PAXTON — A Ford County judge found probable cause Monday to proceed with a second-degree murder charge against a man accused of causing the death of another man when he punched him in the head outside an apartment building in Gibson City.
Ford County Circuit Court Judge Steve Pacey also granted a request from State's Attorney Matt Fitton to increase Ryan A. Nibbe's bond to $400,000, meaning he would need to pay $40,000 to be released from the county jail.
Nibbe, 34, whose last known address was in Gibson City, was charged initially on Aug. 2 with two counts of felony battery in connection with the July 28 altercation that led to the death of Timothy Robertson, 44, of Gibson City.
After Mr. Robertson died Aug. 5 from a head injury he received in the altercation, Fitton charged Nibbe on Monday with one count of second-degree murder, a Class 1 felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Pacey found probable cause for Nibbe to be prosecuted on all three charges during Monday's preliminary hearing.
Nibbe pleaded not guilty.
"I don't even understand why I'm here. This guy broke into my house," Nibbe told Pacey at one point during the hearing, before his attorney, David Rumley of Urbana, advised him not to make any further comments.
Pacey scheduled a jury trial for October, and a pretrial hearing was set for 11 a.m. Sept. 24.
Gibson City police Officer Kevin Conrad testified that — based on statements made to police by the only witness to the incident — he believes there was no justification for Nibbe to hit Mr. Robertson outside a Gibson City apartment building in the early morning of July 28.
Conrad said he arrived at the scene to find Mr. Robertson, who he described as intoxicated, laying on the sidewalk unconscious.
Jason Battishill, who lives in a second-floor apartment at 130 1/2 N. Sangamon Ave., told Conrad that he and Nibbe were in the stairwell leading to Battishill's apartment when they saw "a male standing there they did not know."
Both Battishill and Nibbe confronted the man, later identified as Mr. Robertson.
Conrad said that Battishill told him that Mr. Robertson tried to punch Nibbe but missed. Nibbe then punched Mr. Robertson in the face, and Mr. Robertson fell off the stairwell and onto the sidewalk outside.
As Mr. Robertson was standing on the sidewalk, Battishill and Nibbe confronted him again, Conrad said. In an initial interview with Battishill, Conrad said, Battishill said Mr. Robertson tried to punch Nibbe again. However, in a subsequent interview with Gibson City police Officer Adam Rosendahl, Battishill said that Mr. Robertson did not try to swing at Nibbe but that Mr. Robertson had walked toward Nibbe.
Nibbe then allegedly punched Mr. Robertson a second time, striking his left eye and causing him to hit the pavement.
Conrad said that punch was unprovoked.
Conrad said Mr. Robertson sustained a fractured skull. He was taken to Gibson Area Hospital and later transferred to Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana.
An autopsy done last week showed a preliminary cause of death as "complications from blunt force trauma."
Conrad said police were never able to interview Mr. Robertson, who remained in a coma. Conrad said there are no other witnesses besides Battishill and Nibbe.
Nibbe, who had left the scene prior to police arriving, later returned and was interviewed by police, Conrad said.
According to court documents, Nibbe told police that Mr. Robertson entered Battishill's apartment, and Nibbe then chased him down the stairs and hit him.
Conrad testified Monday that Mr. Robertson never entered Battishill's apartment, only the stairwell area.
Nibbe's attorney, Rumley, questioned Conrad about whether he was involved in the subsequent police interview in which Battishill said Nibbe's second punch was unprovoked. Conrad said he was not present during the interview, which was conducted by Rosendahl.
Rumley argued that the state did not meet its burden in showing probable cause for the charges, saying there was no evidence Nibbe's punches were "wrongful or knowingly wrongful." Rumley pointed out that Mr. Robertson had apparently approached Nibbe on the sidewalk — after Mr. Robertson had earlier tried to punch Nibbe. Rumley said Nibbe's actions appeared to have been provoked by Mr. Robertson.
Nibbe is on parole from the Illinois Department of Corrections, but as of Monday, there was no "hold" on Nibbe by the IDOC, Pacey was told in court. The IDOC's website shows Nibbe was paroled in February after being sentenced to two years in prison in April 2012 for an aggravated battery conviction in Macon County.