One of Chicagoland’s great murder mysteries, the one surrounding the 2007 killing of Rhoni Reuter, the pregnant girlfriend of ex–Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle, may have new life. Marni Yang, another girlfriend of Gayle’s who is now in prison for killing Reuter and her unborn child, has filed a petition seeking to have her 2011 conviction overturned.
The 29-page petition, which can be read below, was filed yesterday with the Circuit Court of Lake County, Ill., and cites “police misconduct and careless investigatory procedures” as well as incompetence on the part of Yang’s original attorneys.
Reuter was found dead in a pool of blood in the kitchen of her home in Deerfield, Ill., a Chicago suburb. She was seven months pregnant. Coroners said Reuter had six bullet holes in her body, including two in her belly, which investigators alleged showed the killer had targeted the unborn baby for execution along with the mother.
The case against Yang was built after a couple years’ worth of leads went nowhere, and she was arrested in March 2009. Two years later a Lake County jury took just four hours to convict Yang, after a two-week trial. She was given two life sentences, with no possibility of parole.
Gayle was a star from the 1985 Chicago Bears, maybe the most beloved team in Chicago sports history. The safety, who played in Chicago from 1984 to 1994 and is best remembered for the shortest punt return for a touchdown in NFL history, had an alibi: He was on video getting a haircut in a barbershop the morning of the killing. Investigators also launched a fruitless search for a “black boy” that a neighbor of Reuter’s had reported seeing leaving the apartment complex in a hurry around the time the murder occurred.
According to trial testimony, Yang and Reuter were just two of 17 girlfriends Gayle had at the time of the murder. Testimony also held that Gayle and Yang had sex at his home mere hours before Reuter’s murder. The focus of the investigation changed when police looked into all the players in the lovers’ octadecagon, and while going through Yang’s trash found a receipt showing she had purchased a book called How To Make Disposable Silencers.
Yang’s alleged motive, according to prosecutors, was jealousy over the extra attention Reuter would have from Gayle if she had his child.
Prosecutors built their case around tapes of a conversation Yang had with a friend, Christi Paschen, at a Denny’s in 2009, more than a year after the murder, in which Yang gave a description of how she killed Reuter. Paschen was wearing a wire. Prosecutors also said Yang used guidance from How To Make Disposable Silencers to build a suppressor for a Beretta 92FS handgun she had also purchased, and used that modified handgun to kill her rival. The murder weapon was never found.
Yang’s new lawyer, Jed Stone of Waukegan, Ill., alleges that prosecutors intentionally misled jurors on nearly every major component of their case. Her petition alleges investigators were under pressure to solve the high-profile murder and focused exclusively on Yang after finding out about the book purchase. According to the law enforcement narrative, the person seen fleeing the scene that was at first described as a young black male was actually Yang, who is white and female and was almost 40 years old at the time of the murder, in makeup and a wig.
The petition alleges the police and prosecutors knew that Yang’s confession was bogus. Their tapes also showed that Yang had told her wired friend and her parents in surreptitiously recorded phone conversations that after months of denying the killing to police she had decided to tell investigators she did it, after being told that her son was about to be charged with the murder. In one phone conversation with Paschen, recorded by police, Paschen is railing about the pressure being put on her by police despite telling them everything she knows, and Yang tries to calm her by saying, “All right, we’ll start making shit up.”
The tapes also show that during the meal at Denny’s, Paschen excused herself and went to the bathroom to alert police that her wire had fallen out of her clothing and into plain view during the meal so Yang could’ve known the whole thing was being recorded.
Yang’s petition also alleges the police knew the book on silencers was not purchased as a how-to book by a prospective murderer, but was given as a gag birthday gift to Sal Devera, a Cook County sheriff’s deputy who Yang had also been dating, and who had taken Yang to shooting ranges. The new petition also includes ballistic evidence and testimony from a gun expert to show that no silencer was used in Reuter’s killing.
And, according to the petition, cops also knew that Yang’s 9mm gun had been stolen before the killing and couldn’t have been used by her to murder Reuter. The petition for a new trial includes a sworn affidavit from a Cook County resident, Jesse Delgado, saying that he was a close friend of Yang’s son, and that he had confessed to police in January 2008, or three years before the trial, that he’d stolen the handgun and other items from Yang’s home in May 2007 and sold them to pay debts.
In the affidavit, Delgado says he confessed the crimes to police because he thought they were interviewing him about the gun theft, and had no idea that the investigators were talking to him hoping to get information about the Reuter killing.
The police did not pursue any case against Delgado because he didn’t help their case against Yang, her advocates now assert.
According to Yang’s current legal team, yesterday’s filing comes after three years of investigating the investigators. The Lake County court now has 30 days to rule if Yang’s petition for post-conviction relief should be dismissed, or if Stone will be granted an evidentiary hearing to prove the contention contained in the filing that his client has indeed “spent over a decade incarcerated for a crime she did not commit.”
Read the full petition below: