Witness testifies Wilson was near O’Laughlin home the day of murder

Kimberly Fornek
kfornek@pioneerlocal.com
Sept. 4 12:40 a.m.

John L. Wilson was in Sacajawea Park near the O’Laughlin home the day 14-year-old Kelli O’Laughlin was stabbed to death, a witness testified Wednesday.

Elizabeth Wilp of Indian Head Park testified she was in the park less than a half hour before Kelli would get off the school bus and walk home. Wilp was picking up Osage oranges between about 2:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. Oct. 27, 2011, while she waited for her son to ride his bicycle home from Highlands Elementary School.

She saw a man walking down Frontage Road toward the park. When he got closer, she said he asked what she was doing, and she explained she was gathering the oranges for her mother to sell at a bazaar. He asked if the oranges were edible, and Wilp told him they were not.

Wilp said the man, whom she identified as Wilson, said he would tell his grandmother about the oranges and continued walking west, turning left on Keokuk Drive, the street where the O’Laughlins live. During their conversation, which Wilp estimated lasted about 15 seconds, they were “a few feet apart,” she said.

A neighbor she knew drove by and stopped to talk to her, she said. As they were talking, she said she again saw the defendant walking down the middle of Frontage Road and turn again on Keokuk.

Later that day, when Wilp heard of the commotion in the neighborhood, she said she drove toward Keokuk. When she was stopped by plain clothes police investigators, Wilp told them about the man she had seen in the park.

The police had Wilp come to the Indian Head Park police station where she helped them prepare a sketch of the suspect.

Between 2:05 a.m. Oct. 28 and the afternoon of Nov. 2, the police showed her three different pages of mug shots, with photos of six black men on each page. Wilp could not identify any of them as the man she met in the park. She said she might be better able to identify the suspect in a lineup, with the men actually present.

About 4 p.m. Nov. 3, she went to the La Grange Police Station for a lineup of suspects and picked Wilson out as the man from the park.

Defense attorney Michelle Gonzalez said she thought it was significant Wilp did not identify Wilson as a suspect when she first saw his mug shot.

The defense will argue the police arrested the wrong man, and perhaps that no murder was even committed.

When Brenda O’Laughlin came home from work about 5 p.m. Oct. 27, 2011 and found Kelli bleeding on the floor, she called 911 and said her daughter had committed suicide.

“The police jumped to the conclusion it was murder,” Gonzalez said.

In opening arguments for the state, Assistant State’s Attorney Guy Lisuzzo said Wilson targeted the O’Laughlins’ house to burglarize, because it was not close to neighboring houses and was at a lower elevation than nearby Plainfield Road. Calls Wilson made from his cellphone before and after the time of the murder place him in the area, Lisuzzo said.

The second-floor master bedroom in the O’Laughlin home was ransacked with drawers emptied and clothing and jewelry boxes strewn about the bed and floor, showing it was a burglary, Lisuzzo said. Foreign coins, currency and spare change from a jar in the parents’ bedroom all were taken, both Brenda and her husband, John O’Laughlin, testified. Drawers in other rooms of the house also were found open.

Police officers found a rock wrapped in a red knit hat under the dining room table. A window in the dining room, at the rear of the house, was broken, prosecutors said. Lisuzzo maintains Wilson wrapped the rock in the cap and threw it through the window, which he then unlocked and climbed through into the home.

“That hat has his DNA on it,” Lisuzzo said.

Prosecutors also claim that Wilson took Kelli’s cellphone when he left her house. Cellphone records will show that Wilson’s cellphone and Kelli’s were traveling together, Lisuzzo said.

The day after the crime phone calls and text messages from Kelli’s phone were sent to her mother’s cellphone too.

John Paul Carroll, who is representing Wilson along with Gonzalez, said it’s questionable Kelli’s death resulted from a burglary gone bad because money was left behind in plain sight.

Of the drawers that were left ajar in the bedrooms, one contained $400 cash and another contained $450, Carroll said. A pink wallet, containing $84 and gift cards, also was left on top of a jewelry box.

If the home was burglarized, it must have been “a stupid burglar,” Carroll said, and the evidence will not prove it’s Wilson.

No fingerprints from Wilson were found in the house, Carroll said, nor was any blood found on Wilson’s clothes. Yet, cuts on Kelli’s body indicated she tried to defend herself, Carroll said.

There is more than one person’s DNA on the knit cap, and an unidentified fingerprint in the house that did not come from Wilson, Carroll said in his opening statement.

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