his first day of work at WICC in 2014, from Internal Affairs officers giving new recruits a lesson in reality. “Things will happen that you might need to ignore,” they reportedly continued. “If things happen with an inmate, aim for the body and not the face.”

Banta learned that lesson and put it into practice with Earvin, a 65-year-old schizophrenic serving a six-year prison sentence. His crime? Theft of merchandise under $300. Earvin was scheduled for release in September 2018. But before that could happen, he crossed paths with Banta, Sheffler and Hedden, following a reported confrontation between Earvin and some other guards – for which Earvin had already been pepper sprayed when  the three guards escorted him in handcuffs to an area not covered by surveillance cameras. There they beat him, slamming his head into a wall, punching, stomping and kicking him. Finally, while he was lying on the ground, Banta jumped into the air and landed with both knees on Earvin’s rib cage.

Earvin suffered rib fractures, hemorrhages and fatal blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen. He died from his injuries on June 26, 2018. The prison administration did not even notify Earvin’s family, burying his body in an unmarked grave. The guards filed separate reports, claiming that they delivered their victim to the security housing unit “without further incident.” When Illinois State Police investigated the incident, the three guards claimed no knowledge of the beating. Ultimately, all three guards were fired, but not before each received paid administrative leave worth a total of $132,000. A civil suit filed by Earvin’s family is proceeding in the same federal court where the three guards were convicted. [See: PLN, Oct. 2022, p.48.]

Additional sources: AP News, WLDS