Marni Yang was sentenced to life in prison this morning for gunning down the pregnant girlfriend of former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle, with the judge citing the “methodical, meticulous and maniacal manner in which you committed this crime.”
Judge Christopher Stride handed down two life sentences with no parole, to run concurrently, for the death of Rhoni Reuter and her unborn child in Reuter’s Deerfield condominium on Oct. 4, 2007.
Yang showed no reaction, sitting almost motionless.
When Stride asked her if she understood the sentence, she consulted with her attorney and said, “Yes, your honor.”
Before Yang was sentenced, her attorney William Hedrick read a three-sentence statement that Yang had written.
“I would like to express my sorrow to the family. This is a tragic thing for any family to experience. I am truly sorry for their loss,” Hedrick read in court.
Reuter's father, Doug, hugged her mother, Landa when the sentence was handed down. They smiled with tears in their eyes.
After the hearing, they joined Reuter’s brothers and their wives in the hallway with the prosecutors and two jurors who came to watch the sentencing. The two women hugged Reuter’s relatives and expressed happiness with the sentence.
Gayle’s attorney Donna Rotunno read a short statement from him outside court after the sentencing: “The pain has been so unimaginable, and the desire to stop living so strong at times, I do not know how I am still here today.
"Some may be thinking ‘May God have mercy on your soul,’ but that’s not going to happen. If there is a hell, you will burn in the hottest part of it.”
Gayle had planned to give his victim impact statement directly to Yang and the judge, but defense lawyers said before the hearing they would challenge it on the basis that no one could offer proof Gayle was the unborn child's father. He was not at the courthouse today.
Yang's lawyers had little reaction to the sentence outside court, but they promised to appeal both the sentence and conviction.
Though she knew she faced a minimum of 45 years in prison, Hedrick said Yang, 43, was "the most stressed I've ever seen her."
Before sentencing, Stride had rejected an argument from the defense that Yang’s appearance during the trial might have negatively affected jurors during her murder trial, rejecting motions seeking to vacate the guilty verdict or dismiss the charges.
William Hedrick and prosecutors spent much of an hour arguing the issue of Yang’s make-up and hairstyle during the trial. Hedrick argued Yang, without make-up, looked "drawn and haggard."
Yang, in ankle shackles and navy blue jail scrubs, adjusted in her chair and flipped her nearly waist-length hair behind the back rest.
But Stride rejected Hedrick’s argument.
"It's frankly a little bit remarkable to me that we have spent 45 minutes talking about Ms. Yang's hair on the day that she is to be sentenced for the murder of a pregnant woman and her unborn child," Stride said.
The issue was covered before trial, when Yang's lawyers asked that a hairstylist be allowed into the jail.
Prosecutors today questioned a jail official who said Yang had not, in fact, taken advantage of hairstyling services offered through the jail. The makeup and hair-dyeing treatment she sought would not be allowed because of chemical restrictions, said Jennifer Witherspoon, Lake County corrections chief.
Prosecutors said Yang fired her pistol at least six times, with the first two shots aimed at Reuter’s abdomen. Reuter, 42, was more than six months pregnant and former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle’s daughter, whom Reuter had already named Skylar.
Yang is “one of the more cold and calculated killers of our time,” who sat through the trial “dispassionately, coldly, breathing in the air that Rhoni Reuter’s dead child will never be able to breathe,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Patricia Fix during closing arguments of the trial.
During the trial, prosecutors described Yang, a now 43-year-old mother of three from Chicago, as Gayle’s real estate agent and casual sex partner, who was obsessed with Gayle. Yang grew enraged when she learned Reuter was carrying Gayle’s baby and murdered her to eliminate her as competition for Gayle’s affection, prosecutors claimed.
Police questioned Yang over three days in early 2008, but she did not confess. The turning point in the investigation came in March, 2009, when police pressured Christi Paschen, a self-proclaimed psychic and Yang’s alleged confidant, into surreptitiously recording conversations with her friend.
Gayle testified during the trial that he’d had sex with Yang the night before the shooting.
During their closing arguments, Yang's attorneys said that there was no physical evidence connecting her to the crime scene.
"The state says this case is a no-brainer, that this should be no problem for you," defense attorney William Hedrick said. "It only becomes a no-brainer if you substitute speculation for proof."
When the verdict was read, Yang sat stoically, while members of Reuter’s family cried quietly. Following the guilty verdict, Shaun Gayle said he was pleased with the verdict.
“Of course I have regrets, the fact that Rhoni is not here and we do not have a 3-year-old daughter,” he said. “At least I feel Rhoni and the baby are at peace.
Fuller is a freelance reporter, Hinkel is a Tribune reporter