PAXTON – Robert Osborne checked out of the Ford County jail about 6:20 p.m. Friday, some 30 minutes after a jury acquitted him of the first-degree murder of his wife of six years.
According to Cindy Lewis, mother of the 29-year-old Gibson City man, Osborne had plans to return to her home in Ohio, where she intended to send him out looking for a job first thing Monday.
"The thing is to get him on his feet so they will have a home, and get them away from here so they can start again," Lewis said.
She was referring to Osborne's three daughters by his slain wife, Danyelle Osborne. The girls, ages 6, 4 and 2, have been wards of the Department of Children and Family Services but living with a relative of Danyelle Osborne in the wake of their father's Nov. 1 arrest for their mother's murder. A fourth daughter of Mrs. Osborne, age 9, is now living with her biological father.
Osborne has been held continuously since his arrest.
Lawyers for Osborne said they intend to ask for an expedited juvenile court hearing in the hope of reuniting Osborne with his children soon.
Fourteen of Mrs. Osborne's family and friends, including her mother, sat behind State's Attorney Tony Lee, and eight of Osborne's relatives and friends, including his mother and father, sat behind court-appointed defense attorney Harvey Welch as the verdict was read.
Immediate loud sobs emanated from women on Mrs. Osborne's side of the courtroom, despite Judge Steve Pacey's request before the verdict that there be no reaction regardless of the outcome. The crying continued as Pacey asked the jurors one by one, at the request of Lee, if they indeed had voted to acquit.
Even two of the seven female jurors cried as they filed out of the courtroom. The jurors had asked that they be escorted from the courthouse ahead of spectators and the media, Pacey said. Osborne was immediately removed from the heavily guarded courtroom as well, having little time to even say anything to Welch or Welch's associate, Elaine Gehrmann, both of Urbana.
"Before the verdict, he thanked me for all that I'd done," said an obviously relieved Welch. "I thought it was pretty classy."
Lee hurriedly left the courtroom, closing the gap between the courtroom door and his office in seconds. The door to his office could be heard slamming throughout the two-story courthouse.
Tamy Smith, Mrs. Osborne's mother, told reporters she fears for the safety of other women who might become involved with Osborne and for her own grandchildren. She called Osborne "evil and sick," shaking her head in disbelief at the verdict.
Lewis said she was happy with the verdict but expressed sympathy for Smith and other of her daughter-in-law's family and friends.
"My heart goes out to them," she said.
The jury deliberated about five hours. They had to consider the testimony of 40 witnesses and some 175 exhibits, many of them gruesome photos of the 26-year-old mother of four daughters.
In his closing arguments, Lee maintained that Osborne had motive and opportunity to kill his wife, and that the case against him was supported by "a mountain of circumstantial evidence."
Osborne's court-appointed attorney, Harvey Welch, argued there was no physical evidence and disputed that Lee's self-described circumstantial evidence even amounted to circumstantial evidence.
"The defendant had finally and completely lost his wife," said Lee, noting that she spent the last two nights of her life last October in the bed of her lover, Jason Valdez of Urbana, and not with her own husband.
Lee argued that a DNA expert said the spot of blood on the sole of one of Osborne's shoes could have come from Mrs. Osborne. He suggested Osborne got the blood on his shoe while trying to set fire to his wife's body after her death.
Welch countered that with the great amount of blood found on and around Mrs. Osborne that Osborne should have had much more on him than the one-eighth of an inch spot found by the crime lab biologist. No clothing – beyond the single shoe – with any blood, hairs or fibers was ever recovered from Osborne.
Likewise, Welch argued there wasn't enough blood on the deck or railing of the bridge to support Lee's contention that Mrs. Osborne was struck there. If it didn't happen there, then Osborne would have had to transport her in the family van. And experts found no physical evidence inside or outside the van, Welch argued.
Welch argued that the jury couldn't conclude from the state's witnesses, many of them close family and friends of Mrs. Osborne, that Mrs. Osborne wanted the relationship over for good. There had been many previous separations and reunions between the two, he noted. And if things were so awful in their household, why didn't Danyelle Osborne take up her foster father on his offer of refuge for her and her daughters, he asked.
"You can't substitute motive for evidence," Welch said, winding down his argument.
Lee said he made no attempt to portray Mrs. Osborne as an "angel."
"But no one deserves to have done to them what was done to her," Lee said.