URBANA – C.J. Tucker nodded and occasionally said that he understood what he was doing Thursday morning as he admitted his role in the brutal killing of a Parkland College police officer last summer.
Tucker, 16, is the youngest of the trio accused of the bludgeoning and stabbing death of Peter McLaughlin, 45, at his Urbana home on Aug. 4, 2005,
Mr. McLaughlin's son, Paul McLaughlin, 20, pleaded guilty in November to the first-degree murder of his father and is serving a 45-year sentence. Still to be tried is Phillip Harris, 17, of Champaign.
Tucker, tried as an adult, pleaded guilty to less serious charges of armed violence and concealment of a homicidal death for 19 years in prison. Even though he will have to serve only half, if he gets maximum good time, the sentence is still longer than he could have received as a juvenile, because juveniles may not be imprisoned beyond their 21st birthdays.
Tucker will serve the initial part of his sentence in the Juvenile Department of Corrections prison at St. Charles and after he turns 17 in February, will likely be transferred to an adult penitentiary. He was given credit for 297 days served since his arrest Aug. 9, 2005.
"From the beginning, he's felt remorseful," said Jim Kuehl, an attorney from Urbana appointed to represent Tucker. "He couldn't understand how he went along with these guys. In some ways, he had tried to stop them. It's a tragedy for Harris and C.J. because Paul is clearly the force behind all this. It's my opinion he used these kids."
In return for Tucker's pleas, Assistant State's Attorney Duke Harris agreed to dismiss the murder charges against him.
Tucker's parents, whom Kuehl described as "devastated," were present to watch their son plead. Also present were Mr. McLaughlin's brothers, several of Mr. McLaughlin's colleagues from the Parkland police force, and some of the Urbana police detectives who worked the case.
Judge Tom Difanis accepted the negotiated plea agreement.
Harris the prosecutor, no relation to Phillip Harris, said that around the first of August 2005, Peter McLaughlin, a Parkland police officer, lived at 603 E. Florida Ave., U, with his son and that the relationship between the two was so "troubled" that Peter McLaughlin had decided to ask his son to move out.
On Aug. 7, Mr. McLaughlin did not show up for work at Parkland, an act so uncharacteristic of him that a missing person investigation was launched by Urbana police.
Harris said witnesses reported seeing Tucker, Phillip Harris and Paul McLaughlin driving in Mr. McLaughlin's Blazer sometime after his disappearance. About 2 a.m. on Aug. 8, police searched the home and found McLaughlin and Harris and took them to the police department for questioning. There, the pair confessed they had killed the elder McLaughlin and during the lengthy interviews, they implicated Tucker.
"Paul McLaughlin and Phillip Harris said that Phillip Harris hit Mr. McLaughlin with a night stick, disabling him. While Tucker hit the back of his legs, Paul McLaughlin got into the fray and proceeded to stab Peter McLaughlin multiple times in the back of the head and neck," Harris said.
When they thought he was dead, the three then stuffed Mr. McLaughlin's body into the crawlspace of the home, where police discovered it hours later.
An autopsy revealed Mr. McLaughlin sustained 19 stab wounds to the neck, three stab wounds to the back of his head and eight blunt force blows to the head, Harris said.
"In addition to the descriptions given by McLaughlin and Harris, both indicated that they had planned and rehearsed the killing. C.J. Tucker was brought in on the plan later on but was aware of it and actively participated," the prosecutor maintained.
Harris said Tucker had no prior juvenile charges.
He was sentenced to 14 years on the armed violence charge, which alleged that while armed with a bludgeon, he robbed Peter McLaughlin of his gun and keys, and five years for the concealment of a homicidal death charge, to be served one after the other.
"Given the circumstances of the offense, the premeditation, the violence and the use of deadly weapons, it's quite apparent society needs to be protected from this defendant beyond his 21st birthday," Difanis said.