NORRIS CITY, IL (KFVS) - In 2008, a White County jury sentenced Gary Pate to death. Now that the death penalty has been abolished in Illinois, he'll spend the rest of his life in prison without the chance of parole. One prosecutor says that punishment doesn't fit the crime.
It's one case that still haunts Franklin County State's Attorney Evan Owens. Owens was at the time the White County assistant state's attorney. Mid-afternoon on May 15, 2006, several shots were fired inside a home on Main Street in Norris City.
Gary Pate (then 35 years old) shot and killed his estranged wife, 41-year-old Kathleen Pate, and her daughter 19-year-old Amanda Jeffers.
"She ran away from him," said Owens who served as second chair to White County State's Attorney Scott Webb on the case. "He followed her, shot her nine times. In the process of shooting, he reloaded his gun, a 9mm handgun, he put another clip in. Kathleen's daughter, Amanda Jeffers comes out of the bathroom and tells the defendant to stop, and he turns the gun on her and shoots her while she's in a defensive pose. She had her hands up."
Owens says he also remembers reading a petition for an order of protection filed before the murder took place – Kathleen begged the court to shield her from her husband.
"He'd already threatened her told her he was going to not only kill her, but anyone who was trying to help her," said Owens. "It read like a roadmap to the murders."
Owens says due to the heinousness of the crime, its premeditated nature, and the fact that Pate killed two people in cold blood, prosecutors pushed for the death penalty. Now, three years after a jury agreed Pate should be put to death - his sentence has been commuted.
"Not only did all the physical evidence match up that the defendant did the crime, he gave a lengthy confession, showed no remorse, and never thought of the victims - only himself," said Owens. "It's upsetting because he's going to get to continue his life in general-population prison."
In Norris City, many are still rattled by the murder that happened nearly five years ago. Amanda Jeffers' old boss at a convenience store in town didn't want to be identified, but told Heartland News it still shakes her up remembering the sound of those gun shots down the street.
She said she hopes life in prison will prove to be an even harsher punishment for Gary Pate; dying she said would have been an easy way out.
Owens says before Gary Pate, he had no strong feelings either way about the death penalty; but that case made up his mind.
"I think there are certain crimes where they forfeit their right to live, and I believe the case we're talking about is one of them" said Owens.
Gary Pate was set to appeal his death sentence in the Illinois Supreme Court next week, as all capital cases in the state were required by law. Now, that appeal won't be necessary.