DECATUR - Larry and Donna Hearn waited nearly six years for this day.
Friday afternoon, when a Macon County jury found the three people charged with murdering their daughter guilty , they held each other and cried. Larry Hearn said the verdict would start the healing process.
"We've been fighting this thing for five and a half years," Hearn said. "Everyone is delighted."
That fight began Sept. 27, 1996, when Karyn Hearn Slover disappeared shortly after she left her job as an advertising sales representative at the Herald & Review. Parts of her dismembered body began to surface, wrapped in garbage bags, two days later in Lake Shelbyville. She had been shot seven times in the head.
The Hearns weren't alone in their happiness at the verdict. They were joined by police officers and prosecutors who have put years of work into the case.
Across the courtroom, defendants Michael Slover Jr. and his parents, Michael Slover Sr. and Jeannette Slover, looked visibly shaken. At 4:45 p.m., after more than 11 hours of deliberation by a jury, Presiding Judge John K. Greanias read the verdict. The three defendants were found guilty of first-degree murder, and Slover Sr. and Slover Jr. also were found guilty of concealment of a homicide.
Jeannette Slover, 54, Slover Sr., 55, and Slover Jr., 31, have been jailed since their January 2000 arrest.
Michael Slover Jr., who displayed little visible emotion throughout the trial, had tears in his eyes after the verdict was read. The defendants comforted each other, and their attorneys said they plan to appeal the verdict.
More than a dozen plainclothes and uniformed sheriff's department officers stood watch in Greanias' third-floor courtroom when the verdict came back. The courtroom was so packed that several people stood against the back wall.
Although Greanias had warned those in the courtroom not to comment on the verdict, there were audible gasps as it was read. When it was over, emotions flowed freely. Prosecutors and investigators, many of whom put thousands of hours of work into the case, hugged their spouses. Some had tears in their eyes.
"God was with us," said Macon County First Assistant State's Attorney Jack Ahola. Ahola, Richard Current and Jay Scott prosecuted the case.
Michael Mannix, the lead investigator on the case and who is now retired from the Illinois State Police, said he was encouraged by a question jurors asked early Friday afternoon. They wanted a clarification on what is needed to prove first-degree murder.
"Justice does work," Mannix said.
As the Slover defendants were led out of the courtroom and back to the jail, an onlooker yelled "Toodles." Others clapped.
While there was joy, 8-year-old Kolten Slover was not far from Larry Hearn's mind. Prosecutors said the defendants killed Karyn Slover to prevent her from taking an out-of-state modeling job and leaving town with her and Slover Jr.'s son. Kolten now lives in Missouri with his aunt, Mary Slover, who adopted the boy eight months before her brother and parents were indicted.
Slover Jr. also faces perjury charges for allegedly making false statements during a court case involving visitation of his son with his maternal grandparents. Greanias agreed to delay trial on those charges until after a verdict was reached in the murder case.
Larry Hearn said he does not know how or if the verdict will affect the boy's custody.
"I think it's going to be tough for him, but he's a pretty strong little boy," Hearn said.
The Hearns plan to say more at a news conference Monday.
A sentencing hearing for the Slovers is set for June 28. Post-trial motions also will be considered then.
State's Attorney Scott Rueter said he has not considered what length of prison term his office will seek. His office had previously decided not to seek the death penalty.
First-degree murder carries a term of 20 to 60 years, but it can be extended because of special circumstances.
"I haven't thought about an extended term," Rueter said. "Once we got past the decision not to go for the death penalty, we've concentrated on the prosecution. Realistically, it will probably be in the 20- to 60-year range, but we'll have to review it before we decide."
Rueter praised the prosecutors and their support staff.
"As with any case, emotion runs high," Rueter said. "This case has gone on for some time. I'm pleased the jury considered the evidence the way it did."
On the other side, there was disappointment.
"Round No. 1 is over with an unfortunate result," said Michael Costello, who represents Jeannette Slover. "An appeal will be taken, and Jeannette Slover will be vindicated."
Joseph Vigneri, who represents Michael Slover Jr., said his client was "understandably upset".
"This is not the last step along the way," Vigneri said. "They have other options."
The one thing everyone involved could agree on was that the case has taken an emotional toll.
Vigneri and Brad Rau, who represents Slover Sr., agreed the case was a difficult one for the attorneys involved.
"It's been tough on the home life," Rau said. "My wife thinks she's a single mother at this point."
Ahola called the case "exhausting."
Mannix said the hardest part of the investigation was waiting for a verdict to come back. He worked solely on the case from July 1997 to his retirement in August 2001.
"It's been a long haul for all of us, but we never gave up," he said.
Originally published May 18, 2002