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Larry Earvin

Larry Earvin, left, with his son, Larry Pippion.

Illinois prison guards face sentencing for fatal beating

The first of three former guards convicted of fatally beating a man to death in Western Illinois Correctional Center will face sentencing in federal court in Springfield on Thursday.

Alex Banta, of Quincy, could face up to life in prison. A federal jury convicted Banta in April of 2022 of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, obstruction of an investigation, falsification of a document and misleading conduct.

The Illinois Department of Corrections guards beat Larry Earvin, while he was in handcuffs, so severely he had 15 rib fractures, a punctured colon and injuries all over his body – his arms, his face, even his toes. The medical examiner’s report lists his death as a homicide after an “altercation with correctional staff.” He was 65 years old.

Two other former guards also face potential life sentences for civil rights violations. Todd Sheffler, of Mendon, is scheduled to be sentenced March 20 and Willie Hedden, of Mount Sterling, on March 22. Hedden pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors, which could result in a lighter sentence.

Banta’s four week trial in spring of 2022 revealed systemic problems at Western Illinois Correctional Center. Numerous guards testified that they witnessed the beating, but admitted they didn’t report it and even lied to state police about it.

Earvin’s daughter-in-law, Toscia Pippion, attended parts of the trial.

“Everybody should be held accountable – for what they did. I don’t care if you kicked him. I don’t care if you pushed him. They have to be held accountable for it,” Pippion said.

A WBEZ investigation found Earvin was beaten in an infamous part of the prison where staff routinely abused prisoners because they knew there were no security cameras. An internal affairs report, written by a prison official, flagged the lack of video at that location as problematic in 2017, more than a year before the killing of Earvin.

Before Earvin’s death, nine other prisoners accused staff of beating them in a blindspot including Roger Latimer, who told local prosecutors, state officials, and healthcare workers he was beaten in a vestibule with no cameras. Prison records show Banta was on scene that day. When Latimer heard about Eavin’s death, he was disturbed by the similar details. “It’s so upsetting because I tried to reach out,” he said.

Earvin, who grew up in Chicago, was nice and fun-loving, his brother, WIllie Earvin, said. “He never met an enemy, always had friends. You know, people were always around him.”

Earvin lived with mental illness and was homeless at the time he committed the crime that put him behind bars for three years.

According to a police report, he stole watches from a hospital gift shop, then attempted to sell them on the street to a woman. He and the woman agreed on a price – $11 – and, as she was handing over the cash, he grabbed it, smacked her hand and started walking away.

Earvin died June 26, 2018, from blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen, just a few months before he was scheduled to be released.

“I was told that … he was beaten severely. And they sent pictures of him laying in the hospital bed, his feet chained to the bed … and he did not survive from that point,” Willie Earvin said. “He was my brother and didn’t deserve that treatment. None of us do.”

Shannon Heffernan covers criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow her @shannon_h.

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