YORKVILLE – The verdict for an Aurora man charged in connection with the 2018 hit-and-run death of an Oswego High School softball coach is less than 24 hours away.
Kendall County States Attorney Eric Weis, First Assistant State's Attorney Mark Shlifka and legal counsel for Nehemiah Williams, 39, of Aurora made their closing arguments on the case related to the death of Amanda Stanton of Lockport on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the Kendall County courthouse.
Shlifka said Williams failed to report an accident that resulted in Stanton's death within a half hour of the incident and that there was no way he could have possibly not known he hit somebody after looking at case evidence. Not only that, he said, but Williams was reckless in not wearing eye glasses or contact lenses when his driver's license restriction requires him to wear them at night for the safety of himself and others.
"This man should not ever get behind the wheel of a car at night without corrective lenses," Shlifka said. "It's that simple, because we know exactly what the harm is going to be."
Shlifka said he is requesting Williams to be found guilty of failing to report an accident involving a death and reckless homicide, which are Class 1 and 3 felonies respectively.
Dawn Projansky, Williams's lawyer, said Williams's glasses and contacts prescription is relatively mild compared to others and that another witness who testified earlier in the trial said she only saw Stanton walking down the road earlier that night after seeing the car in front of her slightly swerving away from the edge of the road.
Even if Williams suspected that he hit Stanton and got out of the car before reaching the house, Projansky said, her body was so hidden that the groundskeeper that found her body didn't see her until he passed her a third time during daylight hours. She said she believes the state hasn't proved that Williams knew he hit a person as opposed to something else near the roadway.
"We believe it's speculative," Projansky said. "No evidence was brought into court that supports that he had the knowledge for leaving the scene or that his acts [should be classified as] recklessness. Therefore, Mr. Nehemiah Williams should be found not guilty of both charges."
Projansky said Williams never wavered on his claim that he checked the car he was driving at the time for damage at the house that belonged to the mother of Zephaniah Cummings, a few miles away from the accident scene. Cummings is the mother of one of Williams's children. Prosecutors said that police interview footage shows Williams previously saying that he stopped the car before getting to the house.
Prosecutors said one theory of what may have happened included Williams getting out of the car soon after hitting and killing Stanton, seeing her off-white purse stuck in the car damage, taking it out and throwing it away from the car before continuing to Cummings's mother's house. Projansky said court evidence shows the purse and Stanton's body were found several hundred feet apart and on separate sides of the road, with the purse being on the same side as the wedding venue Stanton left earlier that night, and that Williams' DNA was not found on the purse.
Prosecutors said Stanton's DNA wasn't even found on the purse possibly due to prolonged exposure to the elements, which might not have been an issue if Williams immediately reported the accident.
Following the closing arguments, Kendall County Chief Judge Robert Pilmer said he would take the case under advisement and will issue a verdict 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15 at the courthouse, 807 W. John St.
Closing arguments for the case came after witness testimony for the case continued at 9 a.m. Tuesday with a viewing of the interview between Williams and Kendall County Sheriff's Det. Bryan Harl, along with further witness testimony from Harl.
Stanton, who was 26 years old when she died, was allegedly struck by Williams – who was driving a silver Chrysler Pacifica that belonged to his girlfriend – at about 11 p.m. on June 23, 2018 or midnight on June 24, 2018, according to prosecutors. Stanton's body was found at the base of a tree several feet from the side of the road the following afternoon by a groundskeeper.
According to prosecutors, police found the vehicle – which had damage including the passenger side of the windshield being shattered, the front bumper hanging off from the same side and a missing headlight from the same side – three days later in the driveway of a mechanic, who did not testify during the trial. Prosecutors allege that Williams wanted to get the vehicle quickly repaired, before the damage and crime could be uncovered.
Williams initially fabricated a story about going to see another woman named Stephanie for a sexual affair, according to interview video footage shown in court on Tuesday.
Dr. Rob Brenart, an optometrist and the son of Dr. Robert Brenart of Brenart Eye Clinic, also presented his professional opinion as a witness for prosecutors. He analyzed Williams' eyeglasses and contacts prescription information during his witness testimony on Tuesday.
Brenart said during his witness testimony on Tuesday that Williams is not his patient. After looking at Williams's prescription information on the stand, Brenart said Williams has 20/70 vision, meaning a person with that vision can see details from only 20 feet away when a person with perfect, or 20/20, vision can see those details from 70 feet away.
Brenart said Illinois law requires drivers with an eyeglass or contact prescription worse than 20/40 to wear corrective lenses while driving at night. He said drivers with a prescription worse than 20/70 must wear corrective lenses while driving during the day.
Dr. Kristin Escobar Alvarenga, an assistant medical examiner for the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, also testified in court on Tuesday as an expert witness and as the forensic pathologist who performed Stanton's forensic autopsy on June 25, 2018. She said the results of the autopsy included multiple skull fractures, a broken pelvis, a broken femur and her head detaching from her spine internally – all of which pointing to her cause of death being hit by a car.
"The death was immediate," Escobar Alvarenga said.
Julie Heidank, an Oswego resident who found the silver vehicle with front end damage parked off of Fifth Avenue in Aurora while driving home from work days after the incident, also testified as a witness in court on Tuesday. Other witnesses that testified on Tuesday included then-detectives from the Kendall County Sheriff's Office that spoke with Cummings after the incident occurred.
Williams did not testify during the trial and willingly waived his rights to do so.
The update comes after the trial began 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 13, which included opening arguments from Williams' counsel and prosecutors.