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Marni Yang sentenced to life for murder of Shaun Gayle’s girlfriend

Rhoni Reuter (left) Marni Yang

Rhoni Reuter (left) and Marni Yang

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Updated: April 30, 2012 9:29AM

Marni Yang will spend the rest of her life behind bars for the 2007 jealousy-fueled slaying of Rhoni Reuter, the pregnant girlfriend of ex-Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle.

The 43-year-old Yang was sentenced Friday to life in prison for the methodically planned, ambush-style shooting that authorities said was prompted by her obsession with the former Bears’ star — a business associate and sometime sex partner.

Lake County Judge Christopher Stride told Yang her crime was exceptional because of the way she carefully plotted and then carried out the vicious attack that killed Reuter and her unborn daughter.

“What makes it different, Miss Yang, is the methodical, meticulous and maniacal manner in which you committed this crime,” Stride said as he imposed the maximum prison term.

He added: “As a result, two people are lost forever.”

Yang, wearing blue jail fatigues, her long graying hair hanging loose down her back, showed no reaction.

The 42-year-old Reuter was nearly seven months pregnant with Gayle’s daughter on Oct. 4, 2007, when she was shot to death as she opened the door of her Deerfield condominium to go to work. Six bullets struck Reuter. Two of those bullets also struck the unborn baby Reuter already had named Skylar Reyne.

Yang was convicted in March of first-degree murder and the intentional homicide of an unborn child, though she is appealing those convictions.

She didn’t speak during her sentencing hearing, but defense attorney William Hedrick read a three-sentence statement on her behalf in which she offered a vague apology to Reuter’s family.

“I would like to express my sorrow to the family,” Yang said in her statement. “This is a tragic thing for any family to experience. I am truly sorry for their loss.”

Yang wasn’t charged with the killings until March 2009, after she was caught on two police wiretaps talking about the shooting to her friend Christi Paschen as the women ate at a northwest suburban Denny’s.

“I took one last shot in the head — finished her off,” Yang said near the end of a March 2, 2009, recording played for jurors during her trial.

Though Reuter and Gayle had been dating for more than 17 years, Gayle testified that he also had a sporadic sexual relationship with Yang since 2005 and had sex with her in his Chicago home the night before she killed Reuter.

The former Bears’ star, who played on the 1985 team that won the Super Bowl, wasn’t in the courtroom Friday.

He had planned to offer a victim impact statement, but his attorney said he chose not to after defense attorneys filed a motion challenging his paternity of the unborn child--based on statements Gayle purportedly made to police after the slayings.

Following the sentencing, Gayle’s attorney Donna Rotunno called the defense tactic “a low blow” and ridiculed any claim that Gayle wasn’t the father of Reuter’s unborn child,

She also released Gayle’s statement, in which he ripped Yang as “an evil, sick, deplorable woman.”

“How could you shoot a woman seven months pregnant who had never harmed you? I will just continue to tell myself that you are an evil, sick, deplorable woman who committed cold and calculated actions,” Gayle said in his statement. “You do not deserve to ever see the light of day. You deserve to spend the rest of your life in a cage, like the animal you are.”

He called meeting Yang his “biggest mistake.”

“When you stood in Rhoni’s doorway and executed her and killed our daughter, you took my life, too,” Gayle wrote.

Reuter’s two brothers, her mother, father and other relatives were present for the sentencing. So were two members of the jury that deliberated for barely four hours on March 15 before convicting Yang.

During the sentencing, Reuter’s younger brother recalled how devastated her family was when they learned of the slayings, which came as relatives were preparing for the birth of her child.

“Instead of planning a celebration of bringing a new life into the world, we were planning a double funeral,” Thad Reuter said in court.

Her family is still grappling with the violent, unexpected deaths, he said, noting his niece would now be three years old.

“It’s just not fair. We should have had so many more years and memories together,” said Reuter, who with other family members declined to comment on the sentence as they left the courtroom.

During the trial, prosecutors Patricia Fix and Ari Fisz presented evidence showing how the Chicago woman began planning the killing months earlier after learning that Reuter--whom she viewed as a romantic rival--was pregnant with Gayle’s child.

Yang ordered two books detailing how to build a handgun silencer. Then, on the day the books arrived, testimony showed she bought the parts needed to make the device at a local home improvement store.

She did Internet searches to find where Reuter lived, then rented a car to travel there on the day of the killing, donned a wig, dark hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses as a disguise, then waited in the hallway outside Reuter’s condo.

Yang opened fire as Reuter opened her kitchen door just before 8 a.m. to leave for work, prosecutors said during her trial. As Reuter fell back into her condo, Yang stepped inside and continued shooting, authorities said. She told Paschen she later stuck the handgun in a bucket of cement and tossed it in a dumpster.

“This case is as cold and calculated and premeditated as they come,” Fix said as prosecutors asked for a life sentence.

She and Fisz were “thrilled” that Yang will spend the rest of her life in prison.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Learner asked for the minimum 45-year prison term for Yang, a divorced mother of three who had never been arrested before being charged with the shootings.

“This is not the resume of a woman who is a career criminal or a danger to society,” Learner said.

Investigators began focusing on Yang within days of the killing, after receiving a tip that she had been involved with Gayle.

The investigation was complicated by the fact that Gayle initially named another woman he had dated and been harassed by as a possible suspect in Reuter’s killing.

Yang was questioned by police for more than two days in January 2008, but she repeatedly denied being involved in the killing and ultimately was released without being charged.

The break in the case came in early 2009, when investigators persuaded Paschen, to secretly wear a recording device during two meetings she had with Yang at a Denny’s in Arlington Heights.

As the women talked in the noisy restaurant, Yang recounted details of the shooting, including describing how she saw an ultrasound image of Reuter’s unborn daughter hanging on the refrigerator and baby clothes piled nearby on the dining room table.

Yang also told Paschen she grabbed a bracelet bearing the inscription “pregnant” off Reuter’s kitchen counter.

Paschen later led investigators to an Arlington Heights parking lot and pointed out a nearby grassy area where she said Yang had buried an item the night of the killing.

Investigators dug up the area and unearthed the bracelet, which was identified as Reuter’s by a co-worker.

The most compelling evidence, though, might well have been Yang’s own whispered descriptions of the shooting that she gave to Paschen during their dinner discussions. .

“She started screaming. I took the first shot,” Yang said on the recording, recalling how she became emotional as she pumped bullets into Reuter.

“I remember screaming — ’cause, at that point, we are now at the point of no return. We gotta finish this now,” Yang told Paschen. “And I just started emptying the clip.”

Beth Kramer is a reporter with News-Sun

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