Weather Updates

Ealy found guilty in Burger King strangulation case

Ken Hutchistalks about guilty first degree murder verdict during press conference lobby Lake County Courthouse Waukegan with Richard Dean (left)

Ken Hutchison talks about the guilty of first degree murder verdict during a press conference in the lobby of the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan with Richard Dean (left), Richard Nothnagel and Rebeccah Hutchison. James Ealy, 48, of Lake Villa was found guilty in the strangulation of Mary Hutchison, the wife of Ken, during a robbery at the Burger King in Lindenhurst on November 27, 2006. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 49742754
tmspicid: 18553450
fileheaderid: 8339611
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: June 26, 2013 6:12AM

After years of waiting, Mary Hutchison’s relatives had to endure two final painful pauses Friday before James Ealy was convicted of strangling her in 2006.

A Lake County jury announced it had reached a verdict after barely three hours of deliberations, but jurors hadn’t completed all the paperwork, forcing them to leave the courtroom for another 15 minutes.

When they returned, Ealy was found not guilty of one count of murder — alleging that her death was not intentional. Hutchison’s husband then dropped his face into his hands while other relatives cried.

But the 48-year-old Ealy quickly was convicted of another murder count — prompting sighs of relief from Hutchison’s relatives.

“In the end, we knew what we wanted and we got what we wanted,” said her daughter, Rebeccah Hutchison, 19.

The guilty verdict means Ealy — who previously had been convicted of a 1982 quadruple murder in Chicago — faces a possible life sentence for Hutchison’s slaying.

“I hope he rots in prison,” her husband, Ken Hutchison said of Ealy, adding: “we waited a long time for this.”

He said he never lost hope — even after the first verdict was announced — that Ealy would be held responsible for his wife’s murder.

“They told us there’s always that chance of not guilty. In my heart, I didn’t believe it,” Ken Hutchison said.

But he said even a life sentence isn’t a harsh enough penalty for Ealy, who strangled Mary Hutchison with the bow tie of her uniform during a robbery in the Lindenhurst Burger King where she worked.

The Nov. 27, 2006 robbery netted Ealy $1,701, prosecutors said.

Ken Hutchison chastised former Gov. George Ryan for halting executions in Illinois and state legislators for abolishing the death penalty — a sentence he said is the only appropriate one for Ealy.

“Closure for us is the death penalty,” Hutchison said, adding: “I read my Bible and I truly believe an eye for an eye, an arm for an arm, a life for a life.”

Ealy, whom prosecutors said targeted the Burger King because he had worked there and knew Mary Hutchison, sat calmly as he was convicted of her slaying.

“We’re very pleased with the jury’s verdict,” said Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim.

Prosecutors relied largely on circumstantial evidence to convict Ealy, including cell phone records showing he called the restaurant around the time of Hutchison’s murder. Police also found $110 in dimes and quarters in his apartment — the exact amount of change records show was stolen from the restaurant.

It’s the second time the Ealy has been found guilty of murder, though jurors weren’t told about his earlier convictions for the 1982 slayings in Chicago’s Rockwell Gardens housing complex.

In that earlier case, Ealy was found guilty of strangling four people, including his teenage girlfriend, her 3-year-old son and her pregnant mother.

Those convictions were overturned on appeal in 1986 in a ruling that barred so much evidence prosecutors were unable to retry him for the slayings.

Hutchison’s family lamented that she was killed by someone who previously had been convicted of other murders.

“How sad it is that the law allowed him to get out of prison after he murdered other people,” said her father, Richard Dean. “This never should have happened because the law system failed then. Now they finally got him, but it’s way too late for Mary.”

No guilty verdicts or sentence will end his sense of loss, Dean said.

“As far as closure, that will come when I die,” Dean said.

Prosecutors said they may attempt to offer evidence of his earlier convictions when Ealy is sentenced later this year for Hutchison’s murder.

He faces a minimum 20-year prison term.

Hutchison’s family said they are comforted by their faith as they still struggle to cope with her loss.

“I know all of us will see Mary again,” Ken Hutchison said. “The chain might be broken, but it will link together again in heaven.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.