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LINCOLN — Outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner reduced the 75-year prison sentence of a man who confessed as a 14-year-old in 1995 to fatally shooting his maternal grandparents with whom he lived in Lincoln.

Jon Morgan, who was tried as an adult, was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to 58 years in prison for the first-degree murder of Lila Cearlock, 59, and an additional 17 years for the second-degree murder of her 61-year-old husband, Keith.

Morgan allegedly killed them because of a dispute over a school detention, but he said during his trial that he was emotionally and physically abused during much of the decade he had lived with the Cearlocks.

Judge Gerald Dehner ruled at the time that the terms would be served consecutively, but Rauner’s decision before he left office Monday means the terms instead will run concurrently, which would significantly reduce the total sentence.

Jon Morgan sentencing hearing

In this Nov. 26, 1996, file photo, Logan County sheriff's deputies escort Jon Morgan into the Logan County Courthouse in Lincoln for his sentencing hearing. The teenager was sentenced to a total of 75 years in prison in the shooting deaths of his maternal grandparents, Keith and Lila Cearlock. Gov. Bruce Rauner reduced his sentence on Monday, Jan. 14, before leaving office.

The case was tried before the state’s truth-in-sentencing law took effect, meaning he remains eligible for day-for-day credit for good behavior to reduce his time behind bars. If sentenced today, he would have to serve 85 percent of the sentence.

The Illinois Department of Corrections website still said Monday that Morgan, who is serving his time at Shawnee Correctional Center, would be eligible for parole in September 2032. That date reflects the consecutive sentences before Rauner's change.

On the evening of April 27, 1995, police responded to a report of gunfire at Seventh and Washington streets in Lincoln.

They found Lila Cearlock lying face down in the front yard with a gunshot wound to her back. Inside, they found her husband, Keith, with a gunshot wound in his left temple.

Both later died from their injuries.

According to court documents, a police officer noticed Morgan walking across the grass and through the crime scene tape used to cordon off the crime scene. He approached the officer, handed him a gun and a box of bullets and said: “I did it. I killed them.”

Later, when he was asked why he did it, he told officers: “They pissed me off. I couldn’t take it anymore so I shot them.”

The argument was over a school detention, according to court testimony.

The case was prosecuted by William Workman, now an associate judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit. Efforts to reach Workman Monday were not successful.

Prior to his sentencing, Morgan apologized to his family for killing the Cearlocks.

“I’m very sorry for what I did,” he said. “I hurt my Uncle Doug (the slain couple’s son) and his family. I hurt myself and my family. … And I want to apologize for the people I’ve hurt.”

Morgan, now 38, has appealed unsuccessfully a number of times to have his sentence reduced.

In 2001, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the convictions and sentence. It reversed an appellate-court ruling that Morgan should get a new trial for the killing of his grandmother because the trial judge had excluded testimony from Morgan’s mother.

The appellate court had upheld his second-degree murder conviction for the slaying of his grandfather.

A Logan County judge denied another request for a new trial in 2005.

The case remains one of Logan County's most notorious.


2018 mug shots from the Herald & Review

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Contact Kevin Barlow at (309) 820-3238. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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Agriculture Reporter

Agriculture reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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