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A Palatine man pleaded no contest Tuesday in the beating, sexual assault and strangulation of a suburban teenager whose killing nearly 20 years ago long stymied investigators.James Eaton pleaded no contest to reckless homicide in the death of 14-year-old...

Palatine man takes plea in '97 homicide of 14-year-old runaway Amber Creek

A Palatine man pleaded no contest Tuesday in the beating, sexual assault and strangulation of a suburban teenager whose killing nearly 20 years ago long stymied investigators.James Eaton pleaded no contest to reckless homicide in the death of 14-year-old...

Palatine man takes plea in '97 homicide of 14-year-old runaway Amber Creek

A Palatine man pleaded no contest Tuesday in the beating, sexual assault and strangulation of a suburban teenager whose killing nearly 20 years ago long stymied investigators.

James Eaton pleaded no contest to reckless homicide in the death of 14-year-old Amber Creek, a troubled adolescent who was also from Palatine and who had run away from a shelter for state wards. Her body was found by hunters in a remote area of Racine County, Wis., in 1997, though it took three months to identify her.

Eaton, 39, was not charged until 2014.

Timeline: The killing of Amber CreekOpen link

In exchange for his plea in Racine County court, a charge of hiding a corpse was dropped, and the other charge was reduced from intentional homicide. Yet Eaton still faces up to 40 years in prison when he's due to be sentenced on Jan. 20.

With Eaton avoiding trial, it may never become clear how his and Amber's lives came to intersect. She had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and depression and was a chronic runaway who had been placed in the state's custody. She had left a Chicago shelter in January 1997 and had last been seen at a party in Rolling Meadows, authorities have said.

Her beaten body was found with a plastic bag over her head, a Woodfield Mall price tag stuck to her arm and a bite mark on her neck that authorities said was a major factor in her death. The case at one time was featured on "America's Most Wanted."

A break in the investigation came a few years ago, when an investigator in Oklahoma ran a set of fingerprints through a federal database and discovered they matched Eaton, whose prints had been entered into the database following a minor run-in with the law in Illinois. Racine County investigators then placed Eaton under surveillance. Using a cigarette butt they said he discarded at a Chicago-area train station, they matched his DNA with crime-scene evidence, officials said.

Yet in announcing the plea deal Tuesday, Racine County Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak acknowledged the state might have had difficulty proving intentional homicide against Eaton.

Repischak referred to evidence that Amber may have had a physically abusive relationship with another male.

"Given the facts of the case, I believe a jury would very likely pass on intentional (homicide) and focus on reckless homicide, and the (amended charge) reflects what the evidence would probably show," Repischak said.

Eaton, who has been held at the Racine County Jail since his arrest, appeared in court Tuesday in an orange prison jumpsuit with his ankles cuffed together seated between his attorneys.

Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz explained to Eaton that by pleading no contest to the amended charge, the court "would make a finding in judgment against you on that count."

Gasiorkiewicz said the charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in a Wisconsin state penitentiary. Attorneys for the state recommended prison time for Eaton but did not specify a time frame.

Lee V. Gaines is a freelancer.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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