The Fox family of Illinois finally has some closure after an imprisoned sex offender was charged with the 2004 murder of 3-year-old Riley Fox, a crime that Riley's father originally confessed to committing.
"It's been a terrible ordeal for the family because even with DNA clearing Kevin in 2005, many people persisted in the belief that he was guilty," Kathleen Zellner, the Fox family's attorney, said. "So this is a tremendous relief."
Scott Eby, 38, was charged on five counts of first-degree murder and one count of predatory sexual assault Thursday in the long-unsolved murder.
Eby was sent to prison for a separate 2005 charge of criminal sexual assault, according to the Illinois sex offender registry, and has an extensive criminal history, including forgery and a string of burglaries. He has been in and out of prison since 1988.
"Apparently, [the police] received a tip that led them to go to the prison where he is currently incarcerated," Zellner said. "They spoke to him, they got a DNA sample, the state lab cooperated in quickly getting the test result. They returned to the prison within 24 hours and they were able to get a statement from him confessing to the crime."
The dramatic announcement brought an end to a six-year nightmare involving the sexual assault and drowning of the girl who was found face down in a creek in the Forsythe Woods, about 2 miles from the Fox residence in Wilmington, Ill.
"I have never dealt with a case this heart-wrenching," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said at a news conference. "While nothing can bring back Riley Fox, we hope that the events that led to today can bring some closure to the family."
After Riley's murder, the police zeroed in on Kevin Fox. Zellner said they were so focused on her client that they did not look at anyone else, including Eby, who was on parole and living a mile away when Riley was killed.
But after a 14 hour interrogation, Kevin Fox confessed to the crime.
"What happened in this case, I think, shows is that you can have a mentally healthy normal person who really, really loved his daughter and you can so traumatize them, threaten them, abuse them, lock them in a room, show them pictures of their deceased daughter in rigor mortis, that anyone in this situation would have given a statement to get out of that room," Zellner said.
The police also questioned then 6-year-old Tyler Fox, Riley's older brother. He was asked 168 times about his father and sister. A video tape of the questioning shows the boy crying and asking for his mom and dad.
"It's just unbelievable what they did to this little boy who has been traumatized by the death of his sister," Zellner said. "Even six years later I get angry hearing his voice because I think it is unbelievable the level that these detectives stooped to to try to close the case. Who would do that to a little child like that who has already been traumatized?"
Fox spent eight months in prison before he was released and ultimately cleared through DNA evidence. The family sued the state and won $15 million, which was later reduced to $8.5 million.
The family released a statement to ABC News that said, "We want to express our gratitude to all of you who stood by us. … When others doubted us or said cruel things, you never wavered."