Accused double murderer Danny K. Coston, 36, Centerville, was formally advised of the nine charges filed against him and the possible penalties if convicted during a brief arraignment Wednesday morning in White County Circuit Court.
Coston, clad in street attire and not restrained by handcuffs, acknowledged White County Circuit Court Judge Thomas H. Sutton's advisements with either "Yes, sir" or "Yes, your Honor" each time the judge asked if he understood what he was just told by the court.
The charges include five counts of murder, filed in connection with the Aug. 26, 2012, slayings of 22-year-old Jacob Wheeler of Centerville and 17-year-old Jessica Evans in remote locations east of Centerville.
The charges also include one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault, two counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm and one count of concealing a homicide.
In short, the judge told Coston that he is facing a sentence of up to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of the most serious charges. The murder charges carry a penalty of 20 to 60 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000 if convicted. Certain criteria can raise the penalties to 60 to 100 years and other enhancements (such as multiple victims and if a firearm was used in commission of the offenses) can result in the life without parole sentence.
Some of the wording of some of the sentencing requirements would mandate the judge to give the maximum sentence upon a defendant's conviction, or to add mandatory time to the end of a sentence.
The State of Illinois has abolished the death penalty since the last murder trial in White County. Gary D. Pate's 2008 sentence of death as imposed by a White County jury has been commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the May 15, 2006, shooting deaths of his estranged wife, Kathleen Pate, and her 19-year-old daughter, Amanda Jeffers, at the Norris City home the women shared.
The state, represented by White County State's Attorney T. Scott Webb and his assistant, Denton Aud, agreed on pre-trial, final pre-trial and trial dates with defense counsel, Jerry Crisel of Albion and his co-counsel, Rhonda Blades of Carmi.
Crisel entered a not guilty plea to all the charges on his client's behalf.
A pre-trial hearing was set for 9 a.m., Oct. 10, a final pre-trial was set for 1:30 p.m., Oct. 31, and a jury trial date of 9 a.m., Nov. 13.
Crisel, however, told Judge Sutton the dates likely would not stand because he anticipates filing "numerous" pre-trial motions before the trial date.
The crowd was much smaller than previous court appearances by Coston in the case.