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5/6/2013 2:31:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Trial ends with first-degree murder verdict
LAWRENCEVILLE - A Lawrence County Circuit Court jury deliberated well into the evening Friday night before finding Tyler R. McQueen guilty of first degree murder in the March 2012 slaying of 78-year-old Robert V. Westall.

The jury, comprising of 10 women and two men, deliberated for about four hours and 10 minutes before reading its verdict to the court at 8:07 p.m. Friday.

McQueen, arrested by Illinois State Police more than 13 months ago, less than a week after committing the crime, appeared completely composed when the jury foreman read the verdict. McQueen also showed no emotion when the jury was polled by presiding judge Robert Hopkins.

"I think justice was served today. We are very happy with the outcome," said Lawrence County State's Attorney Chris Quick. "The state appellate prosecutor's office, led by Mike Vujovich, has been a special assistant here to the office of State's Attorney and he has done an absolutely fantastic job. We worked together very well. I think both my office and the state appellate prosecutor's office is very happy."

The final day of the five-day trial began with three hours of the attorneys in the case and Hopkins reportedly debating instructions for the jury in the judge's chambers.

Vujovich, special state prosecutor assigned to assist Quick in the case, presented his closing arguments shortly after 1 p.m., reviewing the testimony of most of the 17 witnesses the state called to the stand to make its case. During the almost 50-minute presentation, Vujovich held up dozens of crime scene and autopsy photos to the jury.

Defense attorney Matthew Vaughn, assigned to defend the case in October, after McQueen's original attorneys, George Woodcock and William Hudson withdrew from the case, took 58 minutes to present is closing statements.

Following a 10-minute rebuttal to Vaughn's closing by Vujovich, the jury was given its instructions.

Hopkins told the jury they could return one of three verdicts - not guilty, guilty of first-degree murder or guilty of second degree murder. The judge said a second degree murder verdict could be handed down if the jury felt there was mitigating factors present in the case.

The jury was sent to a sealed jury room at 3:42 p.m. At about 7:54 p.m., court officials indicated a verdict had been reached.

After gathering the attorneys, court reporter and others involved in the case, the jury was finally allowed to leave its jury room and was seated.

More than a dozen friends and family members of the McQueen family were present to hear the jury's decision. Members of the Westall family were also present.

Court security was tight with a half-dozen Lawrence County Sheriff's Department and Lawrenceville Police Department officers in the room. Others were stationed just outside the main second-floor courtroom. Two emergency medical technicians were also in the courtroom.

Following the verdict, Hopkins said the jury back into its double-doored room while the issue of the  "brutal and heinous" enhancement  factor of the case was discussed.

McQueen waived his right to have the jury determine the  "brutal and heinous" factor, choosing instead to have Hopkins make that determination.

"At this point, we will be set for a hearing on June 28 and that hearing will determine whether the crime itself is considered heinous and brutal. That's an enhancing factor which carries with it an additional time in prison," Quick said.

As pleased with the verdict at prosecution attorneys Quick and Vujovich were, defensive attorney Matthew Vaughn was understandably unhappy with the outcome and said he will appeal the decision on behalf of McQueen.

"I'm very disappointed in the verdict. We thought we presented a case for murder in the second degree," Vaughn said. We thought the facts supported that. Probably the graphic nature of the charge conduct worked against the defendant in this case. 

"This is an emotional thing for jurors, I'm looking over in the jury box at the time of the polling, I see folks on the edge of tears, I see folks who are struggling, I see folks who are trying to do their duty. It's not an easy business."

Vaughn said he worked hard to get a fair trial, but that ultimately he feels there are some issues for appeal.

"We do plan on filing an appeal. We do plan on planning a motion for a new trial where those issues for appeal will be set out. Some of those issues relate to some of the murder in the second degree jury instructions," Vaughn explained. "Of course the issue you probably witnessed during closing argument, where the prosecutor made a reference to my client with a name, and there are also some other issues in terms of some restrictions that were placed on me in terms of what I could or couldn't say in closing argument."

A sentencing hearing was also scheduled for 10 a.m. June 28 in Lawrence County Circuit Court.

(for highlights of Friday's closing arguments, see Daily Record print edition)


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