Yang guilty in murder of ex-Bear’s girlfriend

Chicago Tribune

A jury in Lake County has found Marni Yang guilty in the 2007 murder of the pregnant girlfriend of former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle.

Following a dramatic 11-day trial, the jurors reached their verdict after four hours of deliberation today.

Yang, Gayle and Yang’s mother Francine Merar all were stoic as the verdict was read. Members of Reuter’s family cried quietly.


Later, during an impromptu press conference at the courthouse, Gayle said justice had been served.

“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.”

Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller said the verdict “will never totally fill the loss of the Reuter family, but we hope it will give them some solace.”

The sentence for Yang’s crime is mandatory life imprisonment. She is due to be sentenced formally on April 29.

Yang was accused of ambushing Rhoni Reuter in Reuter’s Deerfield condominium on Oct. 4, 2007. 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 with Gayle’s daughter. The unborn child, whom Reuter had already named Skylar, was also killed in the attack.

Yang was charged with first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child.

Prosecutors described Yang, a 43-year-old mother of three, as Gayle’s real estate agent and casual sex partner, and a woman who was obsessed with Gayle’s other female friends. Prosecutors claimed Yang grew enraged when she learned another woman was carrying his baby, and that she murdered Reuter to get rid of a competitor for Gayle’s affection.

Police quickly learned about the relationship and made Yang their prime suspect. They questioned her over three days in early 2008, but she did not confess.


The turning point in the investigation came a year ago, when police pressured Christi Paschen, a self-proclaimed psychic and Yang’s alleged confidant, into surreptitiously recording conversations with her friend. On one tape played in court, a woman prosecutors say is Yang described graphic details of the crime and its cover-up, including the disposal of the murder weapon.

“They are never going to get it,” the voice said. “ … It’s under tons and tons and tons of Chicago trash.”

With that, authorities charged Yang with the murders of Reuter and her unborn child, and she has been in Lake County jail for two years since, awaiting the trial. The lengthy pretrial process included a request for a change of venue, a psychological exam for Yang and arguments over Yang’s 2008 videotaped interrogation.

Gayle himself testified during the trial that he’d had sex with Yang the night before the shooting.

But it was Paschen’s testimony that appeared to be the most damning, as she described how Yang told her of her plans to kill Reuter, how Yang confessed the murder to her hours after it was committed and how Paschen helped Yang dispose of evidence. Defense attorneys sought to discredit Paschen, noting that her claims from the witness stand about having been involved in a secret military intelligence program in the 1970s were apparently contradicted when she was questioned earlier by a police investigator.

Earlier Tuesday, in closing arguments, the jurors were told by prosecutors that the death of Reuter was a “carefully planned out execution.”
But Yang’s attorneys countered in closing remarks that there is no physical evidence connecting Yang 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.”

In front of a packed courtroom that included Gayle, Assistant State’s Attorney Ari Fisz said Reuter’s pregnancy prompted Yang to spend months plotting the murder, with two goals: Eliminate the competition for Gayle’s affections and “get away with it.”

Fisz replayed tapes heard earlier in the two-week trial -- recorded without Yang’s knowledge by Paschen, who wore a wiretap -- in which Yang described the shooting and how Reuter tried to kick her as she fought the attack.

“With the last ounce of strength Rhoni had left, she kicked Marni. You have the power to do more. With your verdict, tell Rhoni you are going to give her justice,” Fisz told the jurors.

But defense attorneys sought to undermine Paschen’s credibility and also asserted that Yang herself knew she was making up a story when she described the shooting to Paschen.

Fisz listed several things that he said prove Yang committed the crime, including that she rented a car and used a temporary cell phone in the days around the murder, that she had purchased books on how to build a gun silencer and that she had buried a bracelet taken from the crime scene that was later recovered by police.


The nine men and three women who make up the jury began deliberating at 2 p.m., after the prosecution gave its rebuttal to the defense’s closing remarks.

During the rebuttal, Assistant State’s Attorney Patricia Fix sought to deflect the defense’s contention that Yang was the target of a conspiracy to frame her for murder.

The victim in the case is not “poor Marni Yang at the hands of Shaun Gayle. The real victims here are Rhoni Reuter and her unborn child,” Fix said.

Fix called Yang’s alibi – that she was stuck at home with car trouble – a lie, and ask jurors to ask themselves why she did not call Salvador Devera, another man she was dating, to help her with her car trouble the night before the shooting, at the time she sent an email to work saying she wouldn’t be in the next day.

Fix also called Yang “one of the more cold and calculated killers of our time” and said Yang has sat through the trial “dispassionately, coldly, breathing in the air that Rhoni Reuter’s dead child will never be able to breathe.”

The 11-day trial began March 4 following more than three days of jury selection.