McHenry Co. child killer free after 47 years behind bars

  • Gary Welsh

    Gary Welsh

Published: 4/8/2010 3:03 PM | Updated: 4/8/2010 6:39 PM

After nearly five decades locked up in a variety of state prisons and institutions, a McHenry County man convicted of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl in 1962 is a free man.

Gary Welsh, 70, was released from state custody Thursday when a McHenry County judge agreed to a long list of strict conditions under which he must live as a free man.

Among them is that Welsh reside in a Rockford apartment found for him by the state Department of Human Services. He cannot leave the apartment, at least for the next 30 days, except for sex offender treatment or other approved activities. And in those instances he must be chaperoned.

He may also be required to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet and cannot operate a vehicle, visit schools, parks, theaters or bars, own a home computer, go online, view pornography or use alcohol or drugs.

Any violation could land him back in state custody.

"He's very happy," said his attorney, Senior Assistant Public Defender Richard Behof, when asked about his client's reaction to the decision. "This is the first major step for him being free."

Lawyers for the Illinois attorney general's office and McHenry County State's Attorney's Office both objected to the release, but their efforts were thwarted when some of their own experts testified in earlier hearings that Welsh would not be a threat living under conditional release.

"We strongly opposed Mr. Welsh's release," Attorney General spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said later Thursday. "But we are committed to working closely with law enforcement to ensure that he is closely supervised in the community."

Welsh had been incarcerated since September 1962, when he sexually assaulted and killed Marlene Casteel, a 3-year-old girl he was baby-sitting at her parents' Harvard home. Authorities said he suffocated the girl with a pillow while trying to muffle her cries during the rape.

Former Harvard police officer Dennis Lantis, first on the scene of the killing, told the Daily Herald in 2004 it was the worst thing he had ever seen in his law enforcement career.

As for Welsh, Lantis said, "He's not someone who should be out on the street. He's not to be trusted."

In the years before the slaying, authorities said, Welsh had been institutionalized after sexual assaults of two family members.

None of Marlene Casteel's or Welsh's family members attended any court proceedings relating to his case since at least 2004, and none is believed to be living in the area today.

Welsh was convicted of the girl's slaying in 1973 - after spending about 11 years in state mental facilities - and was sentenced to between 60 and 100 years in prison.

With time off for good behavior, the Illinois Department of Corrections was set to release him in December 2004 when the Attorney General's office stepped in and started proceedings to have him declared a sexually violent person.

McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather granted the designation in 2007, allowing state authorities to keep him in custody until a judge and mental health professionals agreed he no longer was a threat to commit a sex crime.

Welsh made another bid for freedom last year, this time with the backing of two state psychologists who testified that while still a pedophile, he was not a substantial risk to the community and should be released.

After initially balking at the experts' recommendations, Judge Sharon Prather agreed Thursday to release Welsh after the Department of Human Services outlined the 37 conditions under which he would live.

"The plan submitted by the state conforms to the requirements (for conditional release) laid out statutorily," the judge said.

Among the few in court to hear the decision Thursday was Alice Nulle. Her husband, the deceased former McHenry County Sheriff Hank Nulle, investigated Marlene Casteel's murder.

Leaving court with tears welling up in her eyes, Nulle declined to comment, but said as she walked away, "This is justice?"