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Attorney: Imprisoned sex offender confesses to Riley Fox murder
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Scott Eby

 

Riley Fox

 

ABC 7 Chicago

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Published: 5/27/2010 2:14 PM | Updated: 5/27/2010 10:28 PM

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As Kevin Fox sat behind bars for eight months, wrongly accused of his daughter's murder, the Will County man briefly contemplated suicide.

Instead, he vowed to continue his fight to clear his name and seek justice for Riley.

Nearly six years later, Fox finally may see that day come.

Prosecutors charged an imprisoned sex offender Thursday with the 3-year-old girl's 2004 slaying after they said he was linked through a DNA match with crime-scene evidence.

Scott Wayne Eby, 38, is facing five counts of first-degree murder and predatory criminal sexual assault. A Will County judge denied bail.

Eby has been in prison since March 2006 serving a 14-year prison term for the 2005 sexual assault of a family member in Will County. His history includes prior stints in prison for burglary and forgery.

Eby provided a full videotaped confession when confronted with the DNA evidence, said Fox family attorney Kathleen Zellner. She said the FBI began investigating Eby after special agent Lori Warner received a tip from his ex-girlfriend.

"Finally, there can be justice for Riley," Kevin and Melissa Fox responded, in a statement.

Added Zellner: "They're heartbroken to hear the details of what happened to their daughter, but relieved he did not get out of prison."

On June 6, 2004, hikers found Riley's partially nude body in Forked Creek, hours after she disappeared from her nearby home in Wilmington. At the time, Eby was living with his mother one mile away.

Zellner said he burglarized the Foxes' next-door neighbor, then snatched Riley after going through a back door that had a broken lock.

Kevin Fox was arrested after a 141/2-hour interrogation that began late Oct. 26, 2004. He spent eight months in the jail before then-newly elected Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow freed him in June 2005 after DNA testing on saliva recovered from the rape kit excluded Fox. A later DNA test on duct tape found on Riley's mouth also excluded him, and was the same genetic profile of that from the rape kit.

"This is a case that has torn at the very fabric of Will County ... and torn at the hearts of everyone," Glasgow said. "I've never dealt with a case this heart-wrenching that took so long to get a resolution."

A federal jury awarded $15.5 million in damages to the Foxes in 2007 after they accused Will County investigators of fabricating evidence. The amount later was reduced to $12.2 million. And just last month, an appeals court upheld Kevin Fox's claim that he was falsely arrested, but further reduced the award to $8.6 million.

Kevin Fox confessed on videotape during the interrogation that he accidentally bumped Riley's head on the bathroom door but panicked and tried to make it look like an abduction. Fox testified during his 2007 civil trial that he agreed to the story only out of desperation because detectives told him he'd be freed within 24 hours on lesser involuntary manslaughter charges.

But the detectives said they never coached or coerced Fox into falsely confessing. They argued enough probable cause existed to arrest Fox even before the confession. He failed a lie-detector test; a car resembling his was captured on a gas station surveillance tape early that morning, when Fox said he was sleeping; and Fox waited some 40 minutes before reporting Riley missing.

Eby, meanwhile, was arrested for attacking a 27-year-old female relative in July 2005, a month after Fox was freed. Eby was due to be paroled in 2017. Zellner said the two men did not know each other.

The Fox family has raised a $100,000 reward for information regarding Riley's killer. It's unclear if Eby's ex-girlfriend will receive any reward money for her tip.

Chad Fox, who sought out Zellner to help exonerate his younger brother, said his family welcomes news of Eby's charges, though it's bittersweet.

"Kevin's going to be hopefully getting some apologies," Chad Fox said, "and for the family, it's a little bit of closure."

In jail, Kevin Fox penned a journal entry in 2005 in which he spoke of suicide.

"But I told myself I was better than that. I am not going to lose this battle."

The couple have two other children, including a daughter born after Riley's murder. "Riley's Law" also was enacted to speed up DNA testing.

"I think it completely vindicates Kevin," Zellner said. "It's obviously important for him because a lot of people still think he did it."

• ABC 7 Chicago contributed to this report.

Riley Fox case timeline

June 6, 2004: Kevin Fox of Wilmington reports his 3-year-old daughter, Riley, missing about 8 a.m. Hikers find her body about 3:30 p.m. in nearby creek after massive search.

June 7, 2004: Will County coroner rules Riley died from "homicidal drowning."

June 11, 2004: Some 6,000 mourners pack Riley's funeral.

Oct. 27, 2004: Kevin Fox is arrested after Will County Sheriff's detectives said he failed a lie-detector test and made a videotaped statement in 14.5-hour interrogation in which he confessed to accidentally killing Riley.

Oct. 28, 2004: Then-State's Attorney Jeff Tomczak announces he'll seek death penalty for Kevin Fox.

Oct. 30, 2004: Fox releases his own statement, through his attorney, proclaims his innocence; accuses detectives of coercing the confession.

Nov. 2, 2004: Republican Tomczak loses re-election bid to James Glasgow, a Democrat.

Nov. 10, 2004: Fox and his wife, Melissa, file federal civil-rights lawsuit.

June 17, 2005: Glasgow frees Fox from Will County jail after DNA tests exclude him as the source of DNA obtained from saliva found on Riley's body.

Nov. 7, 2007: Federal civil-rights trial starts; Tomczak dropped from suit in confidential agreement. Other defendants later dropped during seven-week trial as plaintiff narrows in on main detectives.

Dec. 20, 2007: A federal jury awards $15.5 million to the Foxes against four sheriff's detectives, the estate of a fifth and Will County. Award was reduced to $8.6 million upon appeal.

May 27, 2010: Will County prosecutors charge imprisoned sex offender Scott Eby with Riley's murder. A no-bond warrant is issued.

Source: Daily Herald interviews; court records