Weather Updates

Life sentence for man convicted of Burger King murder

Mary Hutchison's husbKen Hutchisfather Richard Dean sRichard after sentencing hearing James Ealy Lake County Courthouse. |  Jim Newton/Sun-Times Media

Mary Hutchison's husband, Ken Hutchison, father, Richard Dean and son, Richard, after the sentencing hearing of James Ealy at the Lake County Courthouse. | Jim Newton/Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 56183807
tmspicid: 20570917
fileheaderid: 9562375
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: November 11, 2013 12:15PM

The sentencing hearing Wednesday began with grisly pictures showing four members of a Chicago family strangled to death in their apartment in the summer of 1982. Prosecutors said James Ealy was responsible for that carnage, but it was a murder in Lake County that finally brought Ealy down.

Ealy, 49, of Lake Villa, was sentenced to natural life in prison for the strangulation murder of Mary Hutchison in the former Lindenhurst Burger King almost seven years ago.

Hutchison, a 45-year-old wife and mother of three from Trevor, Wis., was strangled by Ealy after opening the Burger King’s safe under his command as she was preparing to open the restaurant just after 4 a.m. Nov. 27, 2006.

A Lake County jury found Ealy guilty of first-degree murder in the case last May.

At the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Prosecutor Jeffrey Pavletic called Ealy a predator and a “sociopath” who lacked capacity for remorse, sympathy or a social conscience.

He referenced Ealy’s murder of Hutchison — his former boss at Burger King — and a previous conviction, later overturned due to improper procedures used by Chicago police, for strangling four members of a Chicago family, including a woman who was seven months pregnant and a 3-year-old boy who was also raped in the attack.

The appellate court noted that although the evidence was not properly obtained in that case, it was substantial enough to prove Ealy’s guilt, and prosecutors said that made it fair game for use in his sentencing hearing for the Lindenhurst murder.

Ealy used straps of clothing and other material to strangle the Parker family in Chicago, prosecutors said, and used the tie from Hutchison’s uniform to strangle her.

Pavletic told Lake County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Shanes that he believed the judge has never had a more “despicable” defendant before him, with a background including convictions for rape, sexual deviancy and unlawful restraint. He also admitted to being a former “chief” with the Gangster Disciples, Pavletic said.

“He does all his dirty work in the dark, like [killing] Mary Hutchison at 4 in the morning,” Pavletic said.

Members of Hutchison’s family, including her husband, father and son, tearfully testified before the judge about the devastation her loss has wrought upon their family.

Kenneth Hutchison, Mary’s husband, addressed the court and said he has lived his life based on the concept of forgiveness, but said he was struggling when it comes to Ealy.

“She was the joy of my life over 15 years,” he said. “I miss everything about her. Mary’s children only have memories of her up until she died. Ealy stole wonderful years.”

Hutchison thanked the justice system and the officers and prosecutors involved in the case.

“My family can finally have some closure to this nightmare and the murder of my wife, Mary,” he said.

Ealy, given a chance to speak before the judge imposed sentence, said he felt for the Hutchison family but emphatically denied he had committed the crime, saying he was “railroaded” by police who were “nothing but criminals with badges.”

“I’ve done some things in my life I’m not proud of, but I did not commit this crime, and I’m going to fight it to my last breath,” Ealy said.

Public defender Keith Grant outlined what he described as a terrible upbringing in one of Chicago’s worst housing projects as helping to determine Ealy’s life, which included being exposed to gangs, drugs and abuse at home. He submitted several letters of support for Ealy to the judge without reading them at the hearing, and noted that Ealy has spent more than 2,500 days in Lake County Jail without any fights or disciplinary problems.

“He is not a soulless monster,” Grant said. “The home where he was raised goes a long way to telling us how Mr. Ealy ended up in the chair to my right.”

Grant also contested the use of evidence from the 1982 murders in the sentencing hearing and said the defense will appeal the sentence.

© 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.