The drama in the trial of Roberta McCumber — accused of murdering her boyfriend, Jeff Williams, and dumping parts of his body in Woodford County — ended once the judge charged the jury to follow the law and reach a verdict.


The drama in the trial of Roberta McCumber — accused of murdering her boyfriend, Jeff Williams, and dumping parts of his body in Woodford County — ended once the judge charged the jury to follow the law and reach a verdict.

Whether or not McCumber shot Williams was not at issue once the case ended. The question was under what circumstances?  

The jury could find her guilty of first-degree murder or several alternatives.

It was pretty certain among the spectators that she would not simply walk out of the courtroom a free woman.  

Some, of course, disagreed. After all, McCumber was a sympathetic figure sitting there in a white dress, appearing to be rather shy and harmless.

Wait and see
The ordeal was over and now all McCumber and her family could do was wait and see what the jury decided.

No living human being can predict what a jury will do … especially with the lawyers involved in the case.  

If the jury stays out a long time …that’s good.  No … if they stay out a short time … that’s good.  

In this case they deliberated for 11 hours.

The verdict
McCumber was acquitted that Tuesday afternoon of first degree murder.  

She was found guilty but mentally ill on a voluntary manslaughter charge.  

The eight woman and four man jury of Dupage County had listened to the evidence, heard all the arguments and then they deliberated.  

The verdict was now part of the court record. But, they were not done yet.  

The jury also found the defendant guilty of concealing a homicidal death and for obstructing justice because she severed the legs to conceal the death.

McCumber burst into tears upon hearing the verdict. Were they tears of joy or sadness?  

Later, her attorney told the press that she was confused at the verdict. Once the verdict was explained, she was joyful, since the other charges would have sent her off for a long, long time.

Sentencing
The guilty but mentally ill verdict meant that the Illinois Department of Corrections had to provide psychiatric treatment to her until she was cured.  

As soon as she was pronounced ‘cured,’ she would go off to prison to complete her sentence.

Doctors had testified that she had suffered from extreme anxiety brought on by the abuse inflicted upon her by the victim.

One of the prosecutors told the jury that McCumber lied about everything she said on the stand.

The defense team pounded away at the fact that the murder was a justifiable homicide.

JAN.  20, 1984
Judge Peter J. Paolucci was ready to pronounce sentence on the defendant. It was a new year and some time had slipped away.

A lot of the media had lost interest in the case as the folks crowded into the courtroom to observe the final outcome of the trial.

A murder that had gotten some national coverage was now concluding with a sentencing hearing.

Hafele allowed McCumber to make an appeal directly to the judge. The drama built as she stood facing the judge.

“To say I am sorry for what I did to Jeff wouldn’t even be right. But I’ll say that I hate what I did to Jeff and I know I’ll remember it the rest of my life. I know I need help and I just hope you help me get it,” she said.

McCumber then admitted that she shot Williams during an argument, using an axe and a hacksaw to cut off his legs. She explained that she then dumped the torso somewhere in Woodford County and the legs in a dumpster near her parent’s home.

Judge Paolucci looked down at the defendant and said: “Justice is a two-way street. Society, the state, and the family of Jeff Williams also have their rights. Sometimes we forget about those.”

The judge talked about McCumber’s past, her three abortions, including the one she had while awaiting trial in jail.

“Taking that in conjunction with taking the life of Jeff Williams what value, may I ask, does she place on human life?

The judge then sentenced McCumber to a 13-year prison term.

McCumber gasped and began crying as she was handcuffed and then led away. Her family watched in despair. The time she had already spent in jail would be deducted from the sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections in Dwight.  

Appeal?
It was Jan. 14, 1986.                                                           

Almost 33 months had passed and McCumber was back in court in Peoria, before Judge Calvin Stone.

“I certainly would have considered a more severe sentence had the court not been restricted by law,” Stone said to McCumber.

The judge then reinstated a 10-year voluntary manslaughter prison sentence and the three-year sentence for concealing a homicide.

In all, about one and a half years were knocked off her initial sentence.  

Norm Kelly is a local historian, author and lecturer. This story is abridged from his book  “Murder In Your Own Backyard.”