William Curl, the man charged with the killing of Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette "Toni" Keller, could face the death penalty, a judge said today at Curl's first court appearance.
Curl, 34, of DeKalb, Ill., was ordered held on $5 million bail on charges of first-degree murder, criminal sexual assault and arson. A public defender has been appointed for Curl.
Keller, an 18-year-old art student, went missing on Oct. 14 after setting off alone into Prairie Park around noon. The young woman was last seen at her residence hall, when she told fellow students she was going to the popular park to get ideas for an art project.
Two days later, burned human remains were found in the park. Prosecutors said in court today that police found Keller's burned clothing and her cell phone near the remains.
Curl, who police said was known to frequent the park, was taken into custody Tuesday in Covington, La., on charges of obstruction of justice and unlawful possession of a motor vehicle. On Friday, he was extradited to Illinois.
"This was a gruesome murder and we believe this was a crime of opportunity," DeKalb Police Department Chief Bill Feithen said. "They were in a secluded area and we know that she had walked to the park and he was in the park and found her."
Sources close to the investigation told ABC Chicago station WLS-TV that Curl came to the attention of the DeKalb police when he called them about a fire in the woods at Prairie Park, where Keller told friends she was going to work on an art project.
Police said they believe Curl took his mother's car and went to Mexico, but he was arrested in Louisiana after he returned. Marshals took him into custody Tuesday at a hotel.
He was being held today at the DeKalb County Jail.
Police said that because they are still building their case against Curl, they are asking anyone with any information about him or the case to call.
"It's shocking just to start with seeing a face. And you just kind of look at that face and you're just trying to reconcile the whole thing and fight the flood of emotions all over the map that come at you," Mary Tarling, Keller's cousin and the family's spokesperson, told WLS.
Police said last week that the human remains found Oct. 16 in the search for Keller were so badly burned that an autopsy would not be possible and more testing would be needed to identify them.
Keller, originally from Plainfield, Ill., is a freshman at NIU and though she had only been on campus for a couple of months, word of her disappearance sent shock waves through the school.
"This is the first time this has happened. It is frightening," her friend Sydney LaPorte said.